Music in Islam Series: Influence of Western Music

By Nimira Dewji

Earlier: (1) Is listening to music unlawful in Islam? (2) Development of Music (3) The Art of Music in Islam (4) The Healing Power of Music

Influence of Western MusicIn pre-Islamic times, poetry was recited orally and was the mark of artistic achievement. In Muslim regions, the voice was considered a reflection of the human soul’s mysteries and feelings. Instruments, then, were believed to have been created to enrich vocal music.

Colonialism and other political events greatly impacted intellectual and artistic spheres. Western music was introduced into Muslim regions by military bands, who were instructed to teach locals Western instruments and basics of Western music which began to gain prominence. Many youth studied composition and piano-playing with European musicians while others went abroad to study.

Sa’id Pasha, the Egypt ruler, granted Count Ferdinand Lesseps permission to build the Suez Canal. On November 17, 1869, the Sa’id presided over a celebration to open the Suez Canal. As part of the festivities he planned to inaugurate a new opera house in Cairo. The performance of Verdi’s masterpiece Aida in Cairo on December 24, 1871 was the first opera ever performed in this region. Henceforth, performances of operas, ballet, and works by European composers, or compositions by local musicians educated in Europe, became part of the musical life in many of the major centres in the Muslim world.

There was a synthesis of local and Western styles. However, in the second half the nineteenth century, there was a shift from displays of individual skill and personal creativity to collective discipline due to the increased emphasis on composed music and the impression made by the great orchestras of the West. The introduction of new instruments and new techniques of playing altered the forms of interaction between a singer and the traditional instruments. The concept of a concert performed on stage by a large ensemble changed the intimate relationship between the musicians and the audience that had previously prevailed.

These new conditions, and the need to keep pace with technological progress, led to electronic means of amplification. In turn, the singer no longer relied solely on the power of the voice.

Amnon Shiloah. Music in the World of Islam. Wayne State University Press. Detroit.1995

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