Faà di Bruno, Giovanni Matteo [Horatio, Orazio] 83

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Farmer, Henry George

(b Birr, Ireland, 17 Jan 1882; d Law, Scotland, 30 Dec 1965). British musicologist, orientalist and conductor. He studied the violin, the clarinet, the piano and harmony, the last two with Vincent Sykes, organist of St Brendan's Church, Birr, where Farmer was a chorister. In London he studied with H.C. Tonking, Mark Andrews and F.A. Borsdorf and in 1895, while on holiday there with his father, he heard the Royal Artillery Orchestra conducted by Ladislao Zavertal; impressed by its performance, he joined as a violinist and clarinettist and after years of private study he served as its principal horn player, 1902–10. Forced by ill-health to abandon the horn, he began a conducting career at the Broadway Theatre, London (1910–13), while teaching music at various county council schools; he also founded the Irish Orchestra in London, which performed at the National Sunday League Concerts under his direction (1911–12). He moved to Glasgow in 1914 and was musical director of the Coliseum Theatre from January until August, after which he was appointed conductor of the Empire Theatre Orchestra, a post he held until 1947. As President of the Glasgow branch of the Amalgamated Musicians' Union, he founded both the Scottish Musicians' Benevolent Fund (1918) and the Glasgow Symphony Orchestra (1919), whose Sunday park concerts he conducted until the 1940s; he also founded the Scottish Music Society in 1936.

Farmer's interest in oriental music and culture may have been influenced by his father, who served with the Army in India and the Middle East and was fluent in both Hindustani and Arabic. In 1913, the London publisher William Reeves commissioned Farmer to translate F.S. Daniel's La musique arabe (1863). Relying for help on the available European literature on Arabic music, Farmer soon realized that he had to study Arabic to resolve the many unclear and conflicting views of such scholars as La Borde, Villoteau, Kiesewetter, Fétis, Riemann and Collangettes. So in 1918 he enrolled as an external student at Glasgow University, studying Arabic with T.H. Wier, and from this period began his lifelong friendship with the noted orientalist James Robson. He completed the MA in 1924 and the PhD in 1926, winning prizes in Arabic and history; he also continued his musical activities, as a member of the BBC's Scottish Advisory Committee on Music (1928–39) and as editor of the Musician's Journal (1929–33).

Farmer was awarded a Carnegie Research Fellowship (1930–31, 1931–2) and a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (1933–5), which enabled him to travel to European libraries in search of Arabic manuscripts. He was the only British representative at the Cairo Conference of Arabic Music (1932), at which he was elected president of the Commission of Manuscripts and History. He delivered the Cramb Music Lectures at Glasgow University (1934) and in 1946 was offered the chair of music at the University of Cairo, which he declined. He was a vice-president of the Glasgow University Oriental Society, 1947–65, and served on the board of directors of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, 1950–62. He was awarded the honorary DLitt by Glasgow University in 1934 and the honorary DMus by Edinburgh University in 1949.

Although Farmer was noted primarily for his contributions to the field of Arabic music, he also wrote important works on the history of Scottish and military music. It was his early publications, primarily ‘Clues for the Arabian Influence on European Musical Theory’ (1925), ‘Arabic Musical Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library’ (1925), A History of Arabic Music to the XIIIth Century (1929) and Historical Facts for the Arabian Musical Influence (1930), that established his reputation. Certain aspects of his early views were severely challenged by European musicologists, by Kathleen Schlesinger in particular, yet Farmer stood his ground in subsequent publications. He was primarily interested in theory, instruments, treatises and other manuscript works dealing with music, and never engaged in active fieldwork; nor was he interested in contemporary folk or classical traditions.


