Impact of Islam on Music Theory in two correspondences

Dear Daniel Wolf,

Your efforts to reflect and introduce tunings of “exotic” musical genres to the tuning list are commendable. It is also terrific that historical European temperaments are not viewed by members of this community as categorically applicable to world musics, though I admit that the proximity of the Ottoman court to the Western world did at a certain point render Meantone Temperaments, particularly the Telemann-Mozart methodology of 9 commas to the whole tone & 55 commas to the octave, a valid basis for explaining the theory of maqams (as can be seen in the example of Antoine Murat). While I am not particularly fond of the definition “Art Music”, I shall venture to say that Western tonal common-practice music and maqam music of the Ottoman court, its periphery, and Turkish posterity are on a par as regards artistic refinement in such areas as rhythm, melody, texture and form.

You are right that the majority of documents on Middle Eastern music theory penned in Arabic, Persian and old Turkish are quite inaccessible to the majority of Anglophones, which probably renders my complaint falling flat on its face. I must also confess my limitations for not knowing much Arabic, Persian or old Turkish script. My only advantage to other members is the inflation of modern Turkish literature on the subject of maqam music and translations of old works.

Nevertheless, I do not agree with your view on Islamic (or, as you put it, “Islamicate”) music theory not embracing Jews and Christians of the region. While it would be unthinkable in a Byzantine court or Papal district for a Muslim music practitioner to be tolerated, let alone be given high positions, the cultural atmosphere advocated by my religion gave birth to a civilization where even non-Muslims became part of the imperial community. The Caucasian traditions you speak of boast no seperate music theory that I know of until the advent of the Soviets and imposition of 12-tone parlance. The same goes for the Balkans. Tanburi Harutin, Dimitrie Kantemir, Hamparsum Limonjiyan are but a few of the distinguished names ratifying my claims. A single excursion into Armenian and Greek documents of 18th Century Turkey reveal that Greeks and Armenians use the same perde names, instruments, maqams and forms that were popular among Turks.

The drawback you described can be overcome if objective scholarship is applied to the field.

Dr. Oz.

*      *      *

Dear Kraig Grady, let me state my position clearly:

1. There was no Islamic culture/civilization the way we understand today prior to the 7th Century, although the religion’s foundations precede Prophet Muhammed Sallallahu Aleyh’s appearance by thousands of years.

2. Muslims (aside from a minority of fanatics found in every culture and period) have always preserved and furthered knowledge up until the rise of Asharite Kelaam (Al-Ghazali was both an Ashari and a Sufi, and Nizam al-mulk – vezier to the Seljuk sultans – was a Sufi-lover who advocated the Nizamiyyah Madrassas based on Shafii Jurisprudence that was packaged with Asharite views of the world). This meant that the medieval Islamic quest for science and knowledge came to a gradual halt by the 11th century onward, leading to the collapse of the three major Islamic empires (Ottomans, Safevids, Mughals) by the 19th-20th Centuries.

3. Islamic or “Islamicate” corresponds to Christendom in the context of music theory, not Christianity. Surely, Boethius, Odo de Cluny, Guido de Arezzo, Marchetto di Padova and Philippe de Vitry were all Christendom theorists. Calling them and the Hellenes European does great injustice to the historical-cultural context. Who claims that Pythagoras, Archytas and Aristoxenus were European music theorists? Such an outlook is extremely deceptive and detrimental to objective neutrality.

Dr. Oz.