Monday, August 29, 2016

The Sacred Choral Music of the Renaissance (Part 2) - Music Flows from Al-Andalus to Europe

     This is Part Two of my 12-part series of articles about the sacred choral liturgical music that was sung in Roman catholic services during the 15th and 16th centuries.
     This music constitutes an important classical music tradition that has too long been ignored, and because of the beauty of the music, it is due for a resurgence. Renaissance sacred choral music is purely consonant, with a purity of spirit that is unmatched and a body of masterworks that were composed by some of our greatest composers, and these were beloved by the people of the time... a time where beauty was arising in the arts as ordinary people suffered under the chokehold of a tyrannical and dark religion. 
     The origin of the sacred choral music of the Renaissance lies in the singing of the liturgy, the so-called Gregorian chant that was developed beginning about 750 from a synthesis of Roman and Gallican liturgical chants. Gregorian chant consists of a single musical melody sung in Latin (except in a few cases where Greek words are used) by church or monastic cantors and choirs in the performance of services. 
Gregorian Chant

Organum: Gregorian chant notes are sung in the lower voice with an additional melody in the top.

     From the Gregorian chant, a new two-voice style called organum arose. The oldest document that we have that discusses the singing of organum is the Musica enchiriadis from the year 895. In organum, another voice is added, creating two separate musical lines that are sung together. The new voice is an embellished melody that is sung over the sustained notes of the original Gregorian chant melody. This feature represents the beginning of multi-voice singing, the singing style that we will be covering in this series. 
     The construction of Notre Dame Cathedral on the Île de la Cité in Paris took place between 1163 and 1238. Organum was sung there, and it was the 12th century center of music for Europe. To commemorate that fact, special performances of organum are performed in the cathedral from time to time. I videoed the following clip in Notre Dame Cathedral in the summer of 2009:

     Organum introduced the added simultaneous musical line that was sung above the single-line Gregorian chant melody, and from there more lines will be added to create the multipart texture of Renaissance sacred music. 
     My question is, what inspired this introduction of organum in the 9th century? 
     In a 2004 paper called The Arab Contribution to the Music of the Western World by Rabah Saoud, the author presents the idea that organum was the result of islamic influence from the advanced culture in Al-Andalus that we discussed in the previous article of this series. We have no proof. However, I began suspecting this myself decades before this paper was written, and so I mention it here.
     A point that Mr. Saoud presents for our contemplation is the similarity between the so-called solfege symbols of the European tradition ("Do a deer, a female deer, Re..." etc. featured in the popular The Sound of Music). He sites a French scholar named Laborde who in 1780 asserted that the western system of scale note identification called solfege (DO, RE, ME, FA, SO, LA, TI) demonstrates a strong resemblance to some of the letters of the Arabic alphabet (DAI, RA, MI, FA, SAD, LA, SIN).
     This may be a stretch; however, the solfege representation for our scale (C-Do, D-RE, E-MI, F-FA, G-SO, A-LA, B-TI) is also remarkably consistant with the ancient sargam scale-note identification system of India that dates back to somewhere in the 6th to the 8th century and is in common use in India and Pakisthan today (C-SA, D-RE, E-GA, F-MA, G-PA, A-DHA, B-NI). Now, that is pretty conclusive evidence of similar origins for two systems, the European solfege, and the Indian sargam:

                                       Do  Re  Me  Fa  So  La    Ti
                                       Sa  Re  Ga  Ma  Pa  Dha Ni

     Early 11th-century Italian music theorist Guido da Arezzo is considered to be the inventor of the modern musical staff notation. He is known today for this famous illustration of a hand that was published to provide a method for singers to learn to read the notes in the choral music part books:

     In his manuscripts, Guido used the syllables UT RE MI FA SO LA to describe the notes C D E F G A. These are also the syllables from the first six lines of the Gregorian hymn "Ut queant laxis," whose Latin words have been ascribed to the 8th-century Benedictine monk Paulus Diaconus. Scholars have assumed that Arezzo invented the solfege system and based the names of the six letters on the first syllables of the first six lines of the hymn, but for me, the similarity between the solfege system East and West betrays this idea. We must now consider that the solfege system could have been adopted from islamic influences during the 8th century, possibly inspiring the hymn text by Diaconus.
Hymn "Ut queant laxis"

    In his above mentioned paper, Rabah Saoud goes into some detail about this issue, beginning with the statement that Muslim influence on musical theory is strongly denied by Western scholars. He suggests that Muslim musicians used music notation as early as the 8th century. He also points out that the Spanish author Soriano Fuertes, in his Hitoire de la musica Espanola, states that Guido had studied in Catalonia that bordered on Al-Andalus.
     And so we see that the connections between the Islamic influence from Al-Andalus, and the beginnings of our sacred choral music of the Renaissance are there. For me, this influence is obvious. One culture influences another. This is not unusual, especially when one culture is coming out of a decline and the other is beginning a descent. The Islamic influence on Renaissance art, architecture, science, mathematics and medicine has been established. Not a lot has been written about the Islamic influence on music, however.

