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date: 21 January 2020

Mushāqa, Mīkhā’īl locked

  • Owen Wright

Extract

( b Rashmayyā, 1800; d Damascus, 1880). Lebanese physician and polemicist . Among his many writings is a treatise on music, the earliest manuscript of which is dated 1840. This is the most important Arabic work on the subject from the first half of the 19th century. It is always referred to as the first text in which, with an explicitly mathematical formulation resulting in precise string sections, the modern theory of a 24 quarter-tone octave is articulated. But his definitions, which presage much later inquiry on norms of intonation, are tucked away in a concluding section, so that the bulk of the work is generally ignored.

In fact, Mushāqa's treatise is concerned primarily with scale, instruments and mode, and forms part of a tradition of description and definition exemplified by the treatise of Cantemir and, in Arabic, the anonymous Shajara dhāt al-akmām (‘The tree with calyxes’). All regard the theoretical octave as made up of a set of primary notes between which are intercalated secondary ones, and Mushāqa adds to their number by filling the gaps left by earlier writers. The ensuing account of instruments covers chordophones (including the violin) and aerophones, and gives a detailed account of lute tuning. But particularly important is the extensive catalogue of modes, both for its descriptive content, with each mode being defined in terms of a basic melodic matrix, and for its insight into the differentiation of Syrian practice from the Ottoman system of the day....

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