Monday, April 25, 2011

Recreating the sound of Tutankhamun's trumpets

BBC News (Christine Finn)

Tutankhamun's trumpet was one of the rare artefacts stolen from the Cairo Museum during the recent uprising. The 3,000-year-old instrument is rarely played, but a 1939 BBC radio recording captured its haunting sound.

Among the "wonderful things" Howard Carter described as he peered by candlelight into the newly discovered tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 were two trumpets, one silver and one bronze.

For more than 3,000 years they had lain, muted, in the Valley of the Kings, close to the mummy of the boy king. Found in different parts of Tutankhamun's tomb, both were decorated with depictions of Egyptian gods identified with military campaigns.

Both became exhibits at the Cairo museum, but when it was broken into during the recent uprising, the bronze instrument vanished. Luckily, the silver one was away on exhibition tour. . . .

The trumpet was recently found - reportedly with other Tutankhamun artefacts in a bag on the Cairo Metro.

Due to the fragile nature of the trumpets, their sound has only been recreated on a few occasions.

Early radio broadcasters saw the potential for an extraordinary recording, and in 1939 the Egyptian Antiquities Service was persuaded to take part in a BBC broadcast to the world from the Cairo Museum. (Joshua Rothman).

If it is true that the trumpet was played in January of this year, it begs the question why such an ancient, unique and fragile item was allowed to be handled in such a way.

When British Egyptologist Howard Carter first opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, he found two trumpets—the world’s two oldest intact musical instruments, silent for nearly 3,000 years. No one knows how well-used they were during King Tut’s reign, but they’ve had a very unquiet last century, and the BBC’s superb “Ghost Music” radio show tells their incredible story.

In modern times, the story starts on April 16, 1939, when, after three mute millennia, the trumpets were finally sounded by James Tappern, a British bandsman, during a BBC radio broadcast from the Cairo Museum (Tappern improvised a majestic-sounding tune). The broadcast was heard by millions around the world. The trumpets, which are decorated with martial symbols, are said to be able to loose the dogs of war: England entered the Second World War on Sept. 3, 1939, only a few months after the BBC broadcast. And according to the Cairo Museum’s Tutankhamun curator, one of the trumpets was blown by a member of the staff a week before the Egyptian revolution began.

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