Contemporary recording of composition inspired by ancient tombstone

A composition inspired by the world’s oldest surviving piece of music has been performed and recorded by Turkish guitarist, Barkin Sertkaya, School of Music, University of Auckland.

Barkin Sertkaya: "When I bring the melody to life, I find myself on the shores of the Aegean Sea once more."

The work was initiated after Sertkaya, an internationally acclaimed classical guitarist approached composer and School of Music alumnus Bruce Paine in 2020, with the idea of a new solo guitar composition blending Anatolian and New Zealand themes of significance.

The resulting composition is based on the engraved musical notations and lyrics on an ancient tombstone known as the Seikilos Epitaph, near Aydin in Turkey. It is thought to be the oldest complete music composition in existence.

The epitaph is a memorial to the wife of the composer, Seikilos, and it appears alongside ancient Greek music notation from around the first or second century AD.

Paine’s composition is comprised of four movements, each corresponding to and inspired by respective lines from the epitaph.

While you live, shine
have no grief at all
life exists only for a short while
and Time demands its due.

“The Seikilos Chimes composition stands to highlight the important message, urging us all to shine, or in other words live positively in every respect and every moment of our lives,” says Paine. “Also that time and life is short, not to be wasted.”

Barkin describes the composition as a unique blend of Anatolian and New Zealand themes. “Seikilos Epitaph holds a special place in my heart. The four-line poem perfectly summarises the circle of existence. When I bring the melody to life, I find myself on the shores of the Aegean Sea once more.

“Playing this was like a nostalgic travel to Anatolia, where so many civilisations and cultures have flourished. Performing a piece that combines these cultural aspects from both worlds is a captivating experience. It has a very blissful and soothing language which reflects pure emotions, despite depicting the struggles of existence.”

The recording took place at the Kenneth Myers Centre, and the collaboration of Barkin and Paine funded by Creative New Zealand.

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