Friday, December 26, 2008

The Oldest Song?

The Song of Seikilos - Supposedly the world's oldest complete musical composition (200 B.C.E. - 100 C.E.)

This might be old news to everyone else. Like with a lot of things these days, I'm clueless until my kids point out certain things to me. From the musician's description on the Liveleak link where the video was taken from:

"The Song of Seikilos", the first complete piece of written music in the entire world... This melody is an amazing musical legacy from ancient Greece; a precious remnant of a long-forgotten musical culture now forever lost in the mists of time... Although older music has been found, all that remains are either just pitiful fragments of the melodies, or the way the melodies have been notated in ancient times have so many modern interpretations that the actual melody is still mostly academic guess work. "The Song of Seikilos" is unique, as not only do we have the complete notation of the melody, but the notation is totally unambiguous - the melody played here, is the same as that which was first was written by the ancient Greek song writer, around 2000 years ago... In 1883, this melody was discovered again, inscribed in its complete & original form. It was found inscribed in marble on an ancient Greek burial stele, bearing the following epitaph:
"I am a portrait in stone. I was put here by Seikilos, where I remain forever, the symbol of timeless remembrance".
It appears to be a touching love song in memory of the woman who lay buried below the burial stele, on which this haunting melody was inscribed. The translation of this song is:
"As long as you live, shine.
Let nothing grieve you beyond measure.
For life is short, and time will claim it's tribute"
It is played here on an an instrument strikingly similar to the ancient Greek Kithara... The instrument I am playing is a copy of an ancient Jewish Temple Lyre, the "Kinnor"... This was the original "Harp of David"... This clearly demonstrates the Hellenistic influence on ancient Jewish culture in this period - it is also known that King Herod often employed Greek musicians for various festivals around Jerusalem.

After listening to the first few notes I wasn't too sure I'd like it, but then there was a hook or two in the hauntingly beautiful melody that took a hold of me.

Here is a version on Youtube with images and vocals.


crystal said...

Thanks, Jeff :)

Garpu said...

Wow, neat. I think I've read about it before, but either musicologists are into such reconstructions, or think they're silly. I think they're interesting, but I think some sort of historically-informed reconstruction of performance practices are possible, even if we're not sure how older pieces were perceived.

Jeff said...

Hi guys,

I was listening to the new director of the Boston Camerata on the news the other day, and she was talking about the challenge of trying to stay as close to the authenticity of old music as possible, while still making it entertaining and relevant for listeners today.

cowboyangel said...

A nice tune, but you can't really dance to it.

Kidding. I liked it. Didn't sound that far off from more contemporary "traditional" Greek music.

I didn't know anything about this, so you're ahead of me.

Liam said...

Very cool, especially the second video. I once heard a cd that supposedly featured ancient Greek Music, but I don't recall how they got it.

It's very hard to reconstruct this stuff. How do they know those are the notes as we understand them today? What about tempo, duration, etc.? Still, I think taking a stab at it is better than not trying.

Of course, the original searing guitar solo is not included in the notation.

Jeff said...

Of course, the original searing guitar solo is not included in the notation


Ha. Sorry, I didn't see your post out here right away.

According to wiki, there was a sort of primitive notation with the words that gives them an indication of what the tune was, but yeah, I'm not sure how they know the tempo.