Arabic Vertical Poems for Piano

“Arabic Piano Vertical Poems ” is a set of 16 piano pieces that link measured Arabic poetry with modern contemporary Arabic music, to set a link between language and music, literature and abstraction, past and present, and to reflect an echo of the ancient musical rhythm in the classical Arabic language, as well as to develop the Arabic music through elements from the classical Arabic language and the rhythms of its poetry.
A project that blends the richness of the old Arabic language and the rhythm of its poems, with the music of the modern age and its powerful tools of expression.

Honored to receive The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture – AFAC‘s 2022 Music grant program, which will be used to produce my upcoming album “Vertical Poems” for piano.
“Vertical Poems for Piano” is a 16-track piano album that attempts to link the metered verse of classical Arabic poetry with contemporary musical composition. At a compositional process level, the project will take 16 classical poems as a starting point, distilling and then extracting the rhythm of recitation, before plotting them onto the piano, rendering it an “Arabic instrument.” These piano works will be played by Ramzi Hakim

The music elements in AL ‘Aroud science (علم العروض)

The first part consists of profound research on the 16 vertical forms of Khalil bin Ahmed Al-Farahidi (البحور الشعرية الستة عشر), that cover 16 forms ( وزن – بحر ) through which the classical Arabic poems were written.

The ‘Aroud science

Al-Khalil bin Ahmad Al-Farahidi Al-Azdi Al-Basri, was one of the nation’s greatest genius scholars, and the first to think about preserving the Arabic language. He composed a dictionary titled “Al-Ain” ( العين ) and was the first to control words by inventing dots and shapes.
Al-Khalil studied Arabic poetry and found that the weights used in it were 15 forms. Then after, Al Akhfash increased the number to 16 by adding “Al Moutadarak” form.

Heartbeat and poetry’s rhythm

In some research, scientists link the rhythm of poetry with the heartbeat, which doctors estimate in a healthy person as 76 times per minute, and they see a close connection between the heartbeat and what the vocal system does, and its ability to utter a number of syllables. They estimate that a person in normal conditions can pronounce three-syllable sounds every time his heart beats one beat.

The relation between the form of the Arabic vertical poems and their subject

Al-Taweel (الطويل) is a vast form that comprehends what other meanings cannot comprehend and accommodates pride, enthusiasm, metaphors, descriptions, narrations of incidents, and recording news.
AL-Bassit (البسيط) is close to Al-Tawil, but it does not have the capacity to comprehend the meanings, and it is not soft enough to deal with structures and words. On the other hand, he is more gentle and generous.
Al-Kamel (الكامل) complete the seven forms, and they called it complete, because it is suitable for every type of poetry, and that is why it was used a lot in the words of the ancients and the moderns, and it is better in news than in construction, and closer to severity than to tenderness, and from it the two Mo’alaqas (معلّقة) of Antara and Labid, and it can become a discotheque singer, and it had a tone that provoked passion.
Al-Wafer (الوافر) is the softest of the forms, it becomes firm when you tighten it, and it softens when you soften it, and the most generous of the systems in pride is like the Mo’alaqa (معلّقة) of Amr bin Kulthum, and in it, there are generous elegies, and there are many of them in the poetry of the ancients and the moderns.
Al-khafif (الخفيف) is the lightest of the forms in character, and the thickest for hearing, it resembles Al-Wafer, but it is easier and more harmonious. It is easy and abstained, because the structured speech in it is close to prose, and it can express all meanings, and from it is the Mo’alaqa (معلّقة) of Al-Harith bin Halza Al-Yashkari.
ِAl-Ramal (الرمل) is the form of ​​tenderness, so its rhythms are good in sorrows and joys, and that is why the Andalusians used it a lot and brought out various types of Muwashahat (الموشحات) from it, and it is not used so much in pre-Islamic poetry. Despite this, Antara used it with something of enthusiasm, and Al-Harith Al-Yashkari has a descriptive news poem in this form.
Al-Sari’ (السريع) is a form that flows smoothly and sweetly, in which descriptions and expressions of emotions are excellent, and yet it is used very little in pre-Islamic poetry.
Al-Mouqareb (المتقارب) is a form in which there is a resonance and a melody of a manly intensity, and it is better for violence than for kindness.
Al-Mohdath (المحدث) or AL-Moutadarek of the Akhfash (متدارك الاخفش) is a form that they called the trotting, in analogy to the trotting of a horse. It is only suitable for a joke, a tune, or something similar to describe an army march, rain sound, or a weapon sound.
Al-Rajaz (الرجز), is a form called “the donkey of poetry” because of the ease of using it, and it was the choice of all the scholars who organized the scientific texts.

