The etchnic culture of Azerbaijan
Ethnic culture of AzerbaijanMail usMain page


"Music is a moral law. It gives inspiration to the entire world, wings to the soul and raises the thoughts of man up to the heavens. Music is the basis of order. It is the embodiment of eternal beauty and glory."

These words by the great Greek philosopher Plato would find resonance in the soul of any Azerbaijani, be he philosopher or just ordinary worker. If one attempts to define the most characteristic feature of Azerbaijanis, it would doubtless be their love of music. Harmonic music lives in the very nature of this land, in its soil, trees and rocks. Classic Azerbaijani poetry is filled with lines about music and the supreme spiritual enjoyment that it gives.

For example, the beauty of Azerbaijani songs was glorified by the great poet of this land, Nizami Ganjavi:

Dear singer, take your saz in your arms,
Play sweet music for us,
Don't limit your range,
Our melodies are broad and rich.

Azerbaijani melodies have been adopted and sung by people from all of the neighboring countries: Georgians, Armenians, Turks, Dagestanis, Uzbeks and Turkmens. This music has been imprinted in the musical memory of these peoples and become accepted as their common heritage. A number of written materials and sources from the 19th century testify to the dominant role of Azerbaijani musical culture in the Caucasus and Central Asia. One can still find dozens of Azerbaijani tunes widespread in this area, both national folk tunes and those that were written by specific Azerbaijani composers.

Azerbaijanis' love for music is closely connected with their unique talent in this art form. At the beginning of the 20th century, composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov, the genius of Azerbaijani music, recognized for writing the first opera of the Caucasus and the Muslim East and acknowledged as the greatest figure in the musical world of this region, wrote: "Without the slightest exaggeration, it is possible to say that among the Caucasian peoples, the most talented in music are the Azerbaijani Turks." (1923).

The rich musical heritage created since ancient times is unchallengeable proof of a genetic talent that is inherent in every generation of the Azerbaijani nation. Our national musical instruments, designed for the emotional color, rhythm, tempo and artistic features of Azerbaijani folk music, have passed a long path of historic development and carried many characteristic features of Azerbaijani traditional music up until the present. Now they are part of Azerbaijan's musical culture, linking its past and present. Traditional music and musical instruments express the major features of Azerbaijani national musical thinking and the nature of Azerbaijani creativity.

At the same time, we must regretfully admit that a great deal of our national musical heritage has been lost. This especially relates to the rich collection of instruments used by Azerbaijanis during various periods of our cultural history.

Numerous string, wind and percussion instruments were created long before our era and improved throughout history to become the basis of Azerbaijan's national musical treasury. For centuries, they were used for the cultural development and creative activity of the people, decorating their lives, customs and traditions.

The 28 national musical instruments presented in this album are the only ones that remain of Azerbaijan's traditional musical culture. Ten of them were reintroduced to musical life these past few years as a result of my own research and reconstruction efforts.

One of the most distinguished aspects of this research has been the creation of an ensemble of musicians who perform these ancient musical instruments. This Ensemble was created in 1988 as part of the State Museum of Azerbaijani Musical Culture. According to a Presidential Decree, the Ensemble was awarded the status of State Ensemble. The Ensemble consists of 1 3 musicians. Nine of these musicians play instruments that had been forgotten-the chagane, choghur, barbat, tanbur, santur, rud, chang, rubab and gopuz. The other three play the canun (ganun), zarb and ney. The singer accompanies himself or herself by playing the gaval or daf.

The members of the Ensemble constantly work to improve and expand the performing properties and sound and technical capabilities of the ancient instruments. The popularity that the Ensemble enjoys both inside and outside of the country shows once again the great interest in our cultural heritage.

Study and Recovery of Musical Instruments

Asa discipline of Azerbaijani musicology, instrumentology comprises its own separate sphere. The descriptions of ancient musical instruments provided by Azerbaijani scholars, musicians, historians and ethnographers are of great importance for the development of this science. These include the valuable observations of Uzeyir Hajibeyov, Afrasiyab Badalbeyli, Teymur Bunyadov, Mirali Seyidov and Saadat Abdullayeva.

Uzeyir Hajibeyov in particular contributed much to the study of Azerbaijani folk instruments; he described the characteristics and classifications of these musical instruments in his works, including the ranges of their modal scales and their prospects for further development. (See his book, "The Principles of Azerbaijani Folk Music" (Baku: Azeri 1 945, English 1 985).)

Published research about these musical instruments has dealt with their structure, modal scales, technical and artistic capabilities, the history of their evolution and even the etymology of their names.

Despite the fact that these forgotten musical instruments have been researched from time to time, their restoration has never become a subject of study. In general, the creation of musical instruments, their development, and the etymology of names and places in the national musical heritage have never been fully explored. This book provides information about both contemporary instruments and the musical instruments that were widespread during the Middle Ages but later forgotten due to various reasons.

The restoration of ancient musical instruments begins, first of all, with the study of medieval written sources and miniatures. The works of numerous researchers and musicians, the notes of travelers, samples of folk and classical poetry and miniatures refer to the existence of a variety of string, wind and percussion instruments. This certainly proves that there is a rich heritage of musical instruments belonging to the Azerbaijani nation. Presented below is a summary of the sources that were used in researching and reconstructing these ancient instruments.

