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Perspectives of polyphony in Edward Said's writings.

As a child, Edward Said attended a recital by Umm Kalthoum. He was greatly puzzled and disturbed by it, and missed above all counterpoint, to which he was used because of his early familiarity with Western classical music. Later in his life, he re-evaluated Umm Kalthoum's art. It would play a fundamental role for him in the formation of alternative ways of listening to Western music, emphasizing elaboration rather than development. In itself, her music functioned as a 'contrapuntal voice' to Western practices in Said's maturation as a listener and as a thinker. The article concentrates on polyphony, with its constitutive practices of counterpoint and harmony, as a key concept in the interpretation of Said's reflections on music, and a metaphor for humanistic emancipation.

I. An Early Experience: Umm Kalthoum and a 'Lack of Counterpoint' (1)

When Edward Said was eight or nine years old, he was taken to a musical recital for the first time in his life. The singer whose art the child was witnessing, turned out to be none other than the grand lady of Arabic music, Umm Kalthoum. In an interview for Dutch television, recorded in 2000, Said gave a surprising comment on this seminal event:
 It was a dreadful experience for me.... It did not begin
 until 10 o'clock at night. I was half asleep. I was a kid.
 And there was this great crowded theatre. There did not
 seem any order to it. The musicians would wander on
 stage, sit down and play a little bit, wander off, and
 then come back, and finally she would appear. And
 they would sing together with her orchestra. And her
 songs would go on for forty to forty-five minutes. And
 to me there was not the kind of form or shape [I was
 used to in Western classical music], it seemed to be all
 more or less the same. And the tone was mournful,
 melancholic. I did not understand the words. Above all
 what I missed, I realize now, was counterpoint. It is
 very monophonic music. I think it is designed to send
 people, not exactly into a stupor, but it would induce a
 kind of melancholic haze, which people like. And I
 found it very disturbing. Mentally it made you inactive.
 [My assessment of this music practice] ... is entirely
 subjective. So I very early on rejected it and began to
 focus exclusively on Western music, for which I hungered
 more and more. (2)

Said's childhood judgment is rather similar to the way Western listeners, well-versed in Western classical music, used to comment upon music from the Middle East. It resembles very much an 'Orientalist' stereotypical prejudice about Arabic music, and Oriental music in general. (3)

Edward Said, a Palestinian by birth, was raised by parents who were ardent lovers of Western music. It was this kind of music, and not Arabic music, that he was made familiar with, although he was introduced by his mother's brother to some of the repertoire of the oud at family gatherings in Lebanon. Said's family did not possess Arabic recordings, but had a collection of discs with Western classical music (mainly Beethoven, Mozart, Rossini, some Bach, Wagner, and Richard Strauss) (Zeeman).

In his book Musical Elaborations, after almost five decades, Edward Said returned to Umm Kalthoum, with observations on his early experience of her art:
 The first musical performance I ever attended as a very
 small boy (in the mid-1940s) was a puzzling, interminably
 long, and yet haunting concert by Umm
 Kalthoum, already the premier exponent of classical
 Arabic song. I had no way of knowing that her peculiar
 rigor as a performer derived from an aesthetic whose hallmark
 was exfoliating variation, in which repetition, a sort
 of meditative fixation on one or two small patterns, and
 an almost total absence of developmental (in the
 Beethovenian sense) tension were the key elements. The
 point of the performance, I later realized, was not to get
 to the end of a carefully constructed logical
 structure--working through it--but to luxuriate in all sorts
 of byways, to linger over details and changes in text, to
 digress and then digress from the digression. And
 because, in my preponderantly Western education (both
 musical and academic) I seemed to be dedicated to an
 ethic of productivity and of overcoming obstacles, the
 kind of art practiced by Umm Kalthoum receded in
 importance for me. (Musical Elaborations 98)

This is an important passage in Edward Said's reflections on music. Indeed, Said, raised, especially by his mother, with Western classical music, had internalised its values and standards early in his life. For many years his conscious feelings were, that the experiences of the mid-1940s with Umm Kalthoum's singing had "either been superseded by substantial changes in [his] taste or forgotten and left behind in a past with which [he] no longer [has] an active connection" (Musical Elaborations 98).

It is significant that in Umm Kalthoum's art he emphasised the lack of that which he so valued in Western classical music: counterpoint. Apparently he became acutely aware of this alleged lack through this stunning childhood experience of Arabic music. However, the role of Umm Kalthoum in Said's life did not end with his early rejection of her music. As we shall see shortly, he re-evaluated her music later in his life. It would play--ironically maybe--an important 'contrapuntal' role in his appreciation of Western music.

In the present text I concentrate on counterpoint--and more generally on polyphony--as a key concept in the interpretation of Said's reflections on music: counterpoint as a musical practice, as his personal guide to relate divergent musical and cultural backgrounds, and as a metaphor for humanistic emancipation. Before going into this, I would first like to devote some thoughts to counterpoint and polyphony.

II. Polyphony and Counterpoint

I take polyphony as the simultaneous unfolding of two or more different voices, each with its own identity, and at the same time each with a 'responsibility' to the other and for the ensemble of voices. In polyphony there is typically no domination of one voice over others; if it does occur, it is usually temporary, and the role of prominence will change from one voice to another. Interesting practices of polyphony employ voices with articulate identities; as we shall see below, these very identities often become less clear-cut as the voices engage in polyphonic play. In musical parlance about polyphony, 'voice' is not restricted to vocal parts, but includes instrumental ones as well, and, in the twentieth century, by extension, also groups of parts (simultaneously related to other such groups). (4) Later I will use the term also in a metaphorical sense, as is common in cultural analysis.

