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A History of Arabian Music

Henry G.Farmer illuminating book “A History of Arabian Music” seeks to provide readers with insight of the historical influences that shaped Arabian music and the culture that nourished and gave rise to variances and interpretations dealing with the theory of music and the practices that further consolidated and supported these theories.The book was published originally in 1929 and covers musical work over several centuries.

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The book starts with the factors that helped to shaped Arabian music culture. These include political and social factors which were instrumental in shaping Arabian music theory.

The book starts with a look at the “Days of Idolatry” in the 6th century (Farmer, 1929). According to Farmer, this was a time which was referred to by Muslims as “Days of ignorance” based of the fact that at that time much of the knowledge relating to Arabian civilization and the attending economical, political and cultural practices, was lost. Farmer argues that there were many musical instruments in this Islamic time, whose development were linked to Southern Arabians and these instruments include Mi’Zaf (Barbiton) and the Kus (A Large Kettledrum) (Farmer, 1929).

Factors Migration of people from the southern region to Al Hijaz resulted in a melting pot of the Arts and musicians and poets flourished and shared their talents with others. Farmer also stated that the Musicians and poets in Ukaz competed fiercely for ascendency in their respective arts and this may have helped to shaped the music of the times. Farmers reports that singing girls were famous during that time and musicians gained further recognition from singing at the courts (Farmer, 1929).

The author states that during the time of Idolatry, music was found in all areas of society; and pervaded, religious, public and private lives. Arabians were known to sing while at work and play and they often express joy by enagaging in music. Dispite the many musicians and singers of that time, only a few names have been preserved for modern society. Farmer states that with the advent of Islam during the time of Mohammed the Prophet and subsequent to his death, legists have been debating if music was lawful although there is no reference in the Quran as to any opposition.

Farmer argue that the opposition to music may have developed by those theologians who decryed the attention being paid to music and popular musicians of the time (Farmer, 1929). Arabian music would also be influence by the Khalif, Mu’awiya who during his reign in the 7th century eventually gave recognition and a present to a musician in his court and this was in direct contrast to what were popular expressions of disapproval of musicians at the time.

Yazid II (720-24) a ruler, was also said to have been instrumental in bringing back music to the courts and public life because he enjoyed the arts Farmer illuminatingly states that eventually during what he termed the “Orthodox Khalifate” there arose serious competition between the musicians of two major Arabian cities; Mecca and Al Medina and he argues that it was Mecca that gave the Arabians the musician Ibn Misjah who was stated to be the first schooled person in Arabian music.

Farmer stated that Arabian music was influenced by both Greek and Persian musicians and composers and the Greek influence gained ascendancy with the work of Greek theorists such as Ptolemy, Aristoxenos and Euklid prominently taking center stage to shape Arabian music. Farmer also looks at two Khalifs who were avid supporters of music and these were Al-Amir (1101-1131) and Al-Musta’H (1094-1101). Farmer argues that the later Khalifs helped to support and shape musical development and enjoyment.

In Farmers’ eyes the development and growth in appreciation of music in the Arabian culture was not without opposition and controversy. In his eyes, and based on his research, it was the Khalifs, especially those from the 8th to the 12th centuries that brought back music to public and private lives and encouraged a growing appreciation of this art form. He viewed the work of the great philosopher, Al-Ghazali, as being enormously influential pertaining to musical development and cites the Principal of the Two Nizamiyya colleges in Baghdad and Nisapur as being one who came out in defense of the music.

Farmer has been able to shed light on a period in Arabian history that shows how music development evolved and developed and the forces that acted to restrain the emergence of musical theory. His book shows the triumph of those who overcame adversity and opposition to music in public and private citing religious teachings and the book ends with a look at the work and lives of those who actively sought to make music a part of daily lived of Arabians.

Farmers work shows that the development of the music did not happen overnight, but was a result of centuries of struggle and erudite contemplations. No single individual can lay claim to the developing theories of music for the Arabian people and the development was due to a multitude of music lovers who defended the art and practices and eventually left a rich heritage. References Farmer, H. G. (1929). A History of Arabian Music. Luzac.

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