Music of the Chaldeans

Music of Yesterday

When the Aryans came down into this valley they found already established there a people whose records are now being unearthed, called Akkads, belonging to the Mongolian family, who had reached a high degree of cultivation in art and science. The records found show that music was an important branch of study; at a very early date the harp, pipe and cymbals are mentioned, and we infer that the people were fond of singing, since many sacred hymns have been recorded in tablets. This race, joined to others, founded the Chaldean kingdom, the capital being Babylon. In the 12th century B.C., a king of Assyria, in the northern part of the Tigris valley, conquered Babylon and thus gained the ascendancy.

The Practice of Music Among the Babylonians

In the great ruins now being excavated, tablets of clay have been found which give a vivid idea of the social and religious esteem in which music was held by the Babylonians. One of these tablets, said to date back more than three thousand years B.C., contains a representation of musicians. One strikes with a hammer upon a metal plate, another carries a reed pipe, a third plays upon a harp of eleven strings, while two others beat time or give the accent by clapping their hands. Especially rich in sculpture is the palace of Sennacherib. One of the relief decorations shows a festival procession in honor of the returning conqueror. In front walk five men, three with harps, a fourth with a kind of lyre, whose strings were struck with a plectrum; the fifth bears a double flute. Two of the harpers and the lyre player dance. Then follow six women, of whom four carry harps, one blows a double flute, while the last beats a sort of drum. Following the instrumentalists come six women and six children singing, who indicate the rhythm by clapping their hands. From the fact that in these sculptures a few soldiers indicate an army, we infer that the Babylonians made use of large bodies of players an dsingers in their great ceremonies.

These tablets indicate that the Babylonians made much use of trumpets to give signals to the armies and when great masses of the people were gathered together. That musicians were highly esteemed we judge from the fact that on one occasion Sennacherib spared the lives of musicians among his captives, all others being put to death. Since the Chaldeans, especially, were famous as astronomers and mathematicians, it is thought that they, like the Egyptian sages, had knowledge of the mathematical relations of the various intervals.

Chaldean Instruments

Two instruments seem to be especially noticeable: the Symphonia and Sambuca. The former was carried to Palestine by the Hebrews, at the end of their captivity, and, according to their accounts, seems to have been a sort of bagpipe, an instruments particularly suited to a pastoral people like the early Chaldeans. As to the Sambuca we have no authentic knowledge; it seems, however, to have been an instrument of the zither type, held horizontally and played with a plectrum. A stringed instruments, struck with a hammer, called the Santir is credited to the Assyrians.