“I hope next time we’ll have an opera in Arabic and I think it should feature the oud, which is one of my favourite instruments”

Renée Fleming doing choreography by Sara Jo Slate for "Thaïs" at the Metropolitan Opera 2008 December

“I hope next time we’ll have an opera in Arabic and I think it should feature the oud, which is one of my favourite instruments”

Renée Fleming

But…but, Ms. Fleming–there are already operas in Arabic and Turkish.  Not long after the importation of Western Styled Orchestras into the Ottoman Empire in 1828 (led by Giuseppe Donizetti, the brother of the more famous Gaetano Donizetti), Ottoman composers were writing Operas which incorporated all the stylistic elements of Ottoman Classical Music (including improvisatory taksims).  And not long after the Cairo Congress in 1932, Arabic composers such as Mohammed Abdul Wahhab, were composing Operatic works which melded some elements of Western Classical Music with the indigenous maqams and instrumentation.  All of these works would have included a standard instrumentation of Middle Eastern ensembles of which the Oud is essential.

Sadly, such is the nature of Western Music History education that we don’t learn of such things.  And such is the nature of Western Music ensembles that we don’t play such things.

Fortunately, I’m not stuck in that mold and have, as standard repertoire in two of my groups, selections from some of these numbers.  One of my favorites is “Cleopatra,” which is a beautiful tune from Mohammed Abdul Wahhab’s Operetta “Kilopetra” (1947).

Here’s a wonderful non-staged rendition of it by the Nezareth Orchestra:

Maybe one of these days Western Classical Music ensembles will truly become international and stop focusing on the Western Canonical works as well as Western Canonical compositional style and instrumentation.

I do wonder, given some of the “exotic” themes, stories and locales of many Western Operas, whether Ms. Fleming gained that interest that way or through the work she did with one of my friends who choreographed for the Met Opera production of “Thaïs” back in ’08.   *shrugs*

 

 

Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: Taksim

After spending nearly four hours on a post which I’m now leaving as a draft as it kept getting bigger and bigger as I continued to type (I guess I have lots to say, eh?) what I decided to post instead is the first of a new weekly blog series focusing on the cello as it’s used in non-Western contexts.  I almost began with one of my favorite non-Western cello figures, Mesut Cemil (son of the more famous Ottoman Classical musician Tanbûrî Cemil Bey), but decided I might end up writing a post that would be just as long and involved as the previous one.  So instead, I present to you some cello taksims in lieu of me getting long-winded.

A brief note about taksims

Taksims (the Arabic version is usually transliterated taqsim) are instrumental improvisations in Turkish Art Music.  Usually unmetered, the instrumentalist will play a taksim within a specific makam (Arabic transliteration: maqam) which, for lack of a better way to describe it, consists of a scale (dizi) and rules for melodic progression (seyir).

Notice the usage of a drone under the cello taksims below.  This is a technique attributed to Mesut Cemil (1902-1963) during a time he started to incorporate a number of revolutionary changes in Turkish Art Music around the time of the Congress of Cairo which he participate in around 1932.  Rather than fill this post with a long rambling historical text though, I present you with some beautiful cello taksims–enjoy!!

Continue reading “Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: Taksim”