Al Sunbati and Al-Qasbgi, The classical Arabic Oud Player’s Repertoire (5)

1:41 pm Music

We are still in Egypt. Riadh Al-Sunbati and Muhammad Al-Qasabgi both appeared a few days ago, when we discussed Umm Kulthoum. They are discussed here in a little more detail. Both have played a role in shaping Arabic music in the modern period and both are important oud players to study.

Muhammad Al-Qasabgi

This composer and oud player belongs to two worlds. Educated by masters of the “old school”, the pre-20th century Arabic music, and yet worked enough in the twentieth century to also have had a share in shaping the golden age of Arabic music culminating in that century. He also was mentor and teacher to many great musicians, including Umm Kulthoum.

He composed hundreds of works, including many that Umm Kulthoum sang. His later compositions cannot be considered traditional, although they did not depart very far from tradition. His oud playing and accompaniment style were traditional. He remained the oudist and orchestra leader of Umm Kulthoum until close to his death even as he stopped providing her with compositions. Here are some numbers:

  • In the period 1928 through 1930, Umm Kulthoum performed 38 new works of which 25 were by Qasabgi
  • In the period 1945 through 1947 she performed 30 new works of which three (3) were by Qasabgi. Most of the work went to Sunbati and Zakariyya Ahmad.

However, Umm Kulthoum remained grateful to Al-Qasabgi for his contribution to shaping her craft and her career. Some of the most memorable works by him sung by Umm Kulthoum were mentioned in the first post in the series. Here we talk a little bit about his oud playing style. It is possible to hear his accompaniment (and to see it, if you watch videos of Umm Kulthoum performances pre 1963).

There are some recordings of Al-Qsabgi playing taqasim, including the series at the National Conservatory. I am not sure that these are readily available in the west. It is valuable for any oud player wanting to know the tradition to listen and watch Al-Qasabgi’s accompaniment style and if possible his taqasim.

In addition to songs, Muhammad Al-Qasabgi composed a few instrumental works. The most widely known of them is the memorable “Zikrayati”. It is a standard oud repertoire piece.

Riadh Al-Sunbati

For 36 years, starting around 1936 and ending around 1972, shortly before the end of Umm Kulthoums career, Riadh was one of her three main composers.

Of the Egyptian composers of the twentieth century, Riadh’s works were probably the most complex, musically rich, original, and varied. (Yes all four adjectives are subjective. It is my view that Riadh Al-Sunbati was the greatest singular musical event in Arabic music’s recorded history).

He composed a few instrumental pieces as well, the most known of which is “Longa Riadh”, another oud repertoire standard.

In 1975 Riadh recorded at the Egyptian radio six taqasim that were issued on one album called “Taqasim Oud.” They are, most probably, the most exquisite in the Arabic recorded repertoire and a must for your library. Oud players should listen to those taqasim very closely. In addition to the expressive depth and lyrical beauty, one should examine closely how Riadh used dynamics, oud techniques, phrasing, and melodic progression to construct those six treasures.

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