WHERE DOES ARABIC MUSIC COME FROM? NOBILE HAS MADE A DISCOVERY…
12 Luglio 2020
Dear friends and enemies of Stilum Curiae, Agostino Nobile has sent us a short article, very enjoyable in our opinion, on Arabic music and its origins. Enjoy reading it.
The music we call Arabic has Christian roots
In the nineties I became acquainted with a young sheikh, with whom I made friends. He came by to speak to me almost every evening at the piano bar of a hotel in Dubai where I worked. One evening, while conversing about this and that, he suddenly asked me: “Why is it that we like western music and you don’t like ours?” Taken by surprise, I replied that perhaps the reason is to be found in the particularity of monophonic music of the east while instead, western music is filled with harmony. His question, which at first glance seemed trivial, intrigued me because it pushed me to ask myself what the origin of Arabic music was and the reasons that kept it linked to monody.
Since in those years the Internet did not exist yet, when I returned to Italy I tried to do a bit of research to find the answer to this question, but I did not even find so much as a brochure on Arabic music. I started a kind of “treasure hunt”, but found nothing of any significance. In those months, It just so happened that during a trip to Constantinople (Istanbul) I went to attend a Greek Orthodox mass. I could not believe my ears! An exquisite song that was sung at a certain point during the mass gave me the answer I was looking for. Later, by reading in French something that described what I had heard at that mass in Turkey, a world opened up to me.
The Byzantine chant is originated in the early Christian communities of the Sinai desert. Most likely, as scholars such as the Greek singer Nektaria Karantzi, point out, the songs refer to styles that are lost over time, but reworked for liturgical purposes. It is a musical system that uses the rich sequence of melodic ranges of the eastern Mediterranean based on biblical texts and on the theology of the Church Fathers.
Byzantine music is produced by the singing of a single voice, often accompanied by isos (one or more voices in unison and what Westerners in harmony call pedal or drone). It is based on the so-called eight ecclesiastical ways, used for the musical composition of Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Latin and Slavic churches until the Middle Ages.
This traditional unity began to break down when in the 9th century the Church in Rome began the first experiments of liturgical polyphony (a compositional style that combines two or more independent, vocal and / or instrumental voices, also called parts). Starting from the Carolingian era, polyphony became a substantial fact because began to be write on paper, consciously placing the overlap of particular voices.
The schism of 1054 (the split of the Orthodox Churc from the Roman Catholic Church) in addition to the political and theological question, was cultural. While in the West there had been an extraordinary development of polyphony in sacred music (in profane music sometimes excessive), the Eastern Roman Empire brought the monody to unprecedented levels. In 1453, with the fall of Constantinople, the Byzantine chant, although continuing to develop, was forgotten, or worse. In the West countries people are convinced that music played in Muslim countries it was born with Islam.
PS. To get an idea, readers can click on the following sites:
Byzantine prayer song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwFYUJb03d0
Islamic prayer song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_u1gQI-aiQ
(Co-translator Joy Paulson)
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