Ancient Songs

Watch the video of the premiere performance:

Instrumentation: soprano, tenor, flute (C, alto, bass), saxophone (soprano, alto), guitar, violin, cello

Duration: ca. 9 minutes

Premiere Performance: Erato Ensemble  on March 27, 2014 at the 2014 Sonic Boom Festival in Vancouver.  The piece was specifically for the Erato Ensemble’s unique instrumentation: the performers were Jeff Pelletier, flutes; Colin MacDonald, saxophones; Adrian Verdejo, guitars; Catherine Laub, soprano; William George, tenor; Alana Lopez, violin;  and Stefan Hintersteininger, cello.


1. Epitaph of Seikilos

2. Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal

3. Delphic Hymn to Apollo

Programme Note:

The starting materials for this piece are some of the earliest notated musical works, from the Ancient Near East. However, rather than attempting historical authenticity, I used them freely as creative starting points,
inspired by the simple melodies and evocative texts with their seemingly timeless emotional tones of
yearning and elation.

The melody with lyrics known as the “Epitaph of Seikilos” is the oldest known complete musical composition,
dating around 100 AD. The text translates roughly as “While you live, shine/have no grief at all/life exists
only for a short while/and time demands its toll.” The music and lyrics are engraved on a tombstone, along with the inscription “I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.”

Dating from approximately 1400 BCE, the “Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal,” is the oldest surviving substantially
complete musical work. However, its ambiguous notation has led to many interpretations; I based my work on
the two-voice interpretation by Dr. Anne Kilmer. The text is also ambiguous, but seems to concern offerings to
Nikkal, goddess of orchards and wife of the moon god, possibly from a childless woman praying for a child.

The earliest known unambiguous, though incomplete, piece of music is the First Delphic Hymn, dated at 128 BC, composed by “Athénaios Athenaíou” (Athenios son of Athenios). In the text, the poet praises Apollo, and invites the Muses to leave Mt. Helicon in order to sing for Apollo on Mt. Parnassus. In addition to the melody as material for this movement, I also drew on what is called the “chromatic tetrachord” in Ancient Greek music theory, and used it in contrast with more diatonic modality.




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