JRAS – Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

Memoirs of the Royal Artillery Band (London, 1904)

The Rise and Development of Military Music (London, 1912/R)

The Music and Musical Instruments of the Arab (London, 1915/R) [trans. and rev. of F.S. Daniel: La musique arabe, Algiers, 1863]

Heresy in Art: the Religious Opinions of Famous Artists and Musicians (London, 1918)

‘The Arabic Musical Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library: a Descriptive Catalogue’, JRAS (1925), 639–54; pubd separately (London, 1925)

‘Byzantine Musical Instruments in the Ninth Century’, JRAS (1925), 299–304; pubd separately (London, 1925)

‘Clues for the Arabian Influence on European Musical Theory’, JRAS (1925), 61–80; pubd separately as The Arabian Influence on Musical Theory (London, 1925)

‘The Influence of Music: from Arabic Sources’, PMA, lii (1925–6), 89–124

‘The Canon and Eschaquiel of the Arabs’, JRAS (1926), 239–56; repr. in Studies in Oriental Musical Instruments, i (London, 1931/R)

A Musical History of the Arabs, from the Days of Idolatry to the Time of the Buwaihids (diss., U. of Glasgow, 1926); rev. as A History of Arabian Music to the XIIIth Century (London, 1929/R)

‘The Organ of the Muslim Kingdoms’, ‘The Horn of Alexander the Great’, JRAS (1927), 495–9, 500–03

‘Ibn Khurdadhbih on Musical Instruments’, JRAS (1928), 509–18

‘Ancient Egyptian Instruments of Music’, ‘The Congress of Arabian Music (Cairo, 1932)’, Transactions of the Glasgow University Oriental Society, vi (1929–33), 30–34, 64–7

‘Meccan Musical Instruments’, JRAS, (1929), 489–505

‘Greek Theorists of Music in Arabic Translation’, Isis, xiii (1930), 325–33

Historical Facts for the Arabian Musical Influence (London, 1930/R)

Music in Mediaeval Scotland (London, 1930)

‘The Origin of the Arabian Lute and Rebec’, JRAS (1930), 767–83

Music in Scotland (London, 1931)

The Organ of the Ancients, from Eastern Sources (Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic) (London, 1931)

Studies in Oriental Musical Instruments, i (London, 1931/R); ii (Glasgow, 1939/R)

‘Rapport général sur les travaux de la Commission d'Histoire et des Manuscrits’, ‘Histoire abrégée de l'échelle de la musique arabe’, Musique arabe: Cairo 1932, 639–46, 647–55

‘A Further Arabic-Latin Writing on Music’, JRAS (1933), 307–22, 906–8

‘The Influence of Al-Fārābī's “Ihsā' al'Ulūm” (De scientis) on the Writers on Music in Western Europe’, JRAS (1933), 561–92

‘Maimonides on Listening to Music’, JRAS (1933), 867–84; pubd separately (Bearsden, 1941)

‘An Old Moorish Lute Tutor’, JRAS (1931), 22–30; (1932), 99–109, 79–89, 897–904; (1937), 117–20; pubd separately (Glasgow, 1933)

ed. and trans.: Al-Fārābī’s Arabic-Latin Writings on Music in the Ihsā al-Ulūm (Glasgow, 1934/R)

‘Reciprocal Influence on Music 'twixt the Far and Middle East’, JRAS (1934), 327–42

‘A Maghribi Work on Musical Instruments’, JRAS (1935), 339–53

with H. Smith: New Mozartiana: the Mozart Relics in the Zavertal Collection at the University of Glasgow (Glasgow, 1935/R)

‘The Lute Scale of Avicenna’, JRAS (1937), 245–57

ed. and trans.: Turkish Instruments of Music in the Seventeenth Century as Described in the Siyāhat nāma of Ewliyā Chelebi (Glasgow, 1937)

‘Was the Arabian and Persian Lute Fretted?’, JRAS (1937), 453–60

‘The Instruments of Music on the Taq-i Bustan Bas-reliefs’, JRAS (1938), 397–412

‘An Outline History of Music and Musical Theory’, A Survey of Persian Art, ed. A.U. Pope and P. Ackerman (London, 1938–9/R) 3/1977/R, iii, 2783–804; iv, 208–33; v, 603–912; vi, 1300–409

‘Early References to Music in Western Sudan’, JRAS (1939), 569–79

‘The Structure of the Arabian and Persian Lute in the Middle Ages’, JRAS (1939), 41–51

The Sources of Arabian Music (Bearsden, 1940, rev. 2/1965)

Instruments of Music: History and Development (Glasgow, 1941)

