ISAW's Commission of the "World's Oldest Song" Inspires Nico Muhly for the Guggenheim's "Works & Process"

By Maggie Pavao

According to an article by the New York Times, composer Nico Muhly was inspired by ISAW's commission of the oldest song in the worldAt an event hosted by the Guggenheim's Works & Process on September 17th, Muhly will discuss his music for countertenor, the male vocal part that calls for singing in the range of a female alto or mezzo-soprano. A selection of these works will be performed alongside a preview of a new Works & Process commission. The commission is an extension of Lenka Clayton and Jon Rubin’s project . . . circle through New York, part of the Guggenheim Social Practice initiative. 

Muhly's inspiration is drawn from ISAW's commission of the “Hurrian Hymn,” the earliest known song to be recorded in writing, dating to around the 13th century BCE. The text of this hymn is concerned with the promotion of fertility. It refers to the making of offerings and libations to the moon goddess, Nikkal. The tablet was found at the site of ancient Ugarit (contemporary Ras Shamra), 1km from the Syrian coast. The original tablet is in the collection of the National Museum of Damascus. A scholarly interpretation of its imperfectly understood musical notation has been transcribed into contemporary notation, allowing it to be uniquely interpreted and performed at each location as it travels the circle. 


See the New York Times article for additional Guggenheim events, including a preview of John Adam's opera “Girls of the Golden West,” as part of the coming season of its series Works & Process, talks and performances that provide audience insights into the creative process.