Muslim Musical Instruments Transmitted to Europe

Many musical instruments came into European civilisation from Islamic Civilsation. Much of this is hardly known and rarely acknowledged. This article starts to set the record straight

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

Language evidence from the names of a wide list of instruments clearly establish their Arabic-Muslim origins. Names such as lute, rebec, guitar and naker are all derived from the Arabic Al-'ud, rabab, qitara and naqqara (table 1). Other names shawm and dulcayna were also derived from Arabic zamr and Al-zurna . Not only these instruments were themselves adopted and used but they also played a fundamental role in the evolution of European music as other "European" instruments were derived from them (table 2). The Al 'ud (Lute) for example was used extensively in Europe before it was transformed into other musical instruments including the guitar and mandolin. The Spanish and Portuguese gaita and the English waygh and bagpipes all derived from the Arabic ghaita. The Qanun inspired the old English and Irish harps (ninth century) and derived the Austrian (German) Zither. The string musical instruments known under the Fiddle were derived from the Persian Kamancha and the Arab Rabab . European brass wind instruments like the horn and trumpet were all derived from Al-zurna. Some suggested that it was influenced by the Byzantine horn, which was brought to Europe in the tenth century; Byzantium was itself instrumentally influenced by the Muslims . The Persian Santur (dulcimer), which consists of a wooden box containing between 12 and 18 cords and two mobile rows of bridges, that the interpreter executes striking the cords to both sides of the bridges with light hammers of wood, led to the rise of the keyboard based instruments including the pantaleon (1697) and piano (18th century).

How did the Muslim instruments reach European hands? The answer to this question does not require a great deal of guessing. The visiting traders, scholars and pilgrims could easily buy such artefacts and take them home. There is also evidence that at the time of Ibn Rushd (d.1198) there was an industry, which manufactured musical instruments some of which were exported, most probably to non Muslims, via Muslim, controlled Europe . The touring singers, musicians and poetry tellers, who usually were accompanied by their instruments, visited Christian towns and villages especially in northern Spain, southern France and Italy. The Rabab, and other folk instruments, for example often used to accompany poetry recitals. Farmer acknowledged this significant role as he declared:

"Besides instruments, yet a great deal more that the instruments themselves was borrowed. The roving Arab minstrel was the chief means whereby these oriental instruments became known, and he passed on at the same time a new type of music. He may, indeed, have been the originator of the wandering minstrel class that spread all over Europe".

The influence of Muslim music and poetry on the spread of medieval jongleurs in Spain and south France is well documented.

Table 1. Arabic Musical Instruments and their equivalent in European language.

Instrument in transliterated Arabic Language Instrument in European Language
U'd
Rabab
Guitara
Naqqara
A-Duf
Al-Buq
Al-Nafir
Al-Shabbaba
Al-Tabl
Al-Tinbal
Bandair
Zulami
Lute
Rebec
Guitar
Naker
Adufe
Albogon
Anafil
Exabeba
Atabal
Atambal
Panderete
Xelami

Table 2. Some European instruments inspired and derived from Arabic instruments.

Arabic Musical Instruments Instruments derived from the Arabic origin
Zamr
Zurna
Ghaita

Juwaq
U'd
Qanun
Ribab and Kamancha
Santour
Nay

Shawm
Dulcayna, Horn and Trumpet
Gaita (Portuguese), Waygh (English), and bagpipes.
Joch
Guitar and Mandolin
Harp and Zither
Fiddle
Pentaleon and Piano
Flute

For images of Muslim / Arab Musical instruments refer to Instruments Gallery (see below)

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