Arabic Piano Vertical Poems

Book Cover

This project is a musical work consisting of 16 piano poems, based on the rhythms within the sixteen poetic forms of Khalil bin Ahmed Al-Farahidi, by translating the scales and the Tafa’il of the forms, into musical modes and rhythmic figures according to their pulses and lengths, and the translation of the characters of the forms and their ability to express, into musical terms reflecting these expressive personalities, in an attempt to link the history of Arabic literature with the contemporary music, and to develop the Arabic music through pure Arabic elements, and to inspire new ideas from our mother tongue.

The project starts by selecting 16 poems from the Arab literary heritage, written upon the sixteen different forms of al Farahidi, by great Arab poets, such as Al-Mutanabi, Uday bin Zaid, Antara bin Shaddad, Ibn Al-Roumi, Al-Buhtari, and others… in an attempt to extract the rhythm from the forms as they were used initially in the poems, taking into account their skis (زحّافات) and their ills (علل) and all the modifications that occur to the form, to reflect poetic music without distortion, relying on practical literary usages away from theories and theorems.

This will let us extract a rhythm that mimics the origins of the recitation (الخطابة) and that reflects the life of poets in those periods, and that takes into account the spontaneity of the versification, the smoothness of the forms, their connection with the poet’s abilities in rhetoric and recitation, and their interaction with his emotions, feelings, and sincerity of meanings in his poems.

The project also introduces the piano as an Arabic instrument in terms of performance, techniques, and musical language, as the instrument, is used in a way different from what we used to hear historically in classical music so that it searches for a new identity for this instrument by adapting it to play the Arabic maqams and rhythms derived from classical Arabic music.

This part of the project passed through several stages, starting with the selection of 16 poems composed on the 16 forms of Al-Farahidi, then, studying these poems according to the science of Al ‘Aroud, to extract their “Tafa’il” and all that has occurred in terms of scale and rhythm, in addition to analyzing the poems literally to extract the psychological state of the poet at the time of its versification, and the reflection of his life and its events on his poetry.

Studying the Maqamat presentation by Michael Mashaka in his treatise “Al Rissala Al Shahabiya” in which he gives to each maqam a suggested melodic line that we should play to represent the maqam in its best way. These are written in Arabic, as a paragraph, and it is our work to translate these paragraphs into musical phrases. Then associate each poem from the 16 with a presentation from the Mashaka treatise

After that, the composition stage began, and it consist of a composition of 16 piano pieces based on the poems in terms of rhythm, form, and syllables, basically based on the “Tafa’il” of the form as studied in the poems, taking into account the character of the form, the poet and the circumstances in which the poem was written, and the meanings it bears.

All of these elements will be reflected in the selection of the appropriate harmony and mode so that the poem is transformed from a vertical poem into a musical poem for the piano, which presents the original Arabic poetry in an Abstract Musical Arabic language with a contemporary taste that reflects our present.

Published by wajdiaboudiab

Wajdi Abou Diab is a composer of classical contemporary music, musicologist, educator, and conductor who believes in music as a way to build our cultural future while keeping us connected to our cultural history.

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