Starting with Athanasius Kircher in the 17th century, it became de rigueur for music histories to include a discussion of Ancient Egypt’s musical contribution. This is striking, considering that no notated sources of ancient Egyptian music exist. Due to stringent cultural demands, Egypt became an indispensable component of music histories in the 18th and 19th centuries. The idea of Egyptian music, unfettered by actual examples of it, can give us a rare glimpse into wide-ranging ideas about the nature of evidence in music-historical narratives, the inner workings of music histories, and how the wider cultural tasks of music are imagined.
Thanks go to Justin Dower for setting up and populating this website. Thanks go to Gina Rivera for the original bet that sparked my interest in ancient Egyptian music. (The original challenge to write an article on The Simpsons resulted in a short preliminary paper on Egyptian music, entitled “Die Ägyptische Spieldose,” which was given, in German, at the conference Konstruktion der Musikgeschichte (Göttingen 2012) and that is included in the conference proceedings.) David Trippett and Jonathan Kregor were extremely helpful during the initial research phase, and I thank my colleague Peter Manuellian for helping me out with genuine egyptological insights.