Within polyphony two dimensions may be discerned: counterpoint and harmony. (5) Counterpoint refers to the differentiation between simultaneous voices. Characteristically they differ in their melodic and rhythmic shapes, and may be different in timbre as well. (6) This results, for instance, in a variety of melodic movements occurring at the same time between voices (counter, oblique, (7) and parallel ones; with a preference for the former two), as well as in rhythmic disparity and complementarity.

At the same time, in the relevant Western music traditions, the voices are not conceived as co-existing indifferently. Polyphony is not a matter of an unordered set of independent voices. Usually the voices are attuned to each other. Part of this mutual attuning belongs to the harmonic dimension. The concept of harmony applies to the pitch relationships between the simultaneous voices, according to norms for their sounding together well, holding in the particular music tradition. Harmonic is not the same as 'harmonious.' In fact, a great deal of dissonance between voices may occur. Another aspect of mutual attuning lies in ways of rhythmic complementarity and disparity, mentioned above.

The harmonic norms, and consequently harmonic acceptability, differ considerably from one musical practice to the other, historically and synchronically. In Renaissance polyphony, for example, the attuning of the voices in relation to the overall harmonic structures and processes was articulated in terms of consonance and dissonance, in which consonance counted as the principle reference. On the other hand, Charles Seeger developed a concept of dissonant counterpoint, in favor of what he called "a purifying discipline." (8) In his turn, Boulez considerably extended the notions of 'voice' and 'harmony.' Voices may consist in themselves of complex structures (this is the term Boulez uses), comprised of complexes of pitches, durations or timbres, or groups of voices. (9) In the case of Boulez, the concept of harmony is certainly not limited to classical tonal, or pre-classical modal structures. He introduces the notion "multiplied harmony," which is expressed as a system of degrees of density (Boulez 117-18). (10)

The expression "responsibility," used above, has been proposed by composer Pierre Boulez to characterize the ways in which the participant voices are related to each other, shape each other (e.g. in melodic and rhythmic complementarity), and contribute to the articulation of the overall texture and of overall processes (in particular, in the dimension of harmonic structure [Boulez 118]). (11) The word responsibility is taken in its literal sense of 'ability to respond.' Responsibility in counterpoint is thus actualized in two dimensions of ordering: the relation between one individual voice to each of the others (contrapuntal), and the relation between the individual voice and the collective of voices (harmonic). Together the voices articulate the harmonic framework, and may transgress it individually as well. Boulez emphasizes that it is in the aspect of responsibility that polyphony distinguished itself from monody, heterophony and homophony. (12)

A consequence of this 'ability to respond' is that the voices may be perceived as transforming each other continuously. Because of their harmonic interference, they elicit sonorous aspects in each other that cannot be observed if the voices were sung or played separately. Even new voices may be heard which are not performed as such. This is due to the interference between overtones, and may also be effected when voices are crossing each other in pitch position (Stimmtausch), thereby partly losing their identity (at least in comparison with the situation in which they were considered separately). In the latter instance, possibilities arise of perceiving fresh melodic formations out of fragments of these crossing voices.

What will happen between voices through their sonic interference is unpredictable to a large extent, depending also on the performance space, the position of the listener, etc. One example of such interference is resonance. When in a particular voice, a fundamental pitch with its overtones happens to be harmonically in agreement with pitches in other voices, these pitches may sound more emphatically than others. On the other hand, a dissonant relationship will bring out rich spectra of overtones, with unforeseen dynamic sonic processes.

Polyphony as a musical practice is not restricted to Western traditions, though it is (or rather has been) characteristic of them. One meets polyphony also in Central Africa and Polynesia, for example. The concept may also be extended, transgressing the limits of what was commonly understood as polyphony in the West before 1900, that is, melodic polyphony. The extended concept includes rhythmical, or even timbric, voices. In this way, Arabic and Indian classical music traditions may be involved in the study of polyphony, too, if one takes into consideration the relationships between vocal or instrumental solo parts, on the one hand, and percussion ones, on the other. (13)

The concepts of polyphony and counterpoint have been used by composers quite regularly in a metaphorical sense. Thus Matthijs Vermeulen viewed his "polymelody" or "authentic horizontalism" in an emancipatory, utopic way, as a totality of equal social relationships (Braas, chapter 2.4). It is in a metaphoric sense that I will further explore the significance of polyphony and counterpoint in Said's work.

III. Reflections on Music in Said's Work

The Role of Music in His Life

Music occupied a privileged place in Edward Said's life. He was a gifted piano player. In 1999, together with Daniel Barenboim, Said brought together young Arab and Jewish musicians to play in Europe as one orchestra. This "West-Eastern Divan Workshop," alluding to Goethe's famous collection, was devised to dissolve, if only temporarily, political polarity by musical cooperation. (14) It may be called a sonic intervention with musical, ethical, and political dimensions. Music gave Edward Said ample occasion to reflect on matters like the relation between the private and the public, between the dominant and the alternative, between aesthetics and ethics. He has repeatedly deplored the present cultural situation in the West, in which, of all the arts, the least is known about (classical) music, by the generally educated public and intellectuals alike. Dismayed and puzzled by this, he voiced his impression that music is losing its authority (Barenboim and Said 137).