‘The Jewish Debt to Arabic Writers on Music’, Islamic Culture, xv (1941), 59–63

trans.: ‘Music: the Priceless Jewel: from the Kitāb al-‘id al-farid of Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi (d. 940)’, JRAS (1941), 22–30, 127–44; pubd separately (Bearsden, 1942)

‘Oriental Influences on Occidental Military Music’, Islamic Culture, xv (1941), 235–42

‘Mediaeval Jewish Writers on Music’, MR, iii (1942), 183–9

‘The Minstrels of the Golden Age of Islam’, Islamic Culture, xvii (1943), 273–81; xviii (1944), 53–61; see also ‘An Anonymous English-Arabic Fragment on Music’, ibid., 201–5

Sa'adyah Gaon on the Influence of Music (London, 1943)

The Glen Collection of Musical Instruments (London, 1945)

The Minstrelsy of the Arabian Nights (Bearsden, 1945)

‘“Ghosts”: an Excursus on Arabic Musical Bibliographies’, Isis (1946), no.104, pp.123–30

Music in 18th Century Scotland (London, 1946)

A History of Music in Scotland (London, 1947/R)

A History of Arabian Musical Instruments (MS, 1948)

Handel's Kettledrums and Other Papers on Military Music (London, 1950, rev. 2/1960)

Military Music (London, 1950)

Music-Making in the Olden Days: the Story of the Aberdeen Concerts, 1748–1801 (London, 1950)

Cavaliere Zavertal and the Royal Artillery Band (London, 1951)

Oriental Studies: Mainly Musical (London, 1953)

The History of the Royal Artillery Band, 1762–1953 (London, 1954)

‘The Song Captions in the Kitab al-Aghani al-Kabir’, Transactions of the Glasgow University Oriental Society (1954–5), 1–10

‘Quarter-Tones and Arabian Influences’, AfM, i/2 (1955), 61 only

‘The Science of Music in the Mafātīh al ‘Ulūm of al Khwārismī’, Transactions of the Glasgow University Oriental Society, xvii (1957), 1–9; ‘The Oriental Musical Influence’, ibid., xix (1959), 1–15

‘Jewish Genizah Fragments on Music’, Transactions of the Glasgow University Oriental Society, xix (1959), 52–62

‘Abdalqādir ibn Ġaibī on Instruments of Music’, Oriens, xv (1962), 242–8

‘The Oriental Impingement on European Music’, Islamic Studies, ii (1963), 337–42

‘Iranian Musical Instruments in the Ninth/Fifteenth Century’, Islamic Culture, xxxviii (1964), 175–81

British Bands in Battle (London, 1965)

‘The Old Arabian Melodic Modes’, JRAS (1965), 99–102

Islam, Musikgeschichte in Bildern, iii/2 (Leipzig, 1966)

E. Neubauer, ed.: Henry George Farmer: Studies in Oriental Music, i–ii (Frankfurt, 1986)


K. Schlesinger: Is European Musical Theory Indebted to the Arabs? A Reply to ‘The Arabian Influence of Musical Theory’ by Henry George Farmer (London, 1925)

Obituary: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1966), 164 only

S. Ehrenkreutz: ‘Medieval Arabic Music Theory and Contemporary Scholarship’, Theory Only, iv (1978), 14–27

Tunic, Tinsel, Toga: an Exhibition to Mark the Centenary of Henry George Farmer, 1882–1965, Glasgow University Library, 11 Oct – 27 Nov 1982 (Glasbow, 1982)

P. Bohlman: ‘The European Discovery of Music in the Islamic World and the “Non-Western” in 19th-Century Music History’, JM, v (1987), 147–63

S. Burstyn: ‘The “Arabian Influence” Thesis Revisited’, CMc, nos.45–7 (1990), 119–46

A.J. Racy: ‘Historical World Views of Early Ethnomusicologists: an East-West Encounter in Cairo, 1932’, Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History, ed. S. Blum, P.V. Bohlman and D.M. Neuman (Urbana, IL, 1991), 68–91

C. Cowl and S.M. Craik: Henry George Farmer: a Bibliography (Glasgow, 1999)


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