Theorizing Musical Listening in Ottoman Istanbul (1560-1640 CE): Ontology, Perception, Affect and Multiplicity
University of Cambridge
For several decades, Western music scholars have highlighted a centuries-long debate in Arab and Islamicate contexts known as the “samā‘ polemic,” about the ontology and permissibility of music and, more specifically, listening (Arabic: samā‘). However, music scholarship on these debates has mostly limited itself to the question of religious permissibility, without further exploring the particular ways these thinkers theorize music more generally. While this debate arguably dates back to the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632 CE), I focus here on later iterations in the Ottoman Empire, especially a period of roughly a century (1560-1640 CE) marked by the reformist Kadızadeli movement. Kadızade Mehmed and his followers sharply critiqued the ecstatic rituals of Sufi Muslims, especially the samā‘ (Turkish: semâ) of the Mevlevi order, which involved the singing of devotional poetry, instrumental accompaniment, and turning (or “whirling”). In response, a number of Sufi leaders and thinkers, many of whom were leading musical figures of their day, wrote treatises in defense of music. Beyond theological arguments, this corpus of texts, including both those for and against music (and Sufism), contains a rich exploration of what “music” is and how it relates to other forms of sound production; how listeners experience musical sound in different contexts (e.g., as physical phenomenon, entertainment, and/or religious ritual); how embodiment shapes one’s experience of listening; and how listening generates different affective states. I examine two key authors writing in defense of music: Aziz Mahmud Hüdâyî (d. 1628) and his treatise on samā‘ (Keşfü’l-ḳınâʿ ʿan vechi’s-semâʿ, “Unveiling the Face of samā‘ ”), and İsmâil Rusûhî al-Ankaravî (d. 1631) and his various treatises on the topic, especially Hüccetü’s-semâ (“Proof of the samā‘ ”). I suggest that these texts theorize musical experience as a kind of semantic multiplicity: while both they (and their critics) inhabited what Nicholas Cook has called a “theological epistemology” of music theory, in which religious thought provided a foundation for any sensory analysis (musical or otherwise), Hüdâyî and al-Ankaravî ultimately argue for a range of possible encounters with music that extends further, made possible through forms of embodied aural pedagogy.
“The Unpsychological Notion That Music is Made Up of Tones”: Comparative Musicology and Gestalt Theory in Berlin, 1906-1913
Standard histories of psychology have treated Max Wertheimer’s discovery of the phi-phenomenon as the event that “launched the Gestalt revolution” (Steinman et al 2000). My paper identifies a significant music-theoretical precursor to “Berlin School” Gestalt theory’s claim that perceptual wholes are “fundamentally different from collections of sensations, parts, or pieces” (Ash 1995): comparative musicologist Erich von Hornbostel’s treatment of the relationship between Tonsystem and Melodiegestalt.
The earliest and most-familiar publications of “Berlin School” comparative musicology approached pitch structure through the lens of scales and tunings, treated as conceptually prior to melodies (Stumpf 1892, Abraham and Hornbostel 1903; cf. Ellis 1885). Beginning in 1909, however, Hornbostel rejected this scale-centric approach. Influenced by Benjamin Ives Gilman’s “Hopi Songs” (1908), in which Gilman claimed to have identified “methods of composition and performance which replace and exclude reliance upon a scale,” Hornbostel now proposed that motivic Gestalten, understood as prior to and other than sums of notes or intervals drawn from pre-existing Tonsysteme, should be regarded as the basic units of melodic structure. I demonstrate the influence of this shift on Wertheimer’s first two publications that invoke the concept of Gestalt, “Musik der Wedda” (1910), an article on melodic structure in the music of a Sri Lankan Indigenous group, and “Über das Denken der Naturvölker: I. Zahlen und Zahlgebilde” (1912), which attacked the “dogmatic-European” view that “reality-abstract” combination of arbitrary objects represented the most effective or highly-developed form of numerical thinking.
Juxtaposing Hornbostel and Wertheimer’s work from this period allows me to link Hornbostel’s rejection of the “unpsychological notion that music is made up of tones,” which he argued was a misleading byproduct of techniques like scalar notations, instruments with fixed tunings, and attention to vertical consonance (Hornbostel 1913), with both Wertheimer’s early comparative-psychological work and Gestalt theory's mature critique of elementarism. In so doing, I demonstrate that problems raised specifically by comparative musicology provide an important link between Christian von Ehrenfels’s treatment of melody in “Über Gestaltqualitäten” (1890), in which Ehrenfels proposed that a Gestaltqualität is something given in addition to individual sensations, and the more radical “Berlin School” concept of Gestalt.
“There Aren’t Seven Notes”: The Affordances of Small-Vocabulary Solmization Systems
1Oberlin College; 2Yale University
Solmization systems–mnemonic pedagogical traditions that train musicians to navigate tonal spaces–have been remarkably resilient across musical cultures. We define solmization broadly, as a system of pronounceable symbols that labels pitches according to one of three features: pitch height, measured against some background grid marked out in steps or semitones such as a staff, keyboard, or number line; scale degree, measured relative to a central note in a scale; and chroma, or relative position on the line of fifths. (Lam 2020 formalizes these features in different terms.)
Standard letter names form a kind of solmization system, grounded in pitch height. Many traditional Asian musicking practices feature relative-pitch solmization systems grounded in scale-degree, mostly descended from earlier chroma-based systems. In the West, musical training still involves adaptations of the hexachordal solmization system attributed to Guido of Arezzo in the 11th century. This chroma-based theory of affinities by fifth held sway over European music theory for centuries (Pesce 1987, Carey and Clampitt 1996) and has nowadays been transferred to both pitch height (fixed do) and scale degree (movable do-qua-tonic). Both systems highlight octave equivalence and assume a seven-note scale.
We examine two traditions in the la-based minor family that use fewer than seven distinct symbols, both of which use a chroma-based logic: early modern hexachordal solfeggio (Crocker 1972; Baragwanath 2020) and 19th-century four-shape “fasola” singing (Miller 2010). Hexachordal solmization overlaps six-syllable segments, permitting periodicity at the fourth and fifth as well as the octave. Four-syllable solmization eliminates the overlapping segments but maintains the three intervals of periodicity (P4/P5/P8) prioritized by the hexachordal system. We argue that small-vocabulary chroma-based solmization systems highlight intuitive pitch relationships (affinities) that are repertoire-specific and often non-notated, particularly when it comes to fine details of intonation and style (Smith 2011, Duffin 2007). We show that hexachordal solmization facilitates imitation within a non-octave-equivalent modal/tonal frame, and that four-shape solmization illuminates pitch inflections in Black and white communities of Sacred Harp practice.