Music's Loss of Authority

Referring to the decrease in importance of music in intellectual discourse, Said spoke of "a kind of apartheid," unique to our time and very different from the nineteenth century's (Barenboim and Said 130). He related this situation to Adorno's account of the negative teleology of Western classical music during the twentieth century, "[s]o autonomous has music become with Schonberg ... that it has withdrawn completely from the social dialectic that produced it in the first place" ("From Silence to Sound and Back Again," 515). (15) Instead of a representation of society--as was the case with music of the triumphant bourgeoisie in the nineteenth century--(classical) music has become a representation of the inability to function within the society: "the true new music is the music that cannot be performed and cannot be heard" (Barenboim and Said 131). (16)

The Private and Public Roles of Music

Said emphasized and even defended the privacy and pleasure of listening to and playing music for oneself. (17) The privateness of music and its autonomy as an art seems to be furthered, as observed by Said, by the notion that music does not share a common discursivity with language (Musical Elaborations 40). He even speaks of the "muteness" and "allusive silence" of music (Musical Elaborations 16, 75). (18) Said has repeatedly expressed his puzzlement over this side of (Western classical) music (Barenboim and Said 156).

At the same time, Said strongly de-mystified the nineteenth-century concept of so-called absolute music, the idea that music would be a purely autonomous art. To him, music is not at all separate from political and social processes, even though a degree of separateness has been taken for granted for at least a century through the concept of 'absolute' music (Musical Elaborations xii). Stated more positively, he holds that Western classical music "shares a common history of intellectual labor with the society of which it forms so interesting and engaging an organic part," constituting, in Gramsci's words, the "elaboration" of Western civil society (Musical Elaborations 70). (19)

Both aspects of music, the private and the public, are combined in Said's reflection upon Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu: "Music is of fundamental interest therefore because it represents the rarity, uniqueness, and absolute individuality of art [in terms of work, artist, performance, auditor/reader/spectator], as well as its intermittent, fragmentary, highly conditional, and circumstantial existence" (Musical Elaborations 75).

In line with his insistence on aesthetics as a realm of human activity in its own right, this does not mean to Said that the practice and understanding of music could, or should, be reduced to the socio-political sphere. In his humanistic perspective, music, and more generally the aesthetic, should be able to function as a voice of resistance, "as an indictment of the political ..., a stark contrast, forcefully made, to inhumanity, to injustice" (Barenboim and Said 168). (20) Expressing his interest in that which cannot be resolved and which is irreconcilable, Said concludes: "For me, as somebody who cares so deeply about music, a very important part of the practice of music is that music, in some profound way, is perhaps the final resistance to the acculturation and commodification of everything" (Barenboim and Said 168).

Music, then, has for him the potential to serve as a powerful "contrapuntal" voice in the texture of human expressions. This must be seen in the context of Said's humanism of alternatives: "But for intellectuals, artists, and free citizens, there must always be room for dissent, for alternative views, for ways and possibilities to challenge the tyranny of the majority and, at the same time and most importantly, to advance human enlightenment and liberty" (Barenboim and Said 181). (21)

Amateurism and Transgression

Said writes about music as a passionately committed amateur intellectual. "Amateur" is his own expression, and he uses it in a clearly positive key (Musical Elaborations xvii). He describes "amateurism" as related to "the desire to be moved not by profit or reward but by love for and unquenchable interest in the larger picture, in making connections across lines and barriers, in refusing to be tied down to a specialty, in caring for ideas and values in spite of the restriction of a profession" (Musical Elaborations 76).

There is a remarkable resonance between Said's notion of amateurism and his concept of transgression, through the characteristic of crossing borders, emphasized by him in both. Furthermore, in the context of our present reflection, it is significant to note that he views music as a transgressive medium par excellence: "In short, the transgressive element in music is its nomadic ability to attach itself to, and become part of, social formations, to vary its articulations and rhetoric depending on the occasion as well as the audience, plus the power and the gender situations in which it takes place" (Musical Elaborations 70). (22) To deal with music in an "amateurish" way thus seems to be very apt, given Said's contention that transgression is a key characteristic of the medium.

IV. Umm Kalthoum Revisited as a Contrapuntal Voice

Elaboration Versus Development

Later in his life, Said noticed that this childhood experience of Umm Kalthoum's recital kept coming back to his mind, connected with a revival of his interest in Arabic culture. This is how he concludes the passage quoted earlier: "But of course it [the art of Umm Kalthoum] only went beneath the surface of my conscious awareness until, in recent years, I returned to an interest in Arabic culture, where I rediscovered her, and was able to associate what she did musically with some features of Western classical music" (Musical Elaborations 98).

Though in Said's perception Umm Kalthoum's music was lacking in counterpoint, I propose to view his experience of this very music as functioning for him as a contrapuntal voice to especially the Austro-German classical music traditions. In short, I believe that the experience with the Arabic music star contained the seed of later articulations of alternatives, as Said calls them, to dominant Western schemes, both in music and music philosophy. Eventually, the contact with Arabic music also enabled Said to detect alternatives within the canon of Austro-German music.

