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The Last Musician of Ur

Classical/Symphonic music • 2009

The Last Musician of Ur

25.00 USD

PDF, 2.29 Mb ID: SM-000329397 Upload date: 10 Apr 2018
Flute, Flute piccolo, Clarinet, Bassoon, Oboe, Horn, Trombone, Trumpet, Tuba, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double bass, Harp, Glockenspiel, Triangle, Timpani, Bass drum
Scored for
Symphonic orchestra
Type of score
Full score, Parts
E minor
1 to 1 from 1
Michael Mauldin
In April 2003, the earliest stringed instrument ever found, the Gold Lyre of Ur, was damaged by looters at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. In 2004, not long after British harpist Andrew Lowings began his project to build an authentic and playable replica, he contacted me. He was familiar with my music for pedal harp. He asked if I might allow some of it to be used to help promote the project. I agreed, wanting to contribute to the effort, which was an amazing collaborative endeavor, using real “Sumerian” cedar wood, the correct gemstones and appropriate techniques.

I wanted to do more. In 2009, a way presented itself. Andy suggested I write a piece for orchestra, including pedal harp, based on the story of the last player of the lyre. I was moved by the story and its ability to connect musicians (and all people) across borders, continents and great stretches of time.

In 1929 archaeologists discovered royal graves, from around 4,500 years ago that appeared to be the scene of a mass suicide. Sixty eight bodies lay, as if asleep, dressed in similar costumes and identical jewelry. In the corner were the remains of the Gold Lyre of Ur, with the arm of its last player draped over it, as if she had played to the end.

I see the narrative of the piece opening with a thriving, growing civilization in the ancient desert. Suddenly there is a great threat. A tragic second melody marches to an inescapable destiny, but gives way to a hauntingly innocent and reverent melody, accompanied by the pedal harp. Other instruments drop away, but the harp plays alone until a quiet, dark section arrests time and hope. Suddenly a door is opened and light pours in, accompanied by the original theme, this time representing a new, thriving and growing civilization in the desert. There is still tragedy, as suggested by the reappearance of the second theme, but its character is different—this time struggling toward hope rather than inescapable destruction. The harp’s reverent melody is lower, less innocent, and is interrupted by brief references to the “Hurrian Song,” believed to be the earliest known piece of written music, slightly younger than the Lyre but still written in cuneiform (translated by Professor Anne Kilmer). The piece’s conclusion is neither triumphant nor defeated. It ends in a major key, but with quiet emphasis on the “dominant” (questioning) note of the scale. It gently reminds us that we must write our own story.

Licensed by ASCAP #884644873
Recording: Navona Records. The Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Petr Vronsky, Conductor.
Sound clip:
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