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This is part of an authorized online posting of Harvey Reid's important book, "The Troubadour Chronicles," published in May 2020. It is available in paperback from this web site or from Amazon.com.

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“In the Autumn of 1824, in an abbey of Italian Benedictines, was found a series of musical instruments, which belonged to the age of the Lower [Byzantine] Empire… these instruments were all found to be in a good state of preservation; and several of them were most magnificently ornamented. Among others, was a cythara, formed of ivory; the chords of which were gold, mounted by rosettes of diamonds.” [Thos. Busby “Concert Room & Orchestra Anecdotes” (1825) p.199]

Chapter 7: Arabic Roots of the Troubadour Arts

A great deal of evidence supports the claim that the troubadour art form– singing rhythmic, rhymed, lyric songs accompanied by stringed instruments with fingerboards– existed and flourished in the Arabic world long before it arrived in Europe, and even earlier in Chinese, Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures. Controversy and uncertainties abound, and casual, search-engine investigation is hampered by the fact that a number of now-antiquated words were used to refer to what we now call the Arabic, Moslem, Islamic or Muslim world; including Moorish, Arabian, Byzantine, Saracen, Oriental, and Musulman or Mussulman. The Arabic world was large and diverse even a thousand years ago, and sweeping statements, especially about orally-transmitted music, are almost guaranteed to be either platitudes or in some kind of error, so we’ll tread cautiously. Lyric poetry, rhyming and guitar-family instruments did seem to have been virtually unknown in Europe before a certain point, yet they were all well-documented as basic ingredients in Arabic musical practice long before they appeared on the other side of the Mediterranean. Scholarly discussion of troubadour art has unfortunately taken place mostly within the confines of either language or music, and academia has not chosen to see them as elements of something larger. In 1765 Thomas Percy pondered at length but dismissed the theory that was circulating even then that the ideas of romance and chivalry had Arabic origins, and in 1762 Richelet mused over the possible “barbaric origins of rhyme” in his “Origin of Rhyme.” Arguments surrounding this idea will likely not end conclusively, especially among Anglo and Euro-centric people who are reluctant to yield their myths, songs, tales or other cherished cultural territory to Muslims.

In “The History of the Empire of the Musulmans in Spain and Portugal” George Power explained that deeper things than music, including widespread cultural concepts, likewise had their origins in Islamic culture, especially the forms that evolved in Islamic Spain. These included the ideas of chivalry, romance and gallantry, together with the concept of a complete and successful man embracing martial arts and war as well as fine art and an abstract, emotionally idealized mindset that has come to be known as “romantic.” It wasn’t enough for the Muslim men to have wealth, power and military success; they also reportedly craved this romantic passion, which was directed toward women but with a connection to art that has lingered in both Western and Islamic civilizations’ images of manhood ever since. Europeans (especially the men) devoured the “Arabian Nights,” (originally “One Thousand and One Nights”) with alluring characters like Sinbad, Ali Baba, and Aladdin. They savored ideas like sorcery, magic, genies, destiny and fate, and compelling images like a powerful caliph sending his eunuchs to deliver to his enemies or rivals the severed heads of a dozen of their family members, while settling back on silk pillows to enjoy some lovely poetry and oud songs from his beloved slave girls. In today’s Islamophobic Western society, it’s a tantalizing idea that we might owe large parts of our musical and literary heritage to a culture that so many are not interested in, and even feel outright hostility toward. Thomas Warton said in 1771, “that peculiar and arbitrary species of fiction which we commonly call Romantic, was entirely unknown to the writers of Greece and Rome. It appears to have been imported into Europe by a people, whose modes of thinking, and habits of invention, are not natural to that country. It is generally supposed to have been borrowed from the Arabians.” In his definitive 2002 “A History of the Lute From Antiquity to the Renaissance” Douglas Smith says plainly (p.20), “The Westerners adoption of the Muslims’ most esteemed musical instrument and its eventual ascendancy to preeminence in Europe are incontrovertible facts… medieval Christian and Muslim lute-playing technique was identical, as was the instrument itself for a long time after Europeans embraced it.”