I will now give some arguments for this, and will concentrate on Said's observations in Musical Elaborations. This book contains his Wellek Library Lectures in Critical Theory, given in 1989, at the University of California at Irvine. In these lectures, one meets discussions of musical details which betray an attention much closer to Arabic aesthetics than to a Western classical one. There is an amazing remark in relation to just ornamental turns in classical and romantic compositions such as by Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, and Richard Strauss: "these basically conventional ornaments manage somehow to communicate a speechless, contentless eloquence I find very difficult to explain" (Musical Elaborations 86). (23)

As a more general observation, I should like to point to the fact that a large part of the Western compositions Said discusses are sets of variations. Again, this interest of Said's is more typical of the tradition of Umm Kalthoum than it is of Western classical music practices. In the context of the latter, a much more prestigious and central musical artifact is the sonata form, (24) as employed especially in the first movements of symphonies. It is in the latter that the emphasis is on-and I resume Said's terms--"developmental tension" and "carefully constructed logical structure," rather than on variation and elaboration. Indeed, the latter qualifications, presented as characteristic of Arabic music, suit the Western variation compositions quite well.

In fact, this attention to Western variation compositions is to an extent a symptom of Said's conscious resistance against the core of Austro-German classical music: the (first movement) sonata form. Essential to this form is an overall formal process to which every part contributes: the exposition with the first and second themes, in a relationship of tension because of difference in key and melodic-rhythmic outline; then the development section in which key and thematic tensions are heightened, and finally the recapitulation in which first and second themes return, but now in the same key.

Edward Said tends to portray sonata form so persistently in terms of inequal power relations, against the background of Western cultural ideologies--largely passing over transgressions within actual sonata practice--that the relevant texts sometimes acquire a touch of Occidentalism. Furthermore, he constructs a polarity which does not always do justice to the variational and elaborative aspects within the sonata formal process (though he does prove to have an ear for this), nor to the developmental qualities in variation compositions. This is what he has to say about the sonata form:
 So much of the discipline of music is severe and rigorous,
 so much of it dominative and specialized ... that it is no
 wonder that sonata form, which can be read and is frequently
 described as a disciplinary essentialization of
 coercive development, achieved so great an authority in
 classical nineteenth century compositional and performance
 techniques. The model for the sonata form is, I
 think, pedagogic and dramatic: what we have in it is a
 demonstration of authoritative control in which a thematic
 statement and its subsequent development are worked
 through rigorously by the composer.... Thus themes
 undergo development, there is a calculated alternation of
 dominant and tonic keys, and a clangorous affirmation of
 the composer's authority over his material is achieved
 (Musical Elaborations 100). (25)

All this amounts to what Said's perception of Umm Kalthoum's music and non-Western classical music is precisely not. That is why he speaks about variation forms in Western music as an alternative, and even as a counter-tradition. As to the latter music, it is the aesthetics and music of Olivier Messiaen which Said views as a symbol of the alternative (Musical Elaborations 99). (26) Messiaen's work does not rely on the central values of the main Western musical tradition, that is, it does not base itself on concepts of development and mastering time in "forward logical control ... according to a linear model"; his music is rather an "anti- or non-narrative alternative to the mainstream tradition" (Musical Elaborations 99), offering "infinitely possible variations" (Musical Elaborations 101). It is in relation to Messiaen's work that Said observes:
 From the different, private perspective of a contrary
 artist, however, music is another way of telling....
 digressive, reiterative, slower in its effects because built
 up through the whole series of affirmations and associations
 that come with not focusing on getting through time
 but of being in time, experiencing it together, rather than
 in competition, with other musics, experiences, temporalities
 (Musical Elaborations 100).

One will not miss, first of all, the striking similarity of this wording with the way Said described his early experience with Umm Kalthoum and, secondly, the evident-and unexpected-partiality of this characterization, and even identification with it.

It is noteworthy that Said connected the concept of counter-tradition not only with variational forms in the usual sense, but also with the contrapuntal mode. (One may, indeed, view textures of counterpoint, especially homogeneous ones which use the same melodic patterns for all voices, like in canons and fugues, as forms of variation-that is, in an overlapping instead of a consecutive way.) He even paraphrases counterpoint as contrapuntal to the model of the authoritative sonata form:
 ... [Y]ou think of and treat one musical line in conjunction
 with several others that derive from and
 relate to it, and you do so through imitation, repetition,
 or ornamentation--as an antidote to the more
 overtly administrative and executive authority contained
 in, say, a Mozart or Beethoven classical sonata
 form. (Musical Elaborations 102)

I should add that Said again constructs a polarity here in which differences are overstressed. Also contrapuntal textures may well manifest "overtly administrative and executive authority."

Interestingly, a connection may be made between this description of counterpoint and that other favorite concept of Said's, elaboration. Textures of homogeneous counterpoint show explicit processes of elaboration since the parts are each other's overlapping variants. But also, in a more general way, contrapuntal voices modify each other in endless and unexpected ways. This is due to (psycho-)acoustic and syntactical interferences between the perceived simultaneous voices as explained earlier in this text. This elaboration could be called the 'aura of polyphony.'

