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What is the Oldest Song Still Played & Sung Today? Exploring the History of Music

The Oldest Songs Still Played Today

Holly |

Pinpointing the oldest song still played and sung today is challenging due to the vast history of music and the evolution of oral traditions. However, one contender for the title is the "Hurrian Hymn No. 6," also known as the "Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal." This ancient hymn dates back to around 1400 BCE and was discovered in the ancient city of Ugarit, located in modern-day Syria. Preserved on clay tablets, this hymn is considered one of the earliest examples of written music notation. 

Although interpretations of the melody may vary, modern scholars and musicians have reconstructed and performed the "Hurrian Hymn No. 6," making it one of the oldest known musical compositions still played and appreciated today.

As it’s so difficult to pin down just one answer to this question, here are ten more examples of old songs still celebrated or performed today…

1. Seikilos Epitaph

Audio-Technica Soundburger
Wikipedia | "An approximate translation of the tune into modern musical notation"

Dating back to around the 1st century CE, the Seikilos Epitaph is one of the oldest complete compositions with both lyrics and melody. Discovered engraved on a tombstone in present-day Turkey, it is a poignant song celebrating life and love.

2. Ancient Greek Music Fragments

Fragments of ancient Greek music dating back to the 4th century BCE have been preserved in various forms, including written texts and archaeological artefacts. These fragments provide insight into the musical practices of ancient Greece and continue to inspire modern interpretations.

3. Gregorian Chants

Gregorian chants, a form of plainchant or monophonic sacred music, have roots in early Christian liturgical music dating back to the 9th century CE. These chants, characterised by their solemn and meditative melodies, are still sung in religious ceremonies and performances today.

4. Medieval Troubadour Songs

Troubadours and the Crusades

Troubadour songs from the Middle Ages, composed and performed by troubadours in France and other parts of Europe, are among the earliest secular songs to have survived. Dating back to the 11th to 13th centuries, these songs often explore themes of courtly love, chivalry, and social commentary.

5. Medieval Carols

The Choir Of Westminster Abbey - Christmas Carols
The Choir Of Westminster Abbey - Christmas Carols

Medieval carols originated in Europe during the Middle Ages and were typically sung during festive occasions, particularly Christmas celebrations. Dating back to the 12th century and beyond, these songs feature simple melodies and lyrics focused on religious themes.

6. Madrigals

Madrigals were secular vocal compositions popular during the Renaissance period, particularly in Italy. Dating back to the late 14th century, these polyphonic songs often featured expressive harmonies and were sung in small vocal ensembles.

7. Bach's Chorales

Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach composed numerous chorales, hymn-like pieces typically sung in Lutheran church services, during the Baroque era. Dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, Bach's chorales remain an integral part of choral repertoire and religious music today.

8. Scottish Folk Songs

Scottish folk songs have a rich oral tradition dating back centuries, with many songs passed down through generations. Examples include iconic ballads like "Auld Lang Syne," which dates back to the 18th century, and traditional songs like "The Skye Boat Song" and "Loch Lomond."

Kenneth McKellar - Loch Lomond
Kenneth McKellar - Loch Lomond 

9. Irish Traditional Music

Irish traditional music encompasses a wide range of songs, tunes, and dances that have been passed down through generations. Dating back to ancient Celtic traditions, these songs continue to be performed and celebrated in Ireland and around the world.

10. Japanese Gagaku Music

Gagaku is a form of traditional Japanese court music with roots dating back over a millennium. Developed in the imperial courts during the Heian period (794-1185 CE), gagaku features distinct melodies, instruments, and performance styles that have been preserved and performed to this day.

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