Establishing a linear historical timeline is not really possible, but it is very helpful to get some perspective on the origins of the Western European version of the songwriting troubadour, because modern incarnations are so similar. Discussions of the Golden Age of Troubadours from 1100 to the late 1300s focus on the poetry, and shy away from speculation about where the music, skills and instruments came from, or even that the ideas involved were imported and not native to Europe. Since it is still not accepted in musical academia that singing and playing an instrument at the same time is a valid form of music, worthy of “formal study” in a music academy, historians have not bothered to trace its roots and evolution, instead focusing their attention on just the words or instruments, or on instrumental styles or techniques of playing and composing. The simplistic explanation is that interaction between Christian and Muslim societies, largely catalyzed by the large-scale wars between the two cultures, brought about the flow of a huge number of ideas into Europe from the Middle East, including language, art, food, medicine, philosophy, science and technology. It is commonly said that the Crusades “set the stage” for the Renaissance, the French word for “rebirth.” Technologies, commodities, scientific and artistic ideas steadily spread all over Europe in untraceable but unmistakable ways as all sorts of people with all sorts of motives carried them around.

Hannibal invaded Europe with his elephants in about 200 B.C., and tensions between European and Arabic societies have been high ever since. The Muslim takeover of Spain in the year 712 involved ten to fifteen thousand soldiers invading Andalusia, pushing out the Visigoths who had been ruling the mostly Christian population since the fall of the Roman empire. The Arabic advances, led by Abderahmen, were eventually stopped at Narbonne, about 50 miles past the modern border between Spain and France, when Charles Martel and his army won the vitally important Battle of Tours in 732, and repeated their victory at Avignon soon after. Martel’s grandson Charlemagne consolidated the new European “Frankish” territory, though the border moved around a bit. The first Arab invaders in Spain were Berbers, who were North Africans, sometimes called Libyans or Saharans, and they didn’t bring deep musical culture from the Middle East and Persia with them initially. Sources say it wasn’t until a century or so later when the Abassid caliphs brought the music, particularly when Caliph ‘Abd al-Rahman (Abderame) I introduced a female singer-lutenist named al-‘Aifa’ from the East. Caliph Abou-Nasser-Mohammed-al-Farabi (870-950) was called the “Arabian Orpheus,” and Omar II Elzemagh (682-720), an early ruler of Muslim Spain, was an author and a great a friend to the arts and learning.

Large-Scale Forces at Work
In picturing the evolution of troubadour music in Europe, it’s helpful to keep in mind that in addition to the ongoing impact and cultural osmosis from Arabic civilization, two other very large political and cultural forces were also unfolding. The first was the emerging idea of centrally-governed nation-states, that gradually turned fiefdoms and local communities into France, Italy and Germany and other countries; the second was the continued growth and consolidation of power of the Catholic church in Rome. The spread and development of the troubadour arts and everything else in Europe was propelled and shaped by both local activities and these large-scale events. The fabled Knights Templar were formed just after the first Crusade, and it was in the 1100s that they or their associates allegedly discovered the secrets of Gothic architecture in the Holy Land. Quite suddenly the Masonic orders began building those astounding cathedrals with sophisticated vaulting and flying buttresses that are architectural marvels to this day, in a Europe that for nearly 1000 years barely knew how to lay a brick. The beginnings of the troubadour era as it is usually known were around this same time, and it is not hot-headed to suggest that important musical ideas came into Europe from the Arabic world at the same time that significant scientific, culinary and architectural knowledge was known to follow the same migration pathways. The combinations of these forces, in conjunction with the influx of ideas from the Islamic world, create a dizzying and complex set of cultural connections, acting independently and in conjunction with each other, that could easily occupy even an industrious scholar for decades. So we’ll race through and hit some highlights, to try to shine some light on our troubadour path without examining all of European history.

