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date: 18 September 2019

Fārābī, al-locked

  • Owen Wright


(b Wasij, district of Farab, Turkestan; d Syria, 950). Islamic philosopher and theorist. He lived for some time in Baghdad, and spent his last years mainly in Aleppo, having accepted an invitation from the Ḥamdānid ruler Sayf al-Dawla. He was one of the greatest of Islamic philosophers and was regarded as ‘the second teacher’ (Aristotle being the first). He was pre-eminent as a theorist of music, and the surviving part of his Kitāb al-mūsīqī al-kabīr (‘Great book on music’) remains the most imposing of all Arabic works on music. The general approach is more analytical than descriptive, foregrounding schematic or mathematical codifications of possible structures, whether of scale, rhythm or melody. It is especially important for its elaborate treatment of theory, largely based on Greek concepts, but it also reflects aspects of contemporary practice, principally in the sections on instruments and rhythm.

The Kitāb al-mūsīqī al-kabīr consists of an introduction and three books, each in two sections. The extensive introduction is of particular interest for its methodology. It proposes an evolutionary view of music, developing from an initial instinctive use of the voice to express emotion towards a present state of perfection. The first book begins with the physics of sound and goes on to discuss intervals, intervallic relationships and species of tetrachord. The second section of the first book deals with octave divisions in the context of the Greater Perfect System, and then, starting with the concept of the ...

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