Accepted paper:

Commentaries on the Science of Music from 15th C. Samarqand: ʻAbd al-Qādīr al-Marāghī on Acoustics of Sound Production


Mohammad Sadegh Ansari (Columbia University)

Paper abstract:

Scholarship on the history of science and philosophy in the Islamic world used to perceive commentaries as a sign of the decadence and decline of scientific output and the depletion of innovative thinking among scholars of the medieval Islamic world. Scholars of Islamic science and philosophy have recently pushed back against this perspective by giving some long overdue attention to the commentary tradition in the late medieval Islamic world as a vehicle for expressing innovative thoughts in different scientific disciplines. Complementing these new trends in contemporary scholarship, this paper will examine ʻAbd al-Qādir al-Marāghī (d. 1435 CE)'s commentaries on Ṣafī al-Dīn al-Urmawī's (d. 1294 CE) two musical treatises. While al-Urmawī's two treatises, written in Arabic, became the staple of learning the science of music in the post-14 th century Islamic world, al-Marāghī's treatises, written in Persian, were among the most important commentaries written on the two treatises, especially among the scholars of the Persianate world by introducing the Urmawian discourse to the cultural sphere of Transoxiana. In this paper, I will examine al-Marāghī's comments on al-Urmawī's discussions regarding the question of the acoustics of sound production, as presented in the former's multiple treatises written in Tabriz and Samarqand. Beginning a few centuries before al-Urmawī with al-Fārābī, the great philosopher from the 10 th century CE, scholars of the science of music in the Islamic world discuss a number of issues regarding the mechanics of sound production. In providing his arguments on sound production, al-Urmawī is critical of al-Fārābī, arguing that the latter's discussions of the phenomenon do not accord with our experience of the phenomenon. Al-Marāghī on the other hand, defends al-Fārābī against al-Urmawī's attacks, by claiming that the latter has essentially misread and consequently misunderstood the former's remarks on the subject. Al-Marāghī's comments are, however, more than mere polemical refutations, as he not only refutes al-Urmawī's remarks, but also ultimately clarifies certain ambiguities in al-Fārābī's text and in doing so contributes to a centuries long debate among the scholars of the science of music in the medieval Islamic world on the question of the acoustics of sound production.

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