Der fremde Blick
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Medieval Christian, Jewish and Islamic Music and Poetry from the Mediterranean
The Mediterranean is a meeting place, an inland seathat, on its shores, is home to the peoples and cultures ofthe East and the West. Over centuries it has providedopportunities for encounters, whether in war or in peace,or in trade.
The ideas of East and West, Orient and Occident,have always been symbols of the rising and setting ofthe sun, and are still associated today with light anddark, but unfortunately also with right and wrong orgood and bad, a sad reflection of the centuries oldstruggle between Judaism, Christendom and Islam inmatters of ideology. Nevertheless there were alwaysplaces where these three great Mediterranean culturesco-existed peacefully and fruitfully. In the Middle Agesthe most important example of such a multicultural andmultireligious exchange was, paradoxically, theMoorish Andalusia in the West and, competing withRome, Christian Byzantium in the East. The distinctiveideas of Orient and Occident seem here to be blurred.
'Christians, Jews and Heathen', as it says in onecrusader song, lived there in more or less adequatemutual respect, each following their own religioustraditions in accordance with their beliefs 1. It is knownthat Alfonso the Wise, King of Castille and Leon, had acourt chapel with musicians and poets from all threefaiths. In Andalusia (al-andalus in Arabic), underIslamic domination for over seven hundred years, therewere Jewish scholars holding high official positionsunder the Caliphate. The Ottoman Empire too, at theother side of the Mediterranean, was decidedlyheterogeneous in language, religion and culture. Themajority of the people in the European provinces wereOrthodox Christians. The Jewish, Greek Orthodox,Roman Catholic, Armenian, Gregorian and Moslemcommunities enjoyed a certain religious and culturalautonomy, allowed a free hand by the state in regulatingtheir own affairs. Already at the beginning of the MiddleAges there was a lively cultural exchange between theseapparently so diverse cultures, each learning from theother. It came about, therefore, that not only were manymusical instruments, up to that time unknown in theWest, introduced into Christian music, but also verydifferent forms of poetry, an art then at its height in thecultural centres of the East. Music, in Christian Europeprincipally the preserve of the clergy, enjoyed highprestige as an art-form of poetry in the East.
It may seem difficult to find intercourse betweenthese three great cultures in the thirteenth and fourteenthcenturies, a time of conquest and crusades. Yet closerinspection reveals links between all three, somethingthat has not changed up to today; with great intellectualcuriosity each investigates the other and learns from it,even if they are not too ready to admit it.On the sources
Known as the Disciplinati di Ges?? Cristo, Confraternit?ádi Santa Maria delle Laudi or Compagna di SanctoSpirito people would go in procession through thestreets of Umbria, singing songs of praise to God, OurLady and all the saints. The message of spiritual renewalof St Francis of Assisi had touched the hearts of thesegenerally simple people and they formed religiousfraternities, the so called Laudesi. The great demand ofthese fraternities for new songs and the desire to enlargetheir own repertoire brought about the compilation ofsongs of praise into Laudari. Only two of these Laudarisurvive complete with text and music, Codex 91 of theAccademia Etrusca of Cortona and CodexMagliabechiano BR 18 in the National Library inFlorence. The Laudae in the Cortona manuscriptrepresent the first document known to us that offersevidence of the use of the Italian volgare, the regionaldialect, and not only Latin, in music. The strophic formof these Laudae depends indirectly on theArabic/Andalusian zejel, which varies the musical formand often influences the strophic structure of the song.
The poets and composers are almost always anonymous,and the Laudae generally use melodies from secularBallata. The Ripresa (refrain) is sung by the chorus,while the stanza is sung only by the principal singer3 4 9 and 15. The melodies are always written inRoman choir notation. The account books of thefraternities show that professional musicians were paidto accompany the singers. In the accounts of differentfraternities we find the following instruments, amongothers: portative organ, lute, fiddle, rebec, and forofficial and serious occasions trumpets, shawms anddrums. The old thesis that before 1200 there was nosecular music in the Christian world can no longer beregarded as correct. Italian melody, coming from thetradition of Gregorian chant and folk-song, finds itsgreatest expression in the Laudae.
In fact the literary, like the musical elements, stemfrom the Ballata. We know that in the Middle Ages thecontrafactum was a current musical practice, particularlywith religious texts. set to secular music and vice versa.
The Church, as employer, intended a wider diffusion anduse of religious texts: the greater the use of well-knownmelodies, the more successful was the Church intransmitting its message. A Lauda had immediately toinspire the minds of simple people, and that could onlybe done if actual 'hit' melodies and rhythms were used.
It is the language of the amata 2 or dol?º'aman?ºa %, orof the 'sweet beloved' (the Blessed Virgin) that suggeststo us a love-song rather than a devotional song to Mary.
This seems, nevertheless, to have been a thoroughlyaccepted kind of tribute to a saint, and that not only inChristian culture; also in Turkish Sufic poetry there isreference to the 'beloved' 7.
About a century after the rise of Islam thedistinguished Islamic mystic and poet Mevl?ón?óCel?óleddin R??mi founded Sufism. This concept includesmany meanings, as Sufism has at its disposal no fixedcode of belief, no orthodox teaching, traditions, whilepractices significantly distinguish its adherents from oneanother. Irrespective of that, Sufis share belief in aspecial friendship with God. They believe in the abilityto enter into a kind of spiritual unity, community orassociation with God, and gnosis, that is directknowledge of the divine truth. Sufic and dervishfraternities are convinced that only he who understandshow to 'hear music' can experience the highest truth indivine ecstasy. Dervish fraternities even today usemusic and dance 6 to reach a state of hypnosis andreligious sublimation. Reports of people who founddeath in pursuit of the highest rapture through hearingmusic, are not rare in Islamic literature.
Yunus Emre is the first mystical popular poet ofTurkish tradition. He was born in Central Anatolia in themid-thirteenth century and died in the first half of thefourteenth. The use of Turkish indicates his rural origin,at a time when in the cities of Anatolia Arabic andPersian were the current languages of literature andscience. Yunus Emre was the first important poet tomake literary use of his mother tongue, Turkish. Themusical and literary heritage of the great Sufic poetoffers an important part of what is preserved of the earlymusic of the then cultural sphere of the OttomanEmpire.
'Since, when pilgrims finally reach the Church ofthe Holy Virgin, they often start to sing and dance, inthe church as also in the streets, here are some piousdevotional songs written down for them ...'. Thispreface to the fourteenth-century Catalan Llibre Vermellde Montserrat (The Red Book of Montserrat), one of themost important collections of medieval music withsongs in praise of the Blessed Virgin, shows that inCatalonia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centurieslively singing and dancing was not unusual inpilgrimage churches that today are only used fordevotions. This did no harm to the faith, and, on thecontrary, the number of