Renaissance Musical Instruments
     Not only the music, but the musical instruments of Al-Andalus were transferred into the developing music culture in Europe.
    The European lute is simply the Andalusian oud (عود): 
An oud maker discusses this ancient instrument

The Renaissance lute

     The Spanish guitarra (the guitar) was the Andalusian qitara (قيثارة) - itself derived from the Latin cithara, which in turn came from the ancient Greek instrument called the kithara (also cithara, and κιθάρα in Greek): 
The Kithara

     The Spanish guitar is used in Flamenco dancing and music - a style derived from Andalusian and gypsy music and dance:

     The European rebec was derived from the Andalusian rabab (ربابة):

The Rabab

The Rebec

     The European naker that evolved into the timpani, or kettledrum was the Andalusian naqara (نقارة‎): 
The naqara

    Notice the similarity between the nagara in the video example and this military drum:
Military-style drum

     The violin evolved from the vielle, also known as the fidel (fiddle), played by the troubadours from the 13th through the 15th centuries. The vielle has its ancenstry in Al-Andalus. The troubadours were medieval lyric poets, musicians and singers in Southern France and in Northern Spain and Italy who were undoubtably influenced by Andalusian music and poetry:

A vielle

A Sidebar - Al-Farabi Meets King Suffudeen

     This is a fascinating tale about the great scientist, musician and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age, Al Farabi. This tale, that I discovered in 1967 research in the New York City Public library gives us a glimpse into the world of Islamic high culture:

     Al-Farabi (870-950 A.D.) was the great philosopher and musician from Turkestan who is credited with inventing two musical instruments: the quanun and the rabab. He was known to travel to many parts of the world, always assuming a disguise so as not to be recognized.
     One day, when he was in India, he appeared in the throne room of the court of the great King Suffudeen, one of the most knowledgeable men in India. Al-Farabi had dressed himself as a private in the King’s own army. The king was surprised to see a private standing in his royal room. He demanded the private to explain what he was doing there.
     "Where do you belong, private," he demanded.
     "Why, I belong there on the throne, where you now sit!" the private exclaimed, walking up to the throne and seating himself on the edge. He then began pushing his weight against the king, sliding him aside until each occupied half the throne.
     The furious king turned to one of his guards and began speaking a very obscure tongue that only a few people could understand. He told the guard "This man must either be a fanatic, or else he is someone very amazing. I will ask him some questions and see which case it may be."
     The king turned to Al-Farabi to ask him a question. However, before he could open his mouth, Al-Farabi spoke to him in the same obscure language and said "But king, why would you bother?"
     At this point, the king and Al-Farabi launched into a lengthy philosophical debate that lasted for several hours. Point-by-point, the king’s arguments were defeated. The wisest men in India were then brought in to contribute to the debate, but then one-by-one they were defeated also. Finally, the king graciously accepted his defeat and told Al-Farabi that he would willingly give him whatever he wished. Al-Farabi said that he wanted nothing. So the King ordered his fine court musicians, who were the best in the land, to play for the now-honored guest.
     When the musicians began playing, Al-Farabi stopped them to correct their intonation and their interpretation of the ragas. He then demanded that the musicians replay the music correctly. This kept on occurring. Every time that the musicians tried to play, Al-Farabi stopped to correct them. After a while, the king dismissed the musicians and then told Al-Farabi that since he had treated his musicians in such a manner, he must now prove his own musical ability.
     Al-Farabi pulled three small reeds from his pocket and began playing a high-register happy tune that when played over and over made everyone in the courtroom, including the king, break out in laughter. Finally everyone in the court, including the king, were rolling on their sides in fits of uncontrollable laughter.
     Suddenly Al-Farabi suddenly stopped playing the tune and then began playing another, a slow mournful one that put everyone to sleep, and when all of the people in the room, except Al-Farabi, were fast asleep in their chairs or on the floor, Al-Farabi quietly slipped out of the throne room, never to be seen there again.

Originally published in Kosmon by Don Robertson, 1970

        In the next installment of "The Sacred Choral Music of the Renaissance, I will move onto an introduction of the sacred choral music of the Renaissance.
And so for now, "Good music and Good Vibes." I'm Don Robertson.

© 2016 by Don Robertson