William Manchester has detailed vividly how bleak the Middle Ages were for almost everyone in Europe, including the wealthy, who didn’t even always have fresh food or warm houses. Much of Europe was notably stagnant for a very long time after the fall of the Roman Empire, which earned this period the name “Dark Ages.” Manchester explains that for a period of nearly 1000 years, through the reigns of 111 popes (there have been 266 so far), there were no important new ideas. People did what their parents did, used the roads that existed, ate what their people ate, used the same tools, recipes and building materials, and worked at the same occupations. Life itself was short, averaging as little as 35 years at one point. Clothing, music, and most aspects of life were boring and unadorned, violence and war were common, work was tedious, and most food was tasteless and often rotting. Nearly the only flavor additives available were salt, honey and smoke, and most seasonings we accept as normal in food were not available to a commoner in Europe even 500 years ago. It is a dramatic story that explorers, Crusaders and travelers like Marco Polo, together with the establishing of the fabled Silk Road, brought a long list of novelties like silk, gunpowder, spices, sugar, coffee, garlic and tea to Europe, where they were eagerly devoured. Columbus and other explorers of his era were looking for spices because they had no flavors or refrigeration, and the only food preservation techniques were pickling, smoking and salting. A few centuries later, one of the vital commodities was sugar, and it became a key part of the entire North American slave trade. Europeans wanted sweeteners for their tea and desserts, and their hunger for sugar and tea alone led to the incredible statistic that at its height, the British East India Company accounted for as much as 5% of the GDP of the entire British empire, according to historian Henry Hobhouse. Europe also got things like gypsies, chess, gunpowder, playing cards, and apparently new forms of troubadours, lute music and rhyming during the Middle Ages, a time when there was staggeringly little creativity or innovation within Europe itself.

It’s naïve to assume that Christians and Muslims lived in closed societies, or that we can be certain whether ideas, people or objects did or didn’t cross various borders during any period in history. Cultural ideas sometimes move from one society or neighborhood to another, and sometimes they don’t. Whether or not there were significant numbers of Arabic troubadours entering Southern France before or during this period isn’t certain, but we have to assume that regional borders were somewhat permeable to individuals, particularly to charming and entertaining musicians. Some historians claim that there was constant activity across the Pyrenees Mountains, between what is modern France and Spain, around the end of the first millennium, including trade, tourism, and even numerous religious pilgrims. In Sicily also there was a long history of musical interaction between Muslim and Christian ideas that led to a rich lute-playing tradition there. More than a few sources say that touring Arabic singers, musicians and storytellers commonly visited Christian towns and villages in northern Spain, southern France and Italy. Douglas Smith asserts that as early as the 9th century, Arabic musicians in Spain were known to be using some European melodies, indicating that there was two-way cultural communication. In “A History of Arabian Music” Henry George Farmer said, “a great deal more than the instruments themselves was borrowed. The roving Arab minstrel was the chief means whereby these oriental instruments became known, and he passed on at the same time a new type of music. He may, indeed, have been the originator of the wandering minstrel class that spread all over Europe.”

It is also important to realize that in feudal Europe, income disparity was at a peak, and our modern image of happy peasants playing cool music may not have happened that much. Commoners had short lives, and may not have had leisure time or money at all, let alone a way to either buy instruments or obtain tools and materials to make them. Many of the medieval stringed instruments we know about were quite elaborate, and it’s hard to imagine a medieval stonemason or farmer working all day and then relaxing by playing their inlaid lute, made from ebony, ivory and exotic tropical woods. There may have been all sorts of singing, strumming and rhyming people in Europe for a long time, but if they didn’t leave a trail of surviving evidence we can’t know much for certain about them.

