Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Musical instruments as objects of meaning in classical Arabic poetry and philosophy
by Klein, Yaron, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2009, 250; 3385552
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation examines representations of musical instruments in medieval Arabic descriptive poetry (wasf) and philosophical-musicological writings. My analysis explores the symbolic value and meanings ascribed to musical instruments, and how each of the two discourses referred to instruments to make sense of music, the world and human experience.

In Part 1, I analyze descriptions of musical instruments by a variety of wasf poets. The flourishing of the wasf genre, together with the rise of the new elite culture of the `Abbāsids, suggests that wasf should be seen not only as a literary development of creative art, but also as a literary space that promoted and shaped the new urban culture. I argue that wasf poetry helped establish musical instruments as cultural icons of the elite urban culture as it emerged in the early days of the `Abbāsids, together with other objects and practices valued by the elite, such as wine, palaces, gardens and scientific instruments. I also argue that literature, poetry included, should be regarded as one of the extra-musical forces shaping people's enjoyment and “understanding” of musical events, similar to the way program notes and critical reviews affect the reception of music by modern consumers.

Part 2 analyzes discussions of musical instruments by al-Kindī (d. c. 256/870), the Ikhwān al-Safā' (c. 4th/mid-10th century) and al-Fārābī (d. 339/950). Arab philosophers regarded musical instruments as products of scientific speculation—as laboratories, in which nature's laws could be tested as well as demonstrated. Al-Kindī and the Ikhwān evinced strong Pythagorean influence in their understanding of music. They regarded music as the audible manifestation of the order of the universe expressed in mathematical ratios, and musical instruments as scientific devices constructed primarily for the purpose of displaying these mathematical proportions and the interconnectedness the of the micro- and macro-cosmos. Al-Fārābī's understanding of the nature of music, and consequently, musical instruments, was radically different from that of his Arab-Pythagorean predecessors. He played down Pythagorean ideas in favor of Aristoxenian and Ptolemaic concepts. Music for him was a human project developed in a historical context and not representative of any superordinate mathematical order beyond music. Instruments, in turn, were scientific tools with which to think music: to gather musical data and experiment with various hypotheses.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Heinrichs, Wolfhart P.
Commitee:
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 70/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Middle Eastern literature, Music, Philosophy
Keywords: Arabic, Classical Arabic poetry, Medieval Arabic literature, Musical instruments, Musicology, Philosophy of music, al-Farabi
Publication Number: 3385552
ISBN: 9781109494648
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