• Michael Nyman
  • Self Laudatory Hymn of Inanna and Her Omnipotence (1992)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • viols
  • also available for contralto/strings and countertenor/wind ensemble
  • countertenor
  • 18 min

Programme Note



On occasion the chance discovery of a text leads not only to the composition of a work of some substance, but also to a continuing fascination in a new area of intellectual activity. A newspaper review of Oliver Sack's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat led, first, to an opera and then to an interest in (popular) neurology; similarly a friend's passing reference to Paul Celan brought about my Six Celan Songs and a study of his poetry. The text of the Self-Laudatory Hymn came to light while I was browsing among the bookshelves of an Armenian acquaintance in February 1992. Opening, for no apparent reason, a fat anthology entitled Ancient Near-Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James B. Pritchard, I found S N Kramer's translation of this Hymn. I was immediately taken with its tone of unashamed self-congratulation (very suitable, I thought, for James Bowman's voice) and its repetitive structure (very suitable for my music).

In conversation with another friend I learned that Inanna was not an obscure goddess known only to me and a few experts on Sumerian civilisation, but a central focus of that civilisation and a figure highly esteemed by feminists. In Kramer's works: 'Female deities were worshipped and adored all though Sumerian history…but the goddess who outweighed, overshadowed, and outlasted them all was a deity know to the Sumerians by the name of Inanna, 'Queen of Heaven', and to the Semites who lived in Sumer by the name of Ishtar. Inanna played a greater role in myth, epic, and hymn that any other deity, male or female.'

Another text from the anthology, The Honey-Man - which I know to be part of a remarkable erotic text The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi - has become part of my ongoing cycle of songs on texts concerned simultaneously with sex and food.

In the Self-Laudatory Hymn I have made no attempt to evoke Sumerian music (or music of any other period). The opportunity to work with the viols of Fretwork recalls my use of early instruments in the first Michael Nyman Band, which uses rebecs rather than viols; and also my studies in the 1960s with Thurston Dart (and his memorable Musica Britannica edition of Jacobean consort music) and the finest book ever written on English music, English Chamber Music by E H Meyer.

© Michael Nyman