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Musical Gesture and Extra-Musical Meaning: Words and Music in the Urdu Ghazal

Regula Burckhardt Qureshi
Journal of the American Musicological Society
Vol. 43, No. 3 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 457-497
DOI: 10.2307/831743
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/831743
Page Count: 41
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Musical Gesture and Extra-Musical Meaning: Words and Music in the Urdu Ghazal
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Abstract

This ethnomusicological inquiry into the text-music relationship assumes a broadly contextual perspective that encompasses, but goes beyond, traditional considerations of textual and musical structures with the aim of exploring the sources of meaning for what Edward Cone terms the "gestural character" of the musical utterance. The approach calls for making explicit the ideational framework as well as the performative function of a vocal genre, both of which inform the way its musical idiom serves to communicate a text in performance. The ghazal, subject of this case study, is the principal poetic form in Urdu; it is set to music in a number of related but distinct genres. Illustrated by a set of transcribed and translated examples, the analytical procedure first considers the text-music structure as a performance idiom that is subject to the cultural-historical background norms of Urdu poetry on the one hand and North Indian "light" music on the other. The second stage considers each particular genre in terms of its idiom's specific function in performance. The general conclusion is that music linked to ghazal poetry is structurally constrained by the text as performed, but that purely musical features articulate, and thus link, the text with the content of its performance. Hence ghazal music represents a synthesis of text and context in its embodiment of features drawn from both and expressed directly through a unique vocabulary of musical gestures.

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