Early British Isles Influences
There are very early reports of gypsies being brought as slaves to the British Isles by the Vikings. Gypsies have only quite recently been identified as having some DNA from India, and before anyone really knew what was going on, they had scattered almost invisibly all over Europe. They have long been known for bringing music with them, and they are now thought to have begun their migrations into Europe as early as the year 500. This could help explain the term “Black Irish,” an appellation that has long been applied to people from Ireland who weren’t Nordic or Anglo-Saxon in appearance. There has never been a satisfactory or definitive explanation for this phenomenon, since the Viking and Norman (French) invaders and conquerors of the Irish Celts were for the most part lighter-skinned people. The timeline is a little fuzzy, but the first reports of Viking invasions of Ireland were from the year 795. The Norman conquest took place in the late 11th century, but the proximity of Ireland to other parts of Britain, and its accessibility by water from mainland Europe meant that it was likely not completely isolated from cultural contact. There are already many thick and confusing accounts about the early history of the British Isles, and Stonehenge is not the only mystery involved. We could fill hundreds of pages speculating about the oral traditions of Ireland alone, especially on the topic of who the Celts and the Druids were, and what kinds of early migrations or invasions involving the Islamic world could have brought people and ideas to or from there. There are a number of mysterious inscriptions and symbols, along with tales of rather early migrations of Britons to mainland Europe, especially in the 6th century, from what we now know as Wales, to Brittany and Armorica, part of the province of Aquitaine. These included people fleeing from the invasions of Picts and Anglo-Saxons. Old stories about pirates, and even large-scale African invasions of the Isle of Tory are quite tantalizing and entertaining, particularly the legends of the Nemedians battling the Fomorians.

The harp was established in the British Isles long before anything in the guitar family, though it took a number of forms, including the rote, rotta, telyn, psaltery, chrotta and a number of other odd names. No doubt it’s possible to make a strong case that it also did not originate there, and may have come in from Roman influences or even earlier from the Middle East or Africa. The stories of how adept the Phoenicians were at sea travel in the distant past leads to speculation that they could have easily carried almost any idea, including musical ones, to any place on Earth. Historians keep finding new evidence that early people, including Vikings and northern Europeans as well as Middle Eastern cultures, were much better at navigation and long-distance travel than we realized in the past. The legendary Ulfberht Viking swords from around the year 900 were recently determined to have been made in Scandinavia from Syrian and not Swedish iron ore, which means that trade routes between the two areas existed earlier than most people realize, probably overland or by river through what is now the Ukraine and Poland. All through the Middle Ages the tin mines in Cornwall, England remained a magnet for traders, and it is thought that the origins of this trade were thousands of years older, deep in the Bronze Age, since tin was a key ingredient for hardening the more common copper. The shores of Ireland were barely 160 miles away and the Celtic-flavored French coast of Brittany even closer, so that even a simple storm could have sent traders to the wrong shores. If people were moving around, so was at least some of their music.

Guitars, Ouds and Lutes
The idea of a portable instrument where strings are pressed against a fingerboard probably came from China, and made its way first into Arabic culture in the Middle East before it ever got to Europe, though it also went into Japan, where some of the best-preserved and oldest lute-like instruments have been found. Some accounts say there were over 60 different stringed instruments in use in Arabic culture over a thousand years ago. Arabic people were playing dozens of kinds of violin, zither or guitar family instruments, including the oud, rabel, rebec, rebella, rubab, (also robab or rabab), quanbus, lavta, santur, tambura, buzuq, and gimbri. The oud, the direct ancestor of the lute and the guitar, was known as the mizhar, kiran, barbat, and muwattar, as well as the ‘ud, which was a wood-body version of an instrument previously made from animal skin. The word oud come from ‘ud which means “wood,” and the word “lute” comes from the French “l’oud.” The quanun, the distant ancestor of the hammered dulcimer, cymbalum, zither and the piano, was also an old Arabic instrument that likely descended from older Middle Eastern civilizations.

