Impact on Instrumental Tablature

The Arabs were the first to give Europe a scientific description of musical instruments. Looking back into history we can give a descriptive influence of the Muslim scheme of phonetic notation and instrumental tablature which were visible in European Medieval manuscripts of music.

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Extracted from the full article:
The Arab Contribution to Music of the Western World by Rabah Saoud

The Arabs were the first to give Europe a scientific description of musical instruments. There is common acceptance that Europe did borrow instruments from the Muslims. Engel[i] says: "The Arabs, when they came to Europe, in the beginning of the eighth century, were more advanced in the cultivation of music, or at all events in the construction of musical instruments, than were the European nations, thus only can their astounding musical influence be accounted for." The influence of the Muslim scheme of phonetic notation and instrumental tablature are visible in European Medieval manuscripts of music. Mitjana[ii] found strange resemblances between the Spanish vihuelistas (15th century) and the musical notation system found in "Ma'rifat al-naghmat al-thaman[iii]". The tablature of Adrien Le Roy, used in his books of instructions for the Lute (1557) and the Guiterne (1578), is identical to the Spanish Latin Manuscript in the Capucin convent of Gerona (see below and appendix). Hawkins[iv] (d.1789) wrote:

'With respect to the theory of music, it does not appear to have been at all cultivated in Spain before the time of Salinas, who was born in the year 1513, and it is possible that this science, as in those of geometry and astronomy, in physics and other branches of learning, the Arabians, and those descended from them might be the teachers of the Spaniards.'

The Muslims, before the tenth century, used tablature for the lute represented by letters of the Arabic alphabet, which were later substituted with numbers from 1 to 35 and up to 40. These letters and numbers indicate the position of fingers on the Lute. Farmer[v] provided a comparison between the notation of Al-Kindi, "Ma'rifat al-naghmat al-thaman" and that which appeared in the "De harmonica institutione" treatise as follows:

Al-Kindi

(800-877)

Symbols:

Alif.

(A.)

Ba

(B.)

Jim.

(C)

Dal.

(D.)

Ha

(H.)

Waw

(W.)

Za

(Z.)

Ha

(H.)

Notes

a

b.

c.

cT

d.

e.

Ma'rifat al-naghmat al-thaman[vi]

Notes

C.

D.

E.

F.

G.

a.

b.

c.

De harmonica institutione

Hucbald (c.840–930).

Symbols:

A.

B.

C.

D.

E.

F.

G.

A.

 

Notes

C.

D.

E.

F.

G.

a.

b.

c.

This notation became the tempered system for the octave (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) as its tonal basis for the manufacture of instruments. Farmer provided evidence showing how a certain Graan Jayme Villanueva[vii] took the idea from an Andalusian manuscript on the art of playing stringed instruments which he found in the Capucin convent of Gerona.


[i] Engel, C. (1965), 'Researches into the early history of the violin family', Antiqua, Amsterdam, p.79.

[ii] Mitjana, R. (1906), 'Le monde Oriental', p.213, cited by Farmer (1970), op. cit,p.101.

[iii] When it was written or by whom is unknown. Farmer reckons that it was written by a Moroccan sometime before 1504.

[iv] Hawkins, J. A (1853), ‘A General History of the Science and Practice of Music', J. Alfred Novello,, London, reprint 1963, Dover Publications, New York, book 9, chapter 83, quoted by Farmer (1970), op.cit. p.267.

[v] Farmer, H.G. (1970) `Historical facts for the Arabian Musical Influence', Georg Olms Varlag, Hildesheim, New York, p.93.

[vi] Safiuddin al- Armawi (1216-1297) also used alphabetical notations.

[vii] See Graan Jayme Villanueva (1821), ‘Viaje literario a las Iglesias de Espana’, I; LLorente, Valencia, cited by Farmer (1970), op.cit.

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