music

in ancient egypt

Textual evidence about music and musicians in Ancient Egypt is particularly rich: we have certain “ritual texts,” which were supposed to be chanted and were often accompanied by one or several instruments, the so-called Harper’s Song, and some “love songs”.

Unfortunately, in spite of the richness of the documentation, our knowledge of Pharaonic music remains limited: without theoretical treaty, or musical score, it is indeed particularly difficult to do an archaeology of music.

Researchers like Victor Loret, Curt Sachs, or Hans Hickmann were seeking to rediscover the musical system of the ancient Egyptians. Lacking musical partitions and treatises on music, they hoped that organology (the study of the history of musical instruments) and comparative musicology would allow them to reach this aim. Based on aerophones (wind instruments), they tried to define the used scales, but the stage of conservation of the instruments neither allowed for reliable results nor to recover melodies.

We may with reasonable confidence draw a list of instruments

Idiophones

Clappers, sistra, menit-necklaces, cymbals, bells, chimes and rattles

Chimes Natural
Chimes

Cordophones (stringed instruments)

Harp, lyre, and lute

Ancient Egyptian Harp
Reconstructed Ancient Egyptian Melody

Aerophones

Long flute, the double clarinet, and the simple or double oboe

Membranophones

 Single membrane drum mounted on a frame and the barrel-shaped drum with two membranes