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The Musical Language of the Egyptian Composer Muhammad ‘Abd el-Wahhab, According to his Instrumental Works (M’azufat): Features of a New Instrumental Genre in the Arabic Music

By Wassim Nader Odeh, Bar-Ilan University (2018)

Mohammad ‘Abd el-Wahhab (c. 1905-1991), “Musician of the Generations,” was an Egyptian singer, composer, oud virtuoso, and actor. This dissertation explores his instrumental compositions (M’azufat, plural form of M’azufa) written between 1933-1980.

The main thesis of this work is that ‘Abd el-Wahhab created a new Arabic instrumental genre, which fused traditional Ottoman and Arabic genres with Western forms and stylistic components. The purpose of this study was to define the various styles of his M’azufat, while focusing on their compositional structure, modality, and rhythm. The entire corpus of el-Wahhab’s M’azufa is categorized here according to the periods of his creative path and to his use of different forms.

The findings of this study demonstrate that, contrary to the customary view of el-Wahhab’s M’azufat as possessing no formal organization, they do reveal well-organized forms with unique structural characteristics. The study seeks to understand the source of these forms and to trace their development. Concomitantly, the dissertation uncovers the special compositional techniques and methods of ‘Abd el-Wahhab, which can serve as efficient tools for analyses of contemporary instrumental art-music by Arabic composers. The study also seeks to contribute to the improvement of notation methods in order to reduce the currently existing gap between the written composition and its performance practice. Improvement of notation reflecting comprehension of the M’azufat formal structure facilitates their realistically precise transcription which corresponds to the contemporary editorial style of instrumental music.

In this work, I have collected, studied, transcribed, and edited in conventional notation 48 M’azufat. Their examination includes quantitative and qualitative analyses of their various properties, including: formal structures; the different functions of different composition sections and their proportions; and their modal (Maqamat), rhythmic (Mawazin), and thematic-motivic functions. This multi-dimensional analysis of the 48 M’azufat revealed three compositional styles that the composer developed over the course of three periods:

  • The first period (1933-1939), “The “Arabization” Period,” was characterized by an attempt to create an original Arabic style.

  • In the second period (1941-1959), the “Central Period,” the unique style of ‘Abd el-Wahhab began to take form.

  • The third period (1962-1980), “The Westernization Period,” was characterized by his search for universal recognition and by Westernization of style, and performance grandiosity.

This dissertation includes 19 transcriptions of the M’azufat original recordings that I made by ear. This step was critical for analyses of the compositions and constituted a very important part of the work. In the process of transcription, I developed a unique method for notating the M’azufat in accordance with the specific structure of each composition, based on the transcription method used in the traditional genres of Bashraf and Sama’i.

The dissertation also includes a qualitative analysis of eight M’azufat – two pieces representing each of its four forms. As this kind of composition has never been analyzed before, there was no fixed point of departure, and I needed to develop my own analytical strategy for the thorough investigation of the different stylistic aspects. In addition, the abundant variety of M’azufat stylistic and formal features led me to develop different analytical methods in order to reveal the unique properties of each M’azufa. Therefore, the qualitative analysis, which engages with ‘Abd el-Wahhab’s musical language of this genre of instrumental music, constitutes a major part of my work.

The dissertation is based on thorough investigation of the instrumental music (M’azufat) of the Egyptian composer Mohammad ‘Abd el-Wahhab, one of the most important composers in classical Arabic music. The dissertation provides an overview of the style of his M’azufat together with in-depth analysis of eight representative works. I needed to transcribe these pieces from the performance. These transcriptions are not merely illustrations, they form a major and valuable part of this work. The analysis and summary discussions are complemented by numerous charts that provide quantitative overview of aspects of music, like maqam, rhythm and form.