Although bowed instruments were known to the Arabs, Turks and other
Oriental peoples before they were known in Europe, it is the European violin
that is now most commonly played. Since Napoleon's campaigns in Egypt, the
violin has been played in the Middle East. Turks adopted it from the Italians,
and it has spread to Iran. Known in Arabic and Turkish as keman (Iranians just
say violin) it is held both in the usual under-chin fashion and gamba style on
the knee. Moroccans play gamba style, Egyptians and Iranians under-chin, Turks
employing both methods. Often Moroccans use the normal GDAE tuning; Turks tune
GDAD, Arabic tuning is GDGD, and the Iranian masters have used all these tunings
The playing styles are very highly ornamented, with slides, trills, wide
vibrato, double stops usually with an open drone string, and as it is a fretless
instrument can produce all shades of intonation of the Arab, Persian and Turkish
classical systems. Tone colors range from a very rich western classical tone to
more nasal, thin penetrating timbre reminiscent of the indigenous bowed lutes,
the rebaba and kemanche.
The use of Western notation, with additional symbols for the partial
sharps and flats, has allowed the old classical repertoire of the Middle East to
be put in book form. Arabs write the music from the note C as Rast, Turks the
note G, and the two systems differ in the exact intonation of several pitches.
Some of the music in the Arab repertoire was written by Turks during the Ottoman
Empire's occupation of Egypt and the Levant, and as such one can compare the
Cairo and Istanbul versions of the same music (allowing for the transposition).
Article by David M. Brown, Head of Lark In The Morning's Department of
Ethnomusicology and Research