Middle East Homework 1-4

Writing about music is an important tool for understanding it. MusicAtOurHouse solidifies class content with a short writing assignment following each session. Homework for the live class is posted on the discussion forum. For anyone participating in recordings-only, please feel free to post on the forum on an ongoing basis.

There's a famous quote attributed sometimes to Blaise Pascal, sometimes to Winston Churchill, sometimes to Abraham Lincoln, and sometimes to George Bernard Shaw (!): "I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I wanted to write a short one but I didn't have time." In other words, being concise takes a lot of work! Please say your full thoughts about the topic you choose, but condense them to the most economical form, the smallest number of words needed. The most important thing to cover are literal sound descriptions and emotional identifications.

Write a paragraph defining "arabesque," including most especially the similarity between visual arabesques and the arabian music we've heard. For the photo comparisons, see our resource page. For the arabian sounds, listen to the three examples from "Aladdin" at the very bottom of the page of resources, or the beginning of this
performance of "Hob Eih" (What Love?):
(Press the button that says "audio" and then play)

Compare arabian music to the "arabesques" written by Western composers. How are they similar and different? What did composers mean in calling a piece an "arabesque"? Here are some examples to consider:

Arabian Songs sung by Umm Kulthum
The Ruins     http://www.arabicsonglyrics.net/2010/08/el-atlal.html
What Love?    http://www.arabicsonglyrics.net/2010/10/hob-eih-what-love.html

Debussy Arabesque No. 1


Robert Schumann, Arabesque


Mozart's "Turkish March" (Rondo Alla Turca)


Extra Mystery Question for the Junior/Senior High class
We want to understand what type of character, what kind of soul and what kind of person, are expressed in the music. (Read about the "Characterological" approach to music here: http://dancingwiththemuses.com/blog.cfm?feature=3357595&postid=2016197 ) The arabian style of music has some elements in it that are different from European music. Contrast Hob Eih (What Love?) with the European arabesques, for instance. The arabian music uses augmented seconds, a dissonance built into the scale; and those dissonances alternate with more stable notes. The arabian music moves in fits and starts, with spasms of ornaments and then more relaxed music or silent pauses. What accounts for this push-and-pull, as opposed to a gentle, even flow as we hear in Western music?
There are desert elements such as we have discussed, including danger & mystery. But the issue has to be some reason inside of people. It seems that the roots of the arabian style (and the Turkish, the Algerian, and so on) trace back to the Persian culture. The two music theorists from the "arabian" tradition, Alpharabius, and Amar Kayyam, are both links back to Persia. There must have been a substantial and rich, sophisticated art from an empire and culture as long-lasting and widespread as Persia had been; but we would not expect such a unique musical voice to have originated from the more recent and less developed cultures (such as the Bedouins of the Arabian Desert). The religion of Persia had been Zoroastrianism. What in the worldview or metaphysics of Zoroastrianism would have given rise in people's minds and emotions to the "push and pull" of spasm and relaxation, of discord and stability, as we hear in the music derivative from Persia?

Choose a topic from the following:

a) Compare Mozart's "Turkish March" in the original version to this alteration using the Algerian Scale:
(here's another good performance of Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogBWOnZzNQY

"Alla Molto Turca" - comic routine by Igudesman & Joo


b) Compare Jewish Klezmer music to Arabian Music--and both as opposed to European Classical music (such as the Schumann and Debussy Arabesques).
Klezmer Example:


Arabian Music: The Ruins





c) Optional writing topic for the Junior-Senior High Class: In what way are the Arabian, Turkish, Klezmer (etc) sounds potentially rooted in the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism? What idea about personal character and moral philosophy would they express and how do they express it? Compare these musics of the Middle East to European Classical examples (such as the Debussy and Schumann Arabesques) on the one hand, and perhaps (on the other hand) to some of the re-creations of ancient Roman music.

The assignment for next class is to write about European orchestral pieces inspired by "Oriental" subjects. What characteristics make these pieces "Oriental" or "Turkish" or "Arabian" in the European version or European understanding?

a) Mozart's Overture to the Abduction from the Seraglio

Turkish Finale:


Same music with more of the previous scene:


b) Richard Strauss's "Sunrise" from "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"


c) Carl Nielsen's "Oriental Festival March" from "Aladdin"


Also for the Junior-Senior High level, it is especially important to purchase and listen to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Sheherezade." This is worth the $7 because of the better sound quality and the continuity (youtube, for instance, has it chopped up into separate videos).

What is the feeling of each movement (the main part of each begins after Sheherezade "sings" in the violin solo)?

Homeworks 5-9 are here.