Polyphony, with its contrapuntal and harmonic processes, often constitutes such a complex texture, that it eludes cognitive grip, and can be listened to many times, without the sonorous processes being cognitively exhausted. The voices have, so to speak, a mutually elaborative effect on each other. If any musical texture had to be chosen as the epitome of defying a single authoritative listening, polyphony would be a convincing candidate. While the contrapuntal voice of Umm Kalthoum's art elicited alternatives within the voice of Western classical music for Said--the variational, elaborative, ornamental--it did also right within the core of the latter music. He pointed to the fascination of Beethoven during his third creative period with fugal and variational forms, as "his way of getting away from the coerciveness of sonata form, opening music out exfoliatively, elaboratively, contemplatively" (Musical Elaborations 101). In such a counter-tradition, according to him, disciplined organization of musical time is dissipated and delayed (Musical Elaborations 102).

An Alternative Concept of Time

For Said, the musical counter-tradition to, as well as within, Western classical music seems to involve a concept of time, different from the one allegedly induced by the dominant tradition as connected with the sonata form. This 'alternative' concept is related to the experience of a certain slowness, a feeling of leisure, a sense of being invited to reflect, to contemplate, and to become aware of an endless richness of possibilities of sonorous relationships. In contrast, 'dominant' time was related in Said's experience to the sense of duty and the ethic of productivity (Musical Elaborations 100).

Again, the time concept of leisure and slowness, related to the experience of a counter-tradition within art music of the West, as well as related to an 'alternative' listening to that music, shows a striking resemblance with what Said observed about Umm Kalthoum's recital. Also there he noted a contrast between, on the one hand, the sense of time he was educated in (which made him dedicated to an ethic of productivity and of overcoming obstacles), and, on the other hand, the non-directional, but rather "luxuriating" approach to time by the great singer of Arabic music.

Finally, a link may be made between the alternative concept of time and polyphony. If the interferences between the simultaneous parts, resulting in multiple, mutually elaborative, effects in acoustics and syntax are to be appreciated in listening, then the taking of ample time is called for. (27)

Counterpoint between Musical Traditions

Above, I have expressed my opinion that the art of Umm Kalthoum, even though apparently suppressed by Edward Said during decades, has played an important role for him as an alternative, as a contrapuntal voice to Western classical music. In Said's personal history, Western and Arabic musics have become interfering voices. The concept of counterpoint may be extended in this context from the confines of a singular musical work or tradition to the mutual response between traditions. Such intermusical counterpoint has been conducive in Said's case to detect new ways of listening to both Arabic and Western classical musics. His judgemnt that Middle Eastern music, such as Umm Kalthoum's, is non-developmental, used to bear the Orientalist mark of rejection. However, to him this very characteristic later served as a starting point of protest against dominant tendencies in Western classical music, and as the incentive to envisage musical and cultural alternatives. In fact, he noted himself that his alternative ways of listening to Western classical music have been inspired by his early contact with Arabic music. He wrote that his experience of Brahms's variations opus 18 is "threaded through" with the singing of Umm Kalthoum and other non-Western musics--along with Western ones (Musical Elaborations 97). At this point he himself used the musical notion of counterpoint to characterize the relationships between these voices of his life during his later years (Zeeman).

V. Musical Polyphony as a Model for Humanistic Emancipation

As a conclusion, I should like to take polyphony as a metaphor one step further. There is a suggestion in Said's work of polyphony as a humanistic model. A reference to his humanistic perspective may serve here: "It seems to me that the basic humanistic mission today, whether in music, literature, or any of the arts or the humanities, has to do with the preservation of difference, without, at the same time, sinking into the desire to dominate" (Barenboim and Said 154). His is a humanism of alternatives, always with room for dissent, ultimately geared to further human (rational) enlightenment and liberty.

A 'difference' is understood by Said as relating, for example, to an identity or a tradition, but in a specific sense. In the perspective of his mission, he takes these notions as contrary to the common practice in which difference is expressed--or forced to express itself--in terms of the affirmation of identity, often accompanied by a tendency towards either domination or subjugation. In concordance with his view, Said does not hold that the 'differences' (identities or traditions) involved should be conceived of in an essentialist way as "pure," or, worse, should be made "pure." An identity "is itself made up of different elements. But it has a coherent sound and personality or profile to it" (Barenboim and Said 154). (28) Humanist community was characterized by Said as the overcoming of divisions without destroying the differences (Zeeman). This is an eloquent paraphrase of polyphony with its dimensions of counterpoint and harmony.

Said's work offers ample occasion for viewing polyphony as a representation of a humanist community, to serve as an emancipatory model. I propose to assess the various aspects of polyphony in music discussed above, while envisaging them in that perspective.

* Respect for Difference without Domination, within a Shared Harmonic System

Polyphony as a social model entails the welcoming of difference--without which counterpoint is not possible--as well as the eagerness to involve oneself in the endless richness of ever-changing mutual response between voices. Though one voice may seem temporarily more prominent--but not dominant--than others, this role changes between the participants, and is not lasting. Musical polyphony indeed serves as a humanistic model here, since there is no tyranny of the majority or a minority, and there are always dissident voices, as well as alternative manners to listen to the ever alternative ways the voices are musically interrelated.

What about the shared harmonic framework, by virtue of which the contrapuntal voices can interact? In the case of a metaphorical interpretation of polyphony, this may be translated within the intercultural perspective of Said as radical secular humanism, including "amateurism" in the true sense of the word. Thus, the 'harmonic dimension' may be understood as: mutual respect, the joyful readiness to interact in complementarity and disparity, and, essentially, love.