Europeans were not commonly playing instruments that looked like a guitar or lute before about the year 1100; at around this time they started showing up in many locations and began to spread steadily around Europe, as we’ll investigate further in Chapter 11. This is again a critical element of our troubadour story. The primary stringed instruments in mainland Europe before that time were various types of harps, joined by a variety of simple percussion and wind instruments. The Vikings had bone flutes and a number of horns, and some small harps. The ancient Celts similarly seemed to have had mostly drums and horns, especially a horn called the carnyx. There was also a lot of chanting and vocalizing, but prior to the time of the Crusades, there were essentially no violins, keyboards, lutes or guitars in Europe. The idea of using a horsehair bow to play stringed instruments is also believed to be an Arabic idea, though it was long associated with the music of nomads and shepherds more so than high art, and also has a long history in Africa. A British Isles version of the violin called the crwth (pronounced ‘crooth’) appeared rather early, inviting speculation about how and when the musical bow and other ideas, including rhyme, arrived into the British Isles. The Welsh had particularly deep bardic traditions of music and poetry, though they played the harp and crwth and nothing in the guitar family. The Druids played a mysterious role in early Celtic history, but they made a point of secrecy, avoiding written documents and only relying on oral histories, so it is hard to be sure what they did or knew.

Before the Crusades, Arabic folk music as well as Islamic classical music was spread over a very large area stretching from Persia and Turkey to Morocco in Northern Africa. The world at that time was extremely regional, so there were always local variants of everything, and once again it isn’t accurate to make broad statements about entire continents, nor can we examine everything in detail. The flow of musical information and ideas undoubtedly followed trade routes, being occasionally interrupted by wars and rivalries between societies. The earlier Arabic stringed instruments, lyrics and playing styles undoubtedly provided foundational materials and ideas for what came to be known as European troubadour music and modern guitar playing. It is not hard to see a connection and to understand that the transmission of troubadour knowledge to Europe was substantially a consequence of the increasing contact that Europe was having at that time with Arabic nations, which intensified as a result of the Crusades. Let’s back up and look more closely at what we know of the Arabic musical world of roughly 1500 years ago.

Music in Muslim Culture
The Arabic cultural ancestors of the original Medieval troubadours were undoubtedly not sight-reading sheet music any more than most troubadours do now. Britannica says about early Islamic music, “Even in its most complicated aspects, Islamic music is traditional and is transmitted orally. A rudimentary notational system did exist but it was used only for pedagogical purposes.” Arabic music has also long featured a great deal of personal interpretation and improvising. What were the troubadour arts doing in Arabic culture before they made their cultural jump to Christian Europe in the 12th century? Henry George Farmer explained that different kinds of music served various purposes in Arabic culture. There were only a handful of different types of songs, including the oldest of all, the so-called huda’ or “caravan song.” It had a peculiar rhythm reminiscent of a camel’s gait, which may have developed during long camel rides, or to soothe the animals when they weren’t traveling. Men sang as they went into battle, and people sang of the exploits of their warriors. There were songs of wooing, and laments, and both men and women sang songs and played percussion, wind and stringed instruments. Prior to the appearance of the Islamic religion, Arabic music was quite plentiful, though it was usually monophonic, with a melody chanted to a rhythmic accompaniment. Joseph Bird reports that in 300 B.C., Parmenio, a general of Alexander the Great wrote that he, “had taken three hundred and twenty-nine of the concubines of the Persian monarch, who were all skilled in music, and were performers on the flute and other instruments.” The oud was made in a variety of sizes and shapes, but there were two basic types, with one being much wider and rounder. Celebrated musicians of that era were all poets, which is significant for us, and around the 7th century Alquama ibn Abda and Al-A’sha Maimun ibn Qais were leading musicians who plied their troubadour trade around the Arabian peninsula. The father and son Ibrahim and Ishaq al-Mawsili in the 9th century were well-known singers and oud players who compiled what became the legendary Book of Songs, and who were themselves immortalized in Tales From the Arabian Nights. Slave women, called qaina, were very often singing oud players, and there are many ancient accounts of them performing alone and in groups both privately and in public events. Known as “singing girls,” they were bought and sold, often at high prices, valued according to how skilled they were and how many songs they knew. From our troubadour “scenic overlook,” a crucial thing to understand is that Arabic music was very populated with both men and women singing with the oud, and what instrumental music did exist was much less common and less valued than songs through most of the centuries preceding the documented arrival of troubadours in Europe.

