31. The craft of singing (and music) [From THE MUQADDIMAH of Abd Ar Rahman bin Muhammed ibn Khaldun]
31. The craft of singing (and music).
This craft is concerned with the setting of poems to music.214 (This is done) by scanning the sounds according to well-known fixed proportions, which causes any sound (complex) thus scanned to constitute a tune, a rhythmic mode. These modes are then combined with each other according to accepted proportions. The result is pleasant to listen to because of its harmony and the quality (that harmony) gives to the sounds. This is as follows: As explained in the science of music, sounds are in certain proportions (intervals) to each other. A sound may be one-half, one-quarter, one-fifth, or one-eleventh of another sound. The difference in interval between the sounds that reach the ear transforms them from simple (sounds) to combinations of (sounds). Not every combination is pleasant to listen to. There are special combinations (that are pleasant). They have been enumerated and discussed by musicologists, as is mentioned in the proper place.
The music produced by the rhythmic modes of singing may be supplemented by scanning other sounds that come from solids and are produced by either beating or blowing into instruments used for the purpose. Such (instrumental music) adds to the pleasure of listening. Various kinds of instruments are used in the contemporary Maghrib. There is the wood-wind instrument called shabbabah. 215 It is a hollow reed with a number of holes on the sides. One blows into it, and it gives a sound. The sound escapes from the hollow of (the reed) straight 216 through these holes. It is scanned by placing the fingers of both hands upon these holes in conventionally accepted ways. This creates the proper intervals between the sounds and also combines them harmoniously. As a result, they are pleasant to listen to when one hears them, because of the harmony we have mentioned.
Another similar kind of instrument is the wood-wind instrument calledzulami.217 It has the form of a reed, with two wooden parts carved (hollow), hollow but not round, because it is made of two pieces put together. It also has a number of holes. One blows into it through a small connected reed which directs the wind to (the holes). This produces a highpitched tone. The fingers are placed upon (the holes) and the sounds are thus scanned in the same way as on the shabbabah.
One of the best wind instruments at this time is the bug 218 This is a trumpet of copper (brass) which is hollow, one cubit long, widening toward the opening, the diameter of which is less than 219 the palm of a hand in width. It has the form of a nibbed calamus. One blows into it through a small reed which conveys the wind from the mouth into it. The sound comes out compact and loud. It also has a number of holes, and (makes) a harmonious tune of pleasant effect, which is produced in the same way (as in the aforementioned instruments), by placing the fingers (on the holes).
Then, there are the string instruments. They are all hollow. They may have either the shape of a section of a sphere, as, for instance, the barbiton and the rebec, or a square shape, such as the ganun.220 The strings are placed upon the surface of (the instrument). They are tied at the head to pegs that can be turned, so that it is possible to (tighten or) loosen (the strings) as required, by turning them. The strings are either plucked with another piece of wood or (played) with a string fastened between the two ends of a bow that passes over (the strings of the instrument) after it had been waxed with wax or mastic (kundur). Sounds are scanned through lightening (the pressure of) the hand that guides (the bow) over the strings, or through transferring (the bow) from one string to another. Moreover, in all string instruments, the fingers of the left hand can be used to beat or pluck the ends of the strings. Thus, there originate harmonious, pleasant sounds. Moreover, brass kettles may be beaten with sticks, or pieces of wood may be beaten against each other in a harmonious rhythm. This creates a feeling of pleasure as the result of the music one hears.
Let us explain the reason for the pleasure resulting from music. This is as follows: As has been established in the proper place, pleasure is the attainment of something that is agreeable. (Such a thing,) in sensual perception, can only be a quality. If (such a quality) is proportionate and agreeable to the person who has the perception, it is pleasant. If it is repugnant to him or discordant, it is painful. Agreeable foods are those whose quality corresponds to the temper of the sense of taste. The same applies to agreeable sensations of touch. Agreeable smells are those that correspond to the temper of the vaporous cordial spirit, because that spirit is what perceives and receives them through the (medium of the) sense (of smell). Thus, aromatic plants and flowers smell better and are more agreeable to the spirit, because heat, which is the temper of the cordial spirit, is preponderant in them. Agreeable sensations of vision and hearing are caused by harmonious arrangement in the forms and qualities of (the things seen or heard). This impresses the soul as harmonious and is more agreeable to it.
If an object of vision is harmonious in the forms and lines given to it in accordance with the matter from which it is made, so that the requirements of its particular matter as to perfect harmony and arrangement are not disregarded that being the meaning of beauty and loveliness whenever these terms are used for any object of sensual perception that (object of vision) is then in harmony with the soul that perceives (it), and the soul, thus, feels pleasure as the result of perceiving something that is agreeable to it. Therefore, lovers who are most deeply in love express their extreme infatuation by saying that their spirit is commingled with that of the beloved.221 In another sense, the meaning of it is that existence is shared by all existent things, as the philosophers say. Therefore, (existent things) love to commingle with something in which they observe perfection, in order to become one with it.
