Watch One Of James O'Brien's Favourite Mystery Hour Moments

3 October 2019, 15:48 | Updated: 3 October 2019, 15:49

Watch one of James O'Brien's favourite Mystery Hour moments as the caller reveals some incredible facts about music.

Arthur from Leigh answered what music was the earliest written down.

"It's not the Gregorian Chant, obviously in the Christian era. It's not even Greensleeves which was in the 16th Century, it's actually 1800 BC and it comes from what is now Syria, which was part of the Hurrian Empire.

A love song to the moon goddess Nikkal. We have musical notation and the text.

"No way!" exclaimed James O'Brien, "This is magnificent!"

Absolutely. There is a slight problem - not with the fact but how we're going to perform it because it's written in what's called tablature which tells you where to press your fingers on the strings of a harp.

"And because we don't know which way up the harp was stringed, we may be performing it upside down!"

Music scores we know are nothing like the ancient scores
Music scores we know are nothing like the ancient scores. Picture: PA

"That is what passes for the joke of the year in ancient music experts' circles, doesn't it?" said James, "I love it!"

He continued: "Surely you can just play it both ways round and decide which one sounds nicer, Arthur?"

"Yeah, that's the Australian way," joked Arthur.

James asked about Arthur's qualifications and he replied, "I've taught palaeography and ancient notation at London University for forty years."

Arthur continued: "It's by no means the earliest musical activity we know about. There is a playable flute surviving from 35,000 BC in a cave in Germany. And it's made out of the leg bone of a swan."

James asked if he'd had a go on the flute, because if anybody would be allowed to play it, it'd be Arthur!

"Course not!" laughed Arthur, "they wouldn't let anybody near it. Blowing it might create a few problems. It has got all the holes on it."

James asked: "Is that where the musical notation that we use now comes from?"

Arthur said that question is almost impossible to answer but explained the evolution of music notation.

"The problem is even with Hurrian love song, we don't know about the rhythm."

James asked to hear a bit of the love song.

Arthur joked: "The rest of your life will be an anticlimax, James!"

James was touched and said that moments like this happen and he remembers why we have Mystery Hour.

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