The "Arabian Influence" Thesis Revisited

Burstyn, Shai

The Eastern influence on medieval European music was a hotly debated topic in the musicological literature from the early 1920s through the 1940s. Interest in the "Arabian Influence" thesis has reawakened in recent years and appears to be slowly but surely gathering momentum again. Firmly convinced that the origins of Western chant were rooted in Eastern sources (Byzantine, Syriac, and ultimately Jewish), chant specialists made efforts to uncover East-West links in the first Christian centuries-efforts that were usually deemed legitimate. Far less acceptable to many music scholars was the proposition of a second wave of Eastern influence on medieval European music, based on eight centuries of Arabic presence on the continent and on the close contact with the East during the Crusades. Still echoing the eighteenth-century contempt for non-European music, a marked Euro-centrist musicological penchant reacted to the "Arabian Influence" thesis in a variety of ways, ranging from vehement rejection of any influence whatsoever to disregard of the topic as if the question itself were not legitimate. These reactions form an interesting chapter in the recent historiography of Western music.

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Columbia University
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February 3, 2015