Arab music is distinctly different from modern European music, that is
European music from the 18th century onwards.
But this difference does not stem from basic disparity between the Arab
and European natures, as has occurred to some scholars in writing on racial
and ethnological relationship.
There is the same disparity between the ancient European music, and the
modern European music in its last evolutionary stage. Greek and Roman music
was based on sentimental songs or on the tunes that accompanied the dances
and songs. It was composed rather for delight than self-expression. European
melodies before the 18th century were lyrical; they were not tunes coordinated
in the system known by the modern term harmony.
The modern European is not naturally delighted by harmonic music without
being beforehand learned in its arts. If the tunes multiply, the tones
vary and the distance between the repetitive rhythms grows longer, the
European listener will find himself lost, and wearied in trying to combine
it and its divisions. He must be conversant with the harmony of sound and
the scale of tones so that he may relish that complex music and be delighted
at listening to it, in the same way as an individual get delighted by aesthetics.
He may be well learned in the art of refined music, yet he will be repelled
when he hears a new musical scale of sounds. He needs to study it for a
while until he likes it. In this connection, Professor Douglas Moore, professor
of music at Columbia University, says in his book (From hymn to contemporary
The listener, accustomed to listening to simple styles of music, will be
justly disappointed if he feels he is soon lost when listening to a sympathy.
He should not be disappointed and remain reassured, because what agrees
with him, agrees with others, however much versed and experienced he may
be. Our capacity for concentrated listening is too much limited to allow
for any type of listening based on perfect pitch. Even professional musicians
prefer to listen to familiar music, rather than to listen to new tunes,
because they spend less effort in grasping it. However, persistent practice
and patient understanding of new tunes will speedily render the listener
familiar with them, and consequently he can grasp quite easily their lofty
significance, and refined melody.
The innovations in the modern European music of variation and composition,
have estranged it from the Greek and Roman music in general. These innovations
were not a new thing to European or human nature. They were a new acquisition
of knowledge and devices after having made vast researches in thee science
of sound, the arrangement of musical instruments, and the influence of
liturgical music, then tunes of spiritual hymns and of philosophical contemplations
into sensory music.
The difference between ancient music and modern music became greater when
it expanded to include religious emotions and divine services. The listener
used to listen to it in the niches of temples, when he was submitting himself
to the Almighty, and pondering on the mystery of the universe. If music
has expanded to include such loftier expressions, also must have scope
for the insertion of deeply wise sayings, ascetic corollaries, and intuitional
airs which have pervaded Europe after the evanescence of the religious
impact, in consequence of reformation revolts. It is therefore not strange
that home-countries of church music are the sponsors of harmonics in music,
or the home-countries of the famous musicians who rose to the peak of excellence
in the composition of operas, symphonies and other compositional arts.
These countries are most probably Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany and Russia
which was renowned for its choirs. In this connection it is noticeable
that the regions in which the impact of the church disappeared all at once,
namely Lutheran Germany, outnumbered in great musicians all other regions
in which the ancient and modern have combined.
However, relationship between the Arabs and the evolution of European music
on that line has not been severed.
This is due to the fact that Andalusia had been receiving tunes composed
by the Arabs. These tunes embraced sensuous tunes admixed with liturgical
music. They lasted for several generations after the decline of the Arab
State. The Spanish had a specific divine dance sponsored by the Church;
that dance combined features of archaic and modern music
It is an established fact that Europeans had learnt the art of music from
Arab professors in Andalusia, and that they had taken down the names of
some musical instruments from the Arabs and introduced them into their
European languages subsequent to alight inflections. Such words are the
Lute from the Arabic world «Al-Cud»; «Naker» from
the Arabic word (Nakara»; «Cle) (the musical key) from «Ekled»,
and «Rebec» from the Arabic word «Rebeba» Europe
artists continued to put on dresses similar to the Arab singers, although
circumstances had changed. Arab singers in Morocco used to perform in their
best. Cantatrices used to release their hair, color their cheeks and apply
to their eyelids.
However, some European experts in Arab music, such as Professor Farmer,
believe that the Arabs had anticipated the Europeans in evolving a kind
of «harmonics» which they call «Composer». By it
they mean various intonations of one single tune at one time, which is
different from today's harmonics. However it was a step towards it.
Historians are unanimously agreed that European scholars studied and handed
Arab treatises on theoretical music. Although they had translated a modicum
of those treaties, hundreds of them joined the schools of Carthage and
other cities in quest of science, which included theoretical music. Good
knowledge of the Arabic language was a pre-condition for any Christian
Spaniard. The students at Oxford University of England used to jeer at
«Roger Bacon», the famous scholar, whenever he made a mistake
in the Latin translation of Arabic, because they could look up the correct
Some modern European critics imagine that the Arabs' voice was not up to
the standard of grandeur and loftiness. They draw this conclusion from
what they hear about Bedouin outcries at fairs and market places which
sounded shrill and frail. These European critics could have discovered
their mistake, had they born in mind the songs of camel-driver in the desert,
which is in fact the ancient type of Arab singing. Such singing provided
a wide scope for all kinds of voices which resounded all over the desert
and rose to the highest pitches.
At any rate, there is no basic difference of scales between Arab and European
music. Yet the Arab musician who holds stubbornly fast to the `familiars'
highly esteems what is called «quarter-tones», and considers
it a basically distinguishing mark between Oriental and European tunes.
However, the observance of this «quarter tones» is not a condition
for listening by an Arab, war does its denial set a condition for listening
by an European.
The modern musician Hans Barth manufactured a piano which has the quarter-tone;
Ivan Wischnegradsky wrote a book on the quarter-tone and harmonics. Alois
Haba composed an opera and tunes on the basis of the quarter-tone observed
in Arabic songs Julian Carello made a guitar on that basis. John Appleby
played on that guitar the tune of a theme that revolved around a talk by
Socrates. Nicolas Ramsky Korsakof formed, some twenty years ago, in Leningrad a group for the study of the «quarter-tone»
Apart from these, there are the musicians who introduced Arabic tunes in
their theatrical and non-theatrical melodies such as Rubenstein, Philican
David and Saint Saens, and drew intonation closer to harmony.
It this basis has prevailed in Europe and been observed in the construction
of the musical instruments and the composition of the tunes, then it is
a new trace of the Arabs' art adding to their old heritage.