Of course, the harmonic dimension, which in polyphonic music used to be very exacting, needs more thought when taken in a metaphorical sense in the context of humanist emancipation. Who are the ones to devise this harmonic dimension (which, like in music, will be continuously redefined by the participants)? How to reach temporary consensus about it? How to prevent the exacting nature of 'harmony' (again, not 'harmoniousness,' since 'dissonance' is an important part of it) from becoming oppressive?

* The 'Alternative' Time Concept

This concept was developed by Said in relation to counter-traditions to Western classical music, both Western and non-Western. It was also observed to be favorable to the appreciation of musical polyphony according to him. It is a concept described as allowing time to reflect, to contemplate. It involves a sense of leisure, commensurate with a certain slowness in the unfolding of sound textures and processes. Such a concept is clearly suitable to a humanistic community, in counterpoint (now metaphorically speaking) to a time concept of duty and productivity. A monophonic ethic of pressure to produce is likely to cause a constant sense of time shortage. And the sense of a chronic 'lack' of time is conducive to the experience of being a prisoner, of being isolated as an individual or as a group, deprived of the possibility to reflect and to mature. In fact, to inspire a constant sense of time shortage is a very efficient, totalizing means of "dramatic control"--to borrow an expression of Said's--used by economic corporate power to make people seemingly voluntarily into slaves. The economizing of time, resulting in the imposition of time shortage, works as a modern variant of systematic social suppression. On the other hand, the alternative time concept counts in Said's perspective as emancipatory. Variation and elaboration appeal to the faculties of individual discovery, reflection and enjoyment, opening up the listener to the inexhaustible richness of possibilities, in playful "contrapuntal" response to individual expressions of others, bringing in a perspective of maturation.

* Dissidence

In polyphony, especially in the case of Bach, individual voices quite frequently provide moments of dissidence, when the logic of their melodic motion finds itself in conflict with the prevailing harmonic structure as suggested by (some of) the other contrapuntal voices. The roles of either emphasizing or countering overall harmonic structures shift constantly between voices. As a metaphor for socio-cultural and political situations, this musical ensemble of 'contrapuntal behaviours,' seems an appropriate one in Said's humanistic ideal. I refer again to his view that humanistic community would always offer "room for dissent, for alternative views, ... to advance human ... liberty" (Barenboim and Said 181). Polyphonic textures are 'dissident' in themselves from the listener's point of audition. While ever allowing shifts of attention from one voice to another, the textures constantly defy complete cognitive grip. One may well learn to appreciate this as conducive to freedom from the drive to control, while the listening may yet orientate itself to a 'harmonic' dimension of 'polyphony.'

* Transgression

We have observed that counterpoint thrives when articulated with well-defined melodic, rhythmic, or timbric identities. At the same time, the richness of sonorous relationships between simultaneous voices resulting in multiple, mutually elaborative, effects often will make the definition of voice identities less evident. This grants the listener ample opportunity to develop 'nomadic abilities' of attention. Polyphony stimulates perceptive transgression, which actualizes itself in the mobilizing of perspectives on the sound texture. Such a listening practice may well be conceived as a representation of Said's concept of transgression in the context of humanistic emancipation.

Edward Said's work holds the potential of a double-faced emancipation in relation to music. Firstly, underlining music's eminent privateness, bringing to attention counterpoint as a highly evolved discipline in the field of the aesthetic, and calling music the possibly final resistance to the general commodification, Said's reflections imply the promise of a re-emancipation of music as a voice of authority in the intellectual debate, and in society at large. Music's re-emancipation may unfold, when, secondly, it assumes a public role and serves as a model for the humanistic emancipation of society, in particular as polyphony in the metaphorical sense-offering an alternative non-totalizing time concept and multi-voicedness--as well as by means of polyphony in the musical sense, for instance, in general education from an early age. In that sense, Said's work on music may be read as a "contrapuntal" expression in relation to Adorno's negative teleology.

The presentation, in this article, of musical polyphony as a homologous model for, or parallel to, a (utopia of) radical humanist society may be considered--and criticized--as a 'homophonic' or even 'monophonic' approach, instead of a 'polyphonic' one. (29) On the other hand, it is not to be expected that music will be totally emulated in socio-political practices. May music--and models based on it-remain a "contrapuntal" voice, in exacting and challenging relationships to society.

In the writings of Edward Said, music is not merely an abstract, formal model for humanist emancipation. His involvement in the art is that of an "amateur"-and this means that love, joy, and passion are its motivation. This could make music into a privileged model. In Said's "amateur" world view, love is likely to be the transfigurative power in this emancipation.

Works Cited

Barenboim, D. and E. W. Said. Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society. Ed. A. Guzelimian. NY: Pantheon Books, 2002.

Ben Hammed, H. Oum Kalsoum: La diva de l'Orient. Paris: Du Layeur Eds, 2000.

Boulez, P. Boulez on Music Today. 1963. Trans. S. Bradshaw and R. R. Bennett. London: Faber and Faber, 1971.

Braas, T. De symfonieen en de kamermuziek van Matthijs Vermeulen: Poetica en compositie. Amsterdam: Donemus, 1997.

