views updated


MAQĀM , and its regional equivalents – maqom, mugham, dastgah and tbā' – designate characteristic modal scales that are identified by a multitude of individual names like rast, buzurk, segah, dil bayāt, etc. In a broader sense the maqām concept is also associated with a series of compositional principles, including the use of melodic types that are characterized by tonal material and motifs as well as a series of conventions prevalent in major centers of the world of Islam, from India to North Africa. In its most sophisticated form the concept of maqām and its principles are applied to many compound and cyclic vocal and instrumental compositions with contrasting parts that include various levels of improvisation. This is for instance the case of the shashmaqom in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the Azarbaidjani maqām, the Persian radif, the Turkish fasil, the Egyptian wasla, the Irāqī maqām and the North African nuba and tbā'. The modal scale includes a complex of rules. It is conceived as combination of several small groups of notes, whether of the same intervallic structure or not, called genera (ajnās, s. jins). As a result of this characteristic, many combinations can be created theoretically, but only a limited number have been admitted or commonly accepted and are known by their individual names. Part of the modal scale is linked to a definite pitch, and a group of notes transposed is considered to be a different entity and consequently may receive a new name. In brief, the tonal material and the structural rules are put at the disposal of the musician who in playing and singing invents new variants, improvises, and adds musical ornamentations. In addition to this, ethical and cosmological speculations are linked to the concrete application of the maqāmāt in diverse circumstances. Aleppan Jews are very fond of this linkage.

It has been proposed, with weighty arguments, that the puzzling designations found in the headings of many *Psalms ("upon the sheminit," "upon yonat-elem-reḥokim," etc.) may not be names of instruments, scales, or prototype melodies, but of maqām-like melodic schemes; and such are probably also the superscripts and subscripts of the song texts found in Assyrian and Babylonian cuneiform documents.

The Near Eastern Jewish communities use the local maqāmāt for the creation and classification of many of their liturgical and paraliturgical melodies. Even the cantillation of the masoretic accents is submitted to a "maqamic correlation," and is obviously affected by it in its melodic content. The following selection of "maqamic correlations" is based mainly on the research of A.Z. *Idelsohn; maqām Sīgah can be correlated with the Pentateuch, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther, and the *Amidah for the High Holy days; maqām Bayāt with the prophetic books and Lamentations; maqām ʿAjam (Persian name: Naurūz, "The New Year's Day"), associated with exaltation, magnificence, and actual or symbolic wedding functions and ceremonies, with Simhat Torah, Shavuot, the seventh day of Passover, and Shabbat Shirah; maqām Nawa with Sabbath Eve (cf. *Lekhah Dodi) and Sabbath morning; and maqām Sabā with circumcisions and prayers on Sabbaths on which the weekly portion of the Bible mentions circumcision.

In several Near Eastern communities the prayer of each Sabbath and festival has its own appropriate governing maqām. The Aleppan *bakkashot singing is entirely governed by a sophisticated maqamic organization, and between the single or grouped bakkashot there is a petiḥah (opening – a vocal improvisation), a verse or a psalm serving as a melodic vehicle for modulation from one maqām to the other. This attains its zenith in the performance of the sabbatical psalm (Ps. 92) wherein each verse is sung on a different maqām. Such modulations are also made in the solemn recitation of the Ten Commandments, the ḥazzan displaying his virtuosity by skillfully passing through the maximum number of maqāmāt. The Moroccan bakkashot are organized into a series of piyyutim corresponding to the number of Sabbaths between Succot and Passover, each having its appropriate tbā'.

All the above are unwritten conventions. The written indication of the maqām is found in all manuscript and printed collections of piyyutim produced in the Near East since the time of Israel *Najara, who was apparently the first to compose and organize his piyyutim according to this system. In his Zemirot Yisrael the poems are divided by maqāmāt, in the following order: Ḥusseini, Rast, Dūgah, Sīgah, Nawa, Busilik (a Turkish maqām), Ḥusseini, Naurūz-ʿAjam, Uzāl, and Iraq. The practice has continued to this day, and even recent songs have been fitted into the system, so that in the collection Shirei Yisrael be-Ereẓ ha-Kedem of the Adrianople community (Constantinople, 1922) the anthem *Ha-Tikvah can be found in maqām Nihawand.


Idelsohn, Melodien, 4 (1923), 53–112; A.Z. Idelsohn, in: Sammelbaende der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, 15 (1913–14), 1–63; idem, in: mgwj, 57 (1913), 314ff.; J. Chailley, in: Acta Musicologia, 28 (1956), 137–63; H. Farmer, in: New Oxford History of Music, 1 (1957), 447–50.

[Bathja Bayer /

Amnon Shiloah (2nd ed.)]