The object that is most suited to man and in which he is most likely to perceive perfect harmony, is the human form. Therefore, it is most congenial to him to perceive beauty and loveliness in the lines and sounds of the human form. Thus,every man desires beauty in the objects of vision and hearing, as a requirement of his nature. Beauty in the objects of hearing is harmony and lack of discordance in the sounds.
This is as follows: Sounds have certain qualities. They may be whispered or loud, soft or strong, vibrant or constrained, and so on. Harmony between them is what gives them beauty. Firstly, the transition from one sound to a contrary or identical sound as well as the return to the first sound, is not made suddenly but gradually. There must be something to bridge the gap between the two sounds. This may be compared with the fact that linguists consider clusters of sounds of discordant or similar articulation ugly. This belongs to the same category. Secondly, the sounds must have harmonious intervals, as was mentioned at the beginning of the chapter. The transition from a sound to a sound one-half, one-third, or some other fraction of it, must take place in a harmonious manner according to the rules established by musicologists. When the sounds are harmonious with regard to their qualities, as has been mentioned by musicologists, they are agreeable and pleasant.
Such harmony may be a simple one. Many people are gifted to achieve it by nature. They do not need any (special) instruction or (craft) for it, for we find people who are gifted by nature for the meters of poetry, the rhythms of the dance, and similar things. The common people call such an aptitude "musicalness" (midmar).222Many Qur'an readers belong in this category. In reciting the Qur'an, they know well how to modulate their voices, as if they were flutes. They thus cause emotion through the beauty of their performance 223 and the harmony of their modes.
Harmony may also result from composition. Not all human beings are alike in their knowledge of it, nor are they all equally able by nature to practice it, if they know it. This is the melodious music with which the science of music has to deal, as we shall explain later on among the sciences. 224
Malik disapproved of the use of melodies in reciting the Qur'an, 225 and ash-Shafi'i permitted it. Here it is not a question of artistic musical melodies. There can be no difference of opinion as to the fact that they are forbidden. The art of singing is something entirely unconnected with the Qur'an. It is true, in the recitation and pronunciation (of the Qur'an), each letter (sound) requires a certain quantity of sound for its particular pronunciation, in as much as, for instance, the lengthening of vowels in the proper places is concerned, 226 the longer or shorter pronunciation of long vowels,227 and similar things. Melodious music also requires a certain quantity of sound to materialize, because, as we have stated, its real meaning is harmony. However, considering the one (thing) ruins the other, 228 since they are the opposite of each other. The recitation of the Qur'an must be given preference, in order to avoid any change in traditional transmission in connection with the Qur'an. Thus, melodious music can, by no means, be combined with the pronunciation under consideration in connection with the Qur'an. As regards the difference of opinion (among authorities as to the permissibility of melodious music for the recitation of the Qur'an), the thing (the authorities) have in mind is the plain music to which nature guides the person who is musical (midmar), as we have stated. Such a person arranges his sounds in certain harmonious cadences, which those who know about singing, as well as others, perceive (as music).229 This is the point about which the difference of opinion (revolves).
The obvious (fact) is that the Qur'an is (to be) kept free of it, (exactly) as the imam (Malik) thought. The Qur'an is something that causes awe, as it reminds (man) of death and what comes after it. It is not an occasion to give pleasure in the perception of beautiful sounds. It was (in this spirit) that the men around Muhammad recited the Qur'an, as is stated in their biographies.
The statement by Muhammad, "A flute of those belonging to the family of David was brought to him," 230 does not refer to cadences and melodious music, but it refers to a beautiful voice, a clear pronunciation in reciting the Qur'an, and a clear distinction in the articulation and enunciation of the letters (sounds).
Since we have mentioned the meaning of singing, it should be known that singing originates in a civilization when it becomes abundant and (people) progress from the necessities to the conveniences, and then to the luxuries, and have a great diversity of (luxuries). Then, the craft of singing originates, because it is required only by those who are free from all the necessary and urgent needs of making a living and care for domestic and other needs. It is in demand only by those who are free from all other worries and seek various ways of having pleasure. In the non-Arab states before Islam, music was highly developed in cities and towns. The (non-Arab) rulers cultivated it eagerly. It went so far that the Persian rulers felt a great concern for musicians. Musicians had a place in their dynasty and attended their sessions and gatherings and sang for them. The same is (still) the case with the non-Arabs at this time in all their regions and provinces.
The Arabs originally had (only) poetry.231 They composed a kind of speech consisting of equal parts of harmonious proportions, as far as the number of consonants with and without vowels was concerned. Within these parts, they divided speech in such a way that each part made sense by itself and did not have to lean upon the other. Such (part of speech) they called verse. It is agreeable to nature first by its division into parts, then by the harmonious arrangements of its parts at the ends and beginnings,232 and then by the fact that it conveys the intended meaning and uses expressions conforming to (that meaning).