In Western and Christian society, we use the terms B.C. and A.D. to demarcate the eras before and after Jesus, and Muslims sometimes speak of the “Days of Idolatry” and the “Days of Ignorance” that preceded Mohammed, followed by the “Orthodox” time and “The Golden Age.” The Prophet Mohammed was born in 571, but it was not until 40 years later when started to receive his Revelations and began writing the Koran. Mohammed’s name was written in the Arabic alphabet, and there is no correct way to spell it in English, so I have arbitrarily chosen Mohammed rather than Mohammad or Muhammad, Muhammed, Mahomet or the other common spellings. Mohammed himself seems to have been conflicted about the value of music, and Muslim clerics and leaders have gone back and forth ever since the 7th century on what music is to be celebrated and what should be shunned. Mohammed’s cousin Al-Nadr ibn al-Harith, who introduced the oud and the song type known as the ghina’ to Mecca, was a leading poet-minstrel of the day who briefly became a rival to The Prophet. Mohammed was himself considered to be a sha-ir or “poet-soothsayer” before he began his religious endeavors.

Invasions by Turks in the 1100s, followed by the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in the 1200s brought art and science to a screeching halt there, leaving Spain, then called Al-Andalus, as the brightest cultural light in the Arabic music world. The hotbeds of Spanish music were Toledo and Malaga, in South and Central Spain, though there are reports of copious music in Seville, Grenada and Cordoba. The ruling dynasties known as the Murawids (11th century) and the Muwahhids (12th century) both moved into Spain from Morocco, pushing many things northward toward France. In the year 1015 the writer Ahmad ibn Muhammed al-Yamani visited Malaga and reported, “Around me, the strings of lutes, tunburs, and other instruments vibrated from all directions, and voices blended in singing… [music] was uppermost in the concerns of the people in that region.” He then described the lovely singing of a slave girl. For quite a few centuries, possession of southern Spain went back and forth, though ultimately, the successive conquerors were supportive of music and musicians. Courts and palaces all over Spain in those centuries were said to be overflowing with skilled minstrels, and the dominant form of music seemed to be the singing oud and lute players. King al-Mu’tamid ibn ‘Abbad (1040-1095) was considered to be among the finest poets of his day, and he even wrote some early heavy-metal lyrics: “The strings of her lute wounded by the plectrum caused me to shiver as if I had heard a melody played by swords on the neck tendons of the enemy.”

The ubiquity and sophistication of Muslim troubadour music in Spain created perfect conditions for the cultural seeds of this society to blow across the Pyrenees into Southern France, though there was much more war than cultural exchange. Farmer says, “In Al-Andalus, music and poetry belonged, not so much to a special class as in the East, but to the people at large….” In 1283 Zakariyya said that at Shilb “every inhabitant displayed an interest in literature, and that one could find even ploughmen capable of improvising in verse.” The growth of powerful groups of Spanish Christians in the 1100s likely also helped get the music to France, since the music didn’t have to jump religions as well as countries, genders and languages.

Guitars and Troubadours Invade Europe
It’s no secret that the numerals we use are primarily of Arabic origin, or that Roman numerals were very poorly conceived; addition was difficult and multiplication nearly impossible. Part of our alphabet, and many ideas, notations and tools in science and astronomy are also known to have come from Arab sources. The use of the letter x in mathematics to represent the unknown is Arabic in origin, as is the word “algebra” itself. The maps that the first European explorers used to travel great distances likely were copied from very old Middle Eastern and even Phoenician sources. Much of what Europe learned about ancient Greece during the Renaissance came from Arabic sources, since they did a far better job of translating and preserving classical Greek texts than either the Greeks themselves or the Christians. We shouldn’t be shocked to think that vital parts of poetry and music we now accept as part of Western music appeared earlier in the Middle East.