Braune, G. Umm Kulthum, Ein Zeitalter tier Musik in Agypten, Die moderne agyptische Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts. Frankfurt, Berlin, NY: Lang, 1994.

Dahlhaus, C. Die Musik des 19. Jahrhunderts. Neues Handbuch der Musikwissenschaft, Band 6. Wiesbaden: Laaber, 1980; English edition: Nineteenth-Century Music. Trans J. Bradford Robinson. Berkeley: U of California P, 1989.

Danielson, V. The Voice of Egypt: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.

Groot, R. de. 'The Concept of Extended Modality in Recent Works by Ton de Leeuw." Oideion: The Performing Arts World-wide. Vol. 2. Eds. W. van Zanten and M. van Roon. Leiden: Research School CNWS, 1995. 93-112.

--. "Jonathan Harvey's Quest of Spirit through Music." Organised Sound 5.2 (2000): 103-09.

Morgan, R. P. Twentieth-Century Music. NY and London: Norton, 1991.

Said, E. W. "From Silence to Sound and Back Again: Music, Literature, and History." Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2002. 507-26.

--. Musical Elaborations. 1991. London: Vintage, 1992.

--. Representations of the Intellectual. 1993 Reith Lectures. NY: Vintage, 1994.

Saiah-Baudis, Y. et. al. Oum Kalsoum. L'etoile de l'Orient. Paris: Editions du Rocher, 2004.

Seeger, Ch. "On Dissonant Counterpoint." Modern Music 7.4 (1930): 25-6.

Zeeman, M. Edward Said: Een autobiografisch gesprek [Edward Said." An Autobiographical Conversation]. Dutch Broadcasting Company VPRO. Felix Meritis, Amsterdam. 2000.

Zimmermann, H. W. "Uber homogene, heterogene und polystilistische Polyphonie." Musik und Kirche 41.5 (1971): 218-28.


(1) An extended discussion by the same author of Said's thinking on music will be published as "Edward Said and Counterpoint" in the forthcoming book edited by Adel Iskandar and Hakem Rustom Edward Said: Emancipation and Representation, to be published by the University of California Press in the fall of 2005.

(2) Interview by Michael Zeeman with Edward Said, conducted in 2000 and broadcast by Dutch Television on September 28, 2003 to commemorate the passing away of Said.

(3) This is not the place to elaborate on the immense significance of Umm Kalthoum (1904?-1975; spelling of her name as by Said) for the Arabic world and the world at large. See, for example: G. Braune, V. Danielson, H. Ben Hammed, and Y. Saiah-Baudis et. al.

(4) 'Voice' is taken here as a sequence of sounds which meets criteria of coherence specific to a particular music tradition.

(5) The term 'counterpoint' derives from the Latin 'punctus contra punctum' ('note against note'), which betrays the role of script as a technological device of developing counterpoint in the history of Western music. I will point out later, however, that contrapuntal music practices are by no means limited to traditions employing written notation.

(6) That is, they differ from the perspective of simultaneity. Voices in them selves may well be identical or very similar, like in canons or fugues, but in polyphony they are unfolding, shifted in time in relation to each other, so that they overlap. This is sometimes called 'homogenic polyphony.' Alternatively, participant voices may be highly different in themselves, which is called 'heterogenic polyphony.' Combinations may occur, like in the work of J. S. Bach. For the terminology, see Zimmermann.

(7) Oblique motion entails the fixation or repetition of a given pitch in one voice, while the melody in another voice rises or falls.

(8) Seeger's is a didactic design in which the rules for classical Western counterpoint were reversed: The requirement of consonance on certain syntactical positions, like the end of phrases, was turned into the requirement of dissonance. This did not only regard melody but also rhythm, which also could be made 'dissonant." Composers inspired by this notion and developing it in their own ways were Ruth Crawford-Seeger and Carl Ruggles. The Dutch composer Matthijs Vermeulen also developed a variety of dissonant polyphony, by changing the norms for harmonic relationships. He shifted the normative reference within the overtone series from proximity to the fundamental pitch to distance from it.

(9) In fact, also in Renaissance polyphony a voice is a complex phenomenon as well: a totality of fundamental tones and overtones (harmonics), because of which often unpredictable interferences between voices arise.

(10) Again, this may be considered as a generalization of the concepts of consonance and dissonance, since the former are acoustically less dense than the latter, in terms of fundamentals plus overtones.

(11) "... [W]e must now study the concept of polyphony, which is distinguished [from monody, homophony, and heterophony] ... by the responsibility which it implies from one structure to another."

(12) Monophony: the performance of a single melodic line, by one voice, or shared by several voices; heterophony: simultaneous variation of the same melodic line in two or more voices: homophony: the performance by two or more voices of different melodic lines, simultaneously identical in rhythmic structure. Also Matthijs Vermeulen has applied the notion of responsibility for the relationship between voices in polyphonic music (he spoke of 'polymelodic' music). In a letter dated August 29, 1942, he wrote: "[E]ach voice retains its autonomy and at the same time complies with the purely harmonic aspect of the expression, and in this sense becomes responsible for the result." (qtd. in Braas 54: translation and emphasis mine).

(13) In North-Indian classical music, apart from rhythmical polyphony, also melodic-timbric polyphony may occur. For example, in performances for more than one shenai (double reed instrument), usually one player responds to the solo lines of another by means of shifting drones, as an accompaniment. Moreover a polyphonic play may arise between melodic (vocal or instrumental) solo parts and quasi-melodic patterns played on the two percussion instruments which together compose the tabla, especially the bayan-part of the couple.

