Rhythm and Tempo: A Study in Music History

By Curt Sachs | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

The Near and Middle East

He who makes a mistake is still our friend;
he who adds to, or shortens, a melody is still
our friend; but he who violates a rhythm un-
awares can no longer be our friend.

Ishaq ibn Ibrahim (767-850 A. D.)

The western part of the Orient taxes our vocabulary more than other regions do. Shall we speak of Arabian music? But the Berbers are not Arabs, and still less so, the Persians, Turks, or Pakistanis. Shall we speak of Muhammedan music? But considerable numbers of the Arabs, in Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, are Christians. Not even the notions Near and Middle East are consistently defined. And yet there is very definitely—at least in the cities—one musical style in the gigantic area that houses the Muslim and the Christian Arabs west of India.

Hence the author should be pardoned for using terms that may be too narrow in scope: his 'Arabs' will often include non-Arabs, and his 'Muhammedans' often non-Muslim.

EARLY POETIC METERS. Arabian music, like that of other peoples, originally followed the rhythms of poetry. Still as late as the ninth century A. D., Ziriab, a famous singer-composer, impressed this general rule on his pupils: in studying a song, to memorize first the rhythm of the text, then to beat it out on a drum, and

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