The Egyptian Music Box

Thursday Lecture Series, Evidence

April 28, 2011 Thursday, 12:15pm EDT The Heyman Center, Columbia University

Dating back at least to the days of Athanasius Kircher in the seventeenth century, it has been de rigueur in music histories to include a discussion of Ancient Egypt’s contribution to music. This tradition may seem curious given that we have not a shred of notation telling us what Egyptian music may have sounded like. Yet, due to certain stringent cultural demands, Egypt became an indispensable component of narrative accounts of music. What seems like an awkward scholarly conundrum can actually be turned into an advantage: the idea of Egyptian music—unfettered by actual examples of it—can give us a rare glance into wide-ranging ideas about the nature of evidence in historical narratives, the inner workings of music histories, and how the wider cultural tasks of music are imagined.