(14) The West-Eastern Divan Workshop was presented at Weimar 1999, in that year Culture Capital of Europe. Apart from Arabic (from various national backgrounds) and Israeli musicians, a smaller group of German musicians participated. The organizers included the cello player Yoyo Ma. The event celebrated the 250th birthday of Goethe. The Workshop was named after this poet's Der west-ostliche Divan published in 1819, written after he had acquainted himself with translations of Persian literature.

(15) This passage relates Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus to Adorno's Philosophie der Neuen Musik.

(16) See also p. 130. Edward Said mostly deals with classical Western music and its successors, and hardly with jazz, pop, or rock music. Premonitions of the process described are found by Said in the last works of Beethoven. He observes about these works that "... the whole question of affirmation and communication has become very problematic.... And I think that symbolizes the moment when music really moves out of the world of everyday exertion, of effort, of human solidarity and struggle, into a new realm, which symbolizes the obscurity of music to contemporary audiences today. In other words, music becomes a highly specialized art." (Barenboim and Said 142).

(17) Said holds that pleasure and privacy do remain connected with the art of music in spite of its reification, disagreeing with Adorno here, "for whom in the totally administered society no person is exempt from ideological coercion." (Musical Elaborations xvi).

(18) On many occasions, Said has expressed his wonder about this, for instance: "Anyone who has written or thought about music has of course confronted the problem of meaning and interpretation, but must always return to a serious appraisal of how music manages in spite of everything to preserve its reticence, mystery, or allusive silence, which in turn symbolizes its autonomy as an art." (Musical Elaborations 16). See also "From Silence to Sound and Back Again" 517.

(19) See also p. 15.

(20) Said suggests that this aspect of resistance is what people respond to in Beethoven's music.

(21) This is a stance that Said has emphasised consistently. See, for example,

"The intellectual ... [represents] an individual vocation, an energy, a stubborn force engaging as a committed and recognizable voice in language and in society with a whole slew of issues, all of them having to do in the end with a combination of enlightenment and emancipation or freedom" (Representations of the Intellectual 73); "... [O]ne of the main intellectual activities of our century has been the questioning, not to say undermining, of authority" (Representations of the Intellectual 91). This leads to the pressing question: "How does the intellectual address authority: as a professional supplicant or as its unrewarded, amateurish conscience?" (Representations of the Intellectual 83). The tension in musical practices between the private and the public is a particular instance of a more general characteristic of the intellectual. Said observes the positioning of the intellectual from his own personal perspective: "There is therefore this quite complicated mix between the private and the public worlds, my own history, values, writings and positions as they derive from my experiences, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, how these enter into the social world where people debate and make decisions about war and freedom and justice" (Representations of the Intellectual 12).

(22) Among other descriptions of transgression, we read that "faculty music has to travel, cross over, drift from place to place in a society, even though many institutions and orthodoxies have sought to confine it" (Musical Elaborations xv). Said refers to "transgressions by music into adjoining domains-the family, school, class and sexual relations, nationalism, and even large public issues" (Musical Elaborations 56). He has also reflected on transgression as a concept of secular humanism: "Secular transgression chiefly involves moving from one domain to another, the testing and challenging of limits, the mixing and intermingling of heterogeneities, cutting across expectations, providing unforeseen pleasures, discoveries, experiences" (Musical Elaborations 55).

(23) Said gives examples from Brahms's Theme with Variations op. 18, Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, and Strauss's Capriccio.

(24) The term 'form' is not a very apt one, but is still generally found in musical parlance; 'formal process,' as used later in this text, is a more acceptable one.

(25) It should be stressed here that when the concept of (first movement) sonata form is discussed in this chapter, it is Said's. In classical-romantic practice we typically find many trangressions of the strict sonata form scheme; to invent such transgressions is likely to have been a challenge for the composers involved.

(26) Said quotes Boulez who suggests that Messiaen offers a paradigm "to think things through together, heterophonically, variationally" (Musical Elaborations 97, referring to P. Boulez, Orientations: Collected Writings, ed. M. Cooper [London: Faber and Faber, 1986], 406-07.). I note in passing that Said consistently misspells the composer's name as 'Messaien.'

(27) It is striking that in Western classical music itself, especially since Claude Debussy (1862-1918), these alternatives became dominant. In most twentienth-century textbooks on the history of Western music this receives ample attention. See R. P. Morgan 40-50. This phenomenon has been considered as both the effect of, and the condition for, Western interest in non-Western musical traditions. Even before Debussy, 'alternatives' were present in Western music, particularly in relation to the concepts of 1. the archaic (Arcadia), 2. the world of the folk (Pastorale), 3. nature (in the Romantic sense, in contrast to the urban world), and 4. the exotic (C. Dahlhaus). To this list we can add: 5. the world of magic (usually connected with chromaticism as an autonomous system, such as in the work of Wagner and Rimsky-Korsakov). See also R. de Groot.

(28) See also p. 155.

(29) This observation was made by Karin Bijsterveld in relation to a presentation by the author during the conference Sonic Interventions of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA), March 30, 2005, in Amsterdam.
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Author:de Groot, Rokus
Publication:Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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