THE MUSIC OF THE EGYPTIANS, ASSYRIANS, AND CHINESE
In speaking of the music of antiquity we are seriously hampered by the fact that there is practically no actual music in existence which dates back farther than the eighth or tenth century of the present era. Even those well-known specimens of Greek music, as they are claimed to be, the hymns to Apollo, Nemesis, and Calliope, do not date farther back than the third or fourth century, and even these are by no means generally considered authentic. Therefore, so far as actual sounds go, all music of which we have any practical knowledge dates from about the twelfth century.
Theoretically, we have the most minute knowledge of the scientific aspect of music, dating from more than five hundred years before the Christian era. This knowledge, however, is worse than valueless, for it is misleading. For instance, it would be a very difficult thing for posterity to form any idea as to what our music was like if all the actual music in the world at the present time were destroyed, and only certain scientific works such as that of Helmholtz on acoustics and a few theoretical treatises on harmony, form, counterpoint and fugue were saved.
From Helmholtz’s analysis of sounds one would get the idea that the so-called tempered scale of our pianos caused thirds and sixths to sound discordantly.
From the books on harmony one would gather that consecutive fifths and octaves and a number of other things were never indulged in by composers, and to cap the climax one would naturally accept the harmony exercises contained in the books as being the very acme of what we loved best in music. Thus we see that any investigation into the music of antiquity must be more or less conjectural.
Let us begin with the music of the Egyptians. The oldest existing musical instrument of which we have any knowledge is an Egyptian lyre to be found in the Berlin Royal Museum. It is about four thousand years old, dating from the period just before the expulsion of the Hyksos or “Shepherd” kings.