ISSN 2158-5296
AAWM JOURNAL VOL. 1 NO. 1 (2011)
The Hurrian Pieces, ca. 1350 BCE: Part One—Notation and Analysis

Jay Rahn

The least conjectural components of the earliest known system of musical notation (ca. 1850-500 BCE) are 14 names for pairs of strings. Each of these names designates a pair of numbered strings on a Mesopotamian harp or lyre. These numbered string-pairs provide a basis for analyzing the earliest musical scores that survive, 35 musical notations of Hurrian provenance ca. 1350 BCE. Of these 35 scores, only one, identified as ‘h.6’ by Assyriologists, appears to be intact from beginning to end, the remaining 34 being fragmentary because of damage during the past three and a half millennia. As well, like two of the other 34 scores, h.6 refers in its colophon to a numbered string-pair, namely, nitkibli, that plausibly designates a particular tuning of the 7 numbered strings. With a view to characterizing the repertoire as a whole and determining whether the three nitkibli pieces differ significantly from the other 32, the pieces’ numbered strings, string-pairs, and immediately successive string-pairs are analyzed in terms of relationships of sameness, adjacency and analogy. These relationships are defined within a framework of first-order logic. Analyzed statistically, the 35 pieces reveal considerable uniformity of idiom. Because it survives in a continuously notated form, h.6 can be analyzed in even greater detail and reveals a structure of great coherence that is quite consistent with tendencies among all 35 pieces.

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