Spain remained under Muslim control for over 700 years, which helps explain why the guitar’s history is so deeply rooted there, though many questions arise as to why the troubadour arts flourished on one side of the Pyrenees mountains and took so long to cross over. Over centuries, conflicts often mellow, and people who live along the borders, especially children, usually get tolerant and friendly with their neighbors, though the animosity and mutual penchant for cruelty and retaliation between the two sides of this long conflict are considerable. We can’t know how much or how quickly the ideas of rhymed verse, romantic love poetry, and the playing of fretted instruments percolated into southern European culture during this time, though it is quite possible that there was much more of it everywhere than was documented. Travel long ago was by ship, wagon, horse or on foot, and even if the mountain routes were hard to travel and well-defended, Spain and France also share a coastal border. Sailors might well have carried instruments with them in and out of the coastal regions either as part of commerce or smuggling. It might have been difficult for the cultures to mix, since Arabic people were visually identifiable, with darker skin, different religions, clothing, customs and languages. It is hard to imagine singing slave-girls mixed with the sailors, or even anyone trying to tune a lute on a ship in the Mediterranean, since the climate in that region is extremely dry during much of the year. That would be damaging to elaborately-made wooden instruments, helping to explain the popularity in that region of the smaller, unadorned gitterns and citoles.

Andalusia returned to Christian control in 1236 after 522 years of Muslim rule with the Spanish Reconquista, and at that time Cordoba was possibly the largest city in the world, with estimates ranging from 100,000 to a million inhabitants. At its peak it was probably ten times the size of London or Paris. This time coincided with the flowering of the Occitan troubadours in southern France, though if or exactly how troubadour music made its way from Spain into France amid the vicious warfare is admittedly hard to picture. The population of Cordoba fell to 20,000 by the 18th century. George Power claimed that at the battle of Toloza alone, two hundred thousand Muslim soldiers were killed, and that the victorious Christian army cooked their food for several days using only the lances and arrows of the fallen for firewood. The conflict between the Castilians and the “Musulmans” was substantial, and the arts likely had to take a back seat to carnage for an extended period. Where lute players singing rhymed poetry fit into that scenario is hard to picture. Huge numbers of Europeans participated in religious wars for over 200 years, and they showed up in Asia Minor, the Middle East, and even Egypt, where they undoubtedly learned things while warring against the Muslims. Soldiers in wars have always come home with new cultural and musical ideas, either learned directly in other countries, or from other soldiers from different parts of their own army. It would have been much easier to buy or plunder an astrolabe or a compass from a distant and hostile culture than an oud or an oud player, though a wealthy Crusader could have purchased or confiscated instruments. He wouldn’t need to make drawings and take measurements of an Arabic musical instrument so he could make one at home– a Muslim Heritage web source makes the claim that anyone could have basically walked into a music store in an Arab city at that time and bought a nice instrument. “The visiting traders, scholars and pilgrims could easily buy such artifacts and take them home. There is also evidence that at the time of Ibn Rushd (d.1198) there was an industry, which manufactured musical instruments, some of which were exported, most probably to non Muslims, via Muslim-controlled Europe.”
At the time of The Jump, northern Africa was under the control of the Fatimid dynasty of Shiite Muslims. Susan Yalman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote, “The opulence of the Fatimid court fueled a renaissance in the decorative arts,” and she adds that “artwork from this period exemplifies the creativity and ingenuity of Fatimid craftsmen.” Arabic instrument builders also had access to ebony and ivory from Africa that Europeans didn’t have; the uses of those two materials in lutherie go back to very early times. High-quality woodworking requires high-quality tools, and Arabic civilization again seems to have obtained good steel-making technology before it reached Europe. Like a surprising number of things that appear to have originated in China, steel appeared there as well as in Japan and India before it made its way to the Middle East and finally to Europe. Rhyming love songs and fingerboards might have followed the same basic path.

Read Chapter 5

Read Chapter 8

I'm trying to raise issues, questions and awareness in the world of modern troubadours... I want people to find this in web searches and to read it.  I don't have a way for you to comment here, but I welcome your emails with your reactions. Feel free to cheer me on, or to disagree...

Chordally yours,