Classical Arabic Oud Player’s Repertoire (part 4)

1:07 pm Arabic Music, Music, Oud, Taqasim

Farid El-Atrash (also spelled Atrache)

For the oud player, Farid is someone who needs to be learned thoroughly. Listening to his recordings, watching videos of his playing, and, no less importantly, knowing his life.

He is one of the early and mid-twentieth century’s most important oud players not just technically, but also for re-defining the role of the oud in a large orchestra and as an accompanying instrument. Although his formal musical education was limited, he had a deep knowledge of the repertoire that he may have absorbed growing up to a musician (singer) mother, or, perhaps, living in the place and the time where Arabic music was thriving beyond anything it’s done in centuries, or, perhaps, because of a magnificent talent.

His compositions followed the traditional style. For example, his modulations were fairly standard compared to the strange tonalities that Abdel-Wahab introduced. There were none of the elaborate excursions covering vast musical territories as did Al-Sunbati. He did not experiment with the rhythmic and phrasing extravaganzas of Baligh Hamdi. He used little “foreign” instruments in his arrangements. In fact, his orchestral arrangements where fairly simple. Why, then, is he considered to be in the same league as the twentieth century greats such as Abdel-Wahab, Al-Sunbati, and Hamdi?

In my opinion the emotional content of the compositions and their delivery (Farid performed virtually all his songs and instrumental pieces) was one reason. Another reason is that, while not as sophisticated as some of his great contemporaries, his compositions were still beautiful music, captivating in their sweetness and accessibility. Furthermore, including a short, yet always dramatic, oud taqsim in every performance was a treat that the audience looked forward to.

F arid was also committed to instrumental music. In addition to recording taqasim, he has composed a respectable body of instrumental pieces (mostly dance pieces).

Farid lamented in several interviews that he didn’t succeed in having the great singers of the time perform his compositions. While he never explicitly explained why, one can speculate (but these are only speculations). One possible reason was perhaps that great singers wanted a more prominent touch of modernism in the compositions they sang. For some, for example, Abdel-Halim, Farid’s music was just too traditional. The fact that Farid was both a singer and a composer, and not just a composer, may also have played a role. It meant that he might have been perceived as competition by the very singers he was trying to work with: In his interviews, Farid referred on several occasions to “reasons that he doesn’t understand,” referring to non-musical, non-professional considerations.

Be that as it may, Farid is now a central part of the Arabic oud player world. Many of his recordings are issued on CD. In my opinion, a oud player needs to hear them all, repeatedly.

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