Egyptian Instruments: Early Buds

  February 14, 2022   Read time 2 min
Egyptian Instruments: Early Buds
RECENT excavations from Sumerian cemeteries and temples have disclosed so many objects similar to those found in Egypt that the hypothesis that there was a prehistoric contact between the two great civilizations is unavoidable.
Their relation is particularly noticeable in music; the so-called Old Kingdom (2900–2475 B.C.) had not one instrument that did not exist in Sumer simultaneously, or even earlier. The contact between the two nations must, however, have come to an end before 2700 B.C., as the lyre had an outstanding role in Sumerian ceremonies about that time, although it was still unknown in Egypt. Nearly eight hundred years elapsed before an Egyptian painter depict ed a passage of Semitic nomads coming down to Egypt with their families and belongings, and among them a man playing the lyre—the first lyre recorded in the vicinity of the Nile.
We do not know whether this was a single importation. Presently the curtain fell over the Egyptian, as well as over the Babylonian, stage. There was a violent invasion of peoples from Central Asia, probably caused by a sudden change of climate; the Kassites conquered Mesopotamia and put an end to the Babylonian empire; Abraham, the patriarch of Israel, migrated from Ur in Babylonia to Canaan; the nomadic Hyksos entered Egypt and destroyed the civilization of the Middle Kingdom. During this long intermission we lose sight of the great monarchies; literary and pictorial evidences are scarce. When the curtain rises again, it unveils a vigorous invasion of the Egyptian armies eastward which renews the contact between Egypt and Mesopotamia. One would expect, as a consequence, an Egyptian influence on Asia; but the contrary is true. Once more the Asiatic civilization proved to have the dominant character, and Egypt underwent a strong influence from the east.
The influence, as far as music is concerned, is evident from the sudden appearance of many Asiatic instruments: vertical angular harps, lyres, lutes, oboes and trumpets, while the Egyptian flute and double clarinet disappear. Instruments rarely migrate without their players, and this fact is nowhere more clearly illustrated than in ancient Egypt. When Southwest Asia had been conquered by the pharaohs of the eighteenth dynasty (about 1500 B.C.), the subjugated kings sent singing- and dancing-girls with their instruments as a part of their tribute; in one painting we can see them busy practicing in a special harem in King Amenophis the IV’s residence at Tell El-Amarna that the painter has left unroofed like a doll’s house.
During the last fifteen hundred years B.C., the migration of instruments from western Asia to Egypt persisted. New types of harps and lyres enriched the musical stock of Egypt, and finally, in the Greek epoch, cymbals and castanets were introduced there. In those centuries the Near East came under the domination successively of the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. As a consequence of the change of rulers and the cultural unification in various empires, the ancient world underwent a cosmopolitanism that destroyed the exclusively national character of musical instruments.