(The Arabs) appreciated (poetry) very highly. It was distinguished in their speech through a certain nobility, because it alone possessed harmony. They made poetry the archive of their history, 233 their wisdom, and their nobility, and the touchstone of their natural gift for expressing themselves correctly, choosing the best methods (uslub, of expression). They have continued to do so.
The harmony resulting from (a division of speech into) parts, and (into an equal number of) consonants with and without vowels, is just one small drop in the ocean of sound harmony, as is well known from the literature 234 on music. However, (the Arabs) did not know anything except (poetry), because at that time, they practiced no science and knew no craft. The desert attitude was their dominant trait.
Now, camel drivers sang when they drove their camels, and young men sang when they were alone (with each other at times of leisure and recreation). 235 They repeated sounds and hummed them. When such humming was applied to poetry, it was called singing. When it was applied to the praise of God or some kind of recitation (of the Qur'an), it was called taghbir. Abu Ishaq az-Zajjaj 236 explained this word as (derived from al-ghdbir, that is, melodies) reminding one of al ghabir"that which remains," that is, the affairs of the other world.
When (the Arabs) sang, they often effected a simple harmony between the modes, as was mentioned by Ibn Rashiq at the end of the Kitab al-' Umdah,237 and by others. This was called sinad. Most (Arab music) was in the light rhythm (khafif)that is used for dancing and marching, accompanied by drums and flutes. It causes emotion and makes the seriousminded feel light.238 The Arabs called that hazaj. All these simple types of melodious music are primary ones. It is not unlikely to assume that they can be grasped by nature without any instruction, as is the case with all simple crafts.
The Arabs continued this way during their desert and pre-Islamic period. Then, Islam made its appearance. (The Arabs) took possession of (all) the realms of the world. They deprived the non-Arabs of their rule and took it over. They had their well-known desert attitude and low standard of living. In addition, they possessed the thriving 239 religion (of Islam) and that (Muslim) religious severity which is directed against all activities of leisure and all the things that are of no utility in one's religion or livelihood. Therefore, (music) was avoided to some degree. In their opinion, only the cadenced recitation of the Qur'an and the humming of poetry which had always been their way and custom, were pleasurable things.
Then, luxury and prosperity came to them, because they obtained the spoils of the nations. They came to lead splendid and refined lives and to appreciate leisure. The singers (now) left the Persians and Byzantines. They descended upon the Hijaz and became clients of the Arabs. They all sang accompanied by lutes, pandores, lyres,240 and flutes. The Arabs heard their melodious use of sound, and they set their poems to music accordingly. In Medina, Nashit al-Farlsi, 241 Tuways, and Sa'ib Khathir, a client of `Abdallah b. Jafar (b. Abt Talib), made their appearance. They heard the poems of the Arabs and set them to music. They did it well, and they became famous. Ma'bad and his class of singers, as well as Ibn Surayj and his ilk, learned from them. Continual and gradual progress was made in the craft of singing. Eventually, in the days of the `Abbasids, (the craft of singing) reached its perfection with Ibrahim b. al-Mahdi, Ibrahim al-Mawsili, (Ibrahim's) son Ishaq, and (Ishaq's) son Hammid.242 (The music) and the (musical) sessions of Baghdad during the ('Abbasid) dynasty have remained a topic of conversation down to the present time.
(People at that time) constantly had games and entertainments. Dancing equipment, consisting of robes and sticks, and poems to which melodies were hummed, were used. That was transformed into a special kind (of entertainment). Other dancing equipment, called kurraj, was also used. (The kurraj) is a wooden figure (resembling) a saddled horse and is attached to robes such as women wear. (The dancers) thus give the appearance of having mounted horses. They attack and withdraw 243 and compete in skill (with weapons). There were other such games intended for banquets, wedding parties, festivals, and (other) gatherings for leisure and entertainment. There was much of that sort in Baghdad and the cities of the 'Iraq. It spread from there to other regions.
The Mawsilis had a young (apprentice) servant, by name Ziryab,244 who had learned from them how to sing. He learned so well that they became jealous of him and sent him away to the West. He joined al-Hakam b. Hisham b. `Abd-ar-Rahman I, the amir of Spain. He (al-Hakam) honored him greatly. He rode out to welcome him. He showered him with gifts, fiefs, and allowances. He gave him a place in his dynasty as one of his boon companions. The musical heritage Ziryab left in Spain was transmitted down to the time of the reyes de taifas. In Sevilla, (the craft of singing) was highly developed. After (Sevilla) had lost its affluence, (the craft of singing) was transplanted from there to the coast of Ifriqiyah and the Maghrib. It spread over the cities there. A sprinkling of it is still left there, despite retrogression in the civilization of the region and the decreasing power of its dynasties.
The craft of singing is the last of the crafts attained in civilization, because it constitutes (the last development toward) luxury with regard to no occupation in particular save that of leisure and gaiety. It also is the first to disappear from a given civilization when it disintegrates and retrogresses.
God is "the Creator, the Knowing One." 245