Authenticity and Innovation: Conceptualising a “Tunisian School” of ʻūd Performance in the Twentieth Century

Salvatore Morra

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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With the rise of commercial mass media in the twentieth century, mainstream Egyptian music came to be regarded as the dominant style of Arab music, informing musical innovations throughout the Arab world. Within this context began a general development of traditional improvised instrumental forms such as istikhbār/taqsīm (solo instrumental preludes), particularly in relation to the ‘ūd (lute) — the quintessential Arab urban musical instrument. This study focuses on the istikhbār using as primary sources recordings of Tunisian artists held by the national sound archive of the Centre of Arab & Mediterranean Music in Sidi Bou Said. The research aims to understand to what extent analysis can explain how particular social and cultural identities may be evoked, articulated, and represented in music in genres of instrument-specific improvisation. In this paper, I illustrate, through music transcriptions, how analysis of improvisations on the traditional indigenous ‘ūd‘arbī, and a comparative analysis of its style and the ūd sharqī modern models serve to explore the manner in which the Tunisian ‘ūd‘arbī – as a distinct material object – transforms traditional stylistic elements. I suggest that close analytical attention to improvisation in Tunisian ṭubū‘ (modes) broaden our understanding of the Arab mode system (maqām).
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Cambridge
  • Davis, Ruth, Supervisor, External person
Award date3 Oct 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


  • oud
  • Tunisia
  • Music Analysis
  • Modernity
  • Heritage

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