Jablonski, Marek (Michael)


V. Art and popular music in surrounding cultures



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V. Art and popular music in surrounding cultures


1. The Islamic world.

2. The Christian world.

Jewish music, §V: Art and Popular Music in Surrounding Cultures

1. The Islamic world.

(i) To 1900.


Jewish musicians performing outside their own communities are documented from as early as the Middle Ages. In general, the social contexts for such activities were the palaces of Muslim rulers and the aristocracy. Unlike musicians of other religious and ethnic denominations living under Islam, the Jews were generally not slaves. However, they were compelled to appear at the courts whenever the monarchs ordered it. This status is reflected in a Jewish folk tale found in various versions throughout the Islamic countries: a Jewish musician is ordered to play or sing in the midst of a Jewish Holy Day against his religious precepts, thus creating the dilemma of whether to remain faithful and face the consequences, or to betray his faith; in some versions of the story the Jewish musician commits suicide, in others he saves his life by intoning a song of the corresponding Jewish Holy Day.

The names of several Jewish musicians serving at the Muslim courts of Spain are recorded. For example, in the semi-mythological history of Ziryāb, the founder of the Western Arabic school, a Jewish musician, known as al-Mansūr al-Yahūdī, who was active at the court of Al-Hakīm I and ‘Abd al-Rahmān II in Cordoba, is sent to Algesiras to receive the great musician coming from the Eastern Caliphate. Rabbi Eliyahu Capsali (1483–1555) from Constantinople related the story of a Jewish musician, a refugee from Spain, called Abraham who was nominated by Sultān Bāyazīd II (1481–1511) to the highest musical position in the seraglio after the monarch in disguise heard him play at the Jewish quarter (Capsali, 1976, i, 91ff). Sometimes, Jewish musicians served as the means of linking the Jewish community to the centres of political power. In Libya Jewish men gained access to the palace ‘by virtue of their abilities as singers’ (Goldberg, 1990, p.26).

The acquaintance of Jewish thinkers with Arabic music theory from the time of Sa‘adyah Gaon (882–942) forms another point of contact with the surrounding Islamic music culture. Gaon's passage on the rhythmic cycles in his Sefer emunot ve-de‘ot is apparently indebted to the works of Al-Kindī (836–901). This involvement continued in Spain. Yehuda ibn Tibbon's Arabic translation of the famous passage on singing in the Sefer ha-kuzari by Yehuda Halevy (1075–c1141) is indebted to the terminology of the Kitāb al-mūsīqī al-kabīr by Al-Fārābī (873–951). The source of a passage on music in the Sefer ha-mevaqqesh by Shem-Tov ben Yosef ibn Falaqera (1225–95) appears to be the ‘Epistle of Music’ composed by members of the Brotherhood of Purity sect (Ikhwān al-Safā; Shiloah, 1978).



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