The most ancient artifacts related to Azerbaijani musical culture have been found in historical monuments and amongst the material culture that has been found in archeological excavations. A number of objects that have found during archeological digs are related to musical instruments. For instance, during the construction of the Mingachevir Water Basin, three musical instruments-tutak, zurna and ney-were discovered; these were made of clay or bone.

Azerbaijani classical poetry and oral history is also a rich source of information. Almost all great Azerbaijani poets and writers touched upon musical instruments in their works. The poetry of Nizami and Fuzuli provides an inexhaustible source for such research. These poets described the instruments' timbre and appearance and gave us very important information about the methods of their creation and the manner in which they were played.

Musical science also provides us with very important information about the ancient instruments of Azerbaijan. Treatises by medieval musicologists provide information about the pitch and scale of these instruments, the number of strings, the ranges and other data, giving us an idea of their acoustic quality. The scientific heritage of Azerbaijani musicologists like Safiaddin Urmavi (13th century) and Abdulgadir Maraghayi (14th-15th centuries) provides us with the most valuable and extensive information for studying these instruments.

Without visual materials that illustrated what these instruments looked like, we would not have been able to restore them to any measure of authenticity or credibility. Therefore, the sketches and drawings of musical instruments that we find in decorative and applied art, on ancient pottery, and in architecture and monumental paintings of the pre-Moslem epoch, are of enormous value.

Another body of research relates to the memoirs, travel notes and other literature from scientists, writers, diplomats and other travelers who visited Azerbaijan centuries ago. Information about musical instruments used in Azerbaijan in the 17th, 1 8th and 19th centuries can be found in the travel notes and memoirs of Adam Oleari, Engelbert Kaempfer, Alexander Dumas, Evliya Chelebi and others.

Drawings and paintings by the famous Russian painter G. Gagarin, who visited Azerbaijan in the 19th century, depict scenes of musical majlises (assemblies), musicians and dancers belonging to the khanate of Shirvan.
The Research Laboratory for the Restoration and Improvement of Ancient Musical Instruments opened at Baku Music Academy in 1991. Researchers at this laboratory study the history of musical instruments and explore questions about their technology, including size, materials and acoustics. Reconstruction is performed on the basis of the information gathered.

Laboratory research of museum exhibits and archive materials has produced valuable results as well. In this sense, the work of the researchers of the laboratory should specifically be noted. As a result of their efforts, instruments that were broadly used in medieval Azerbaijan and later forgotten-such as the chang, barbat, chagane, choghur, santur, tanbur, rubab, gopuz and ney-have been completely restored.

We have also been working to restore existing instruments. For example, in order to strengthen sonority, some structural changes are being introduced. Another example is that the material used to make strings has been changed and the sound diapason has been widened. For example, the gut or silk that were used in the santur have been replaced with nylon threads or metallic wire. A clamp-like piece that presses against the strings was added to the body of the santur in order to keep the strings from vibrating.

The instruments that we have managed to recover represent only a small number of all the forgotten ancient instruments that once existed. There is still an enormous amount of research to be done. Ancient musical instruments are the monuments of the history, culture and spirituality of our nation. Restoring them and returning them to life is a noble and worthy occupation.

Performinf Arts

One of the most interesting pages in Azerbaijan's musical history relates to the performances of these ancient instruments. There is great historical value in the performing arts that have absorbed the rich traditions of Azerbaijani folk music. Early examples of written literature, history, architecture and fine art prove that the performing arts have been a favorite aspect of musical activity throughout the ages.

For example, "Kitabi Dada Gorgud" (The Book of Dada Gorgud), our most famous ancient epic, indicates that playing the gopuz was recognized as a holy and noble occupation. Our classical poets presented delicate and loving images of well-known ancient musicians and offered a great deal of interesting data about them.

When the song of Nikisa's chang fell silent,
Barbat's sitar raised its voice.
As the light-headed ashug touched the saz,
At once he began to sing the gazal in the Ushshag .

Here, in the story of "Khosrov and Shirin", the great poet Nizami Ganjavi describes a scene of competition between two unsurpassed musicians of the past, Nikisa and Barbat, both of them composers, singers and performers. Nikisa and Barbat outshined the greatest glory of their contemporaries in their ability to play the chang and barbat.

We know from history that many outstanding persons, poets, writers and scientists from Azerbaijan were also master performers on various musical instruments. Safiaddin Urmavi, a first-rate scientist-theorist of Eastern music, is one of the most famous. He was also known for his mastery of the instrument known as the ud.

Throughout history, performing arts have developed and matured both artistically and technically. Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, musical gatherings ("majlises") were held in Baku, Shamakhi and Karabakh, which helped to improve both the singing and performing arts. Outstanding performers such as Mirza Sadig Asadoghlu, Mashadi Jamil Amirov, Bahram Mansurov, Ahmad Bakikhanov, Gurban Pirimov, Mansur Mansurov and many others from the 19th-20th centuries grew up attending these musical assemblies.

During the second half of the 20th century, tar and kamancha performances rose to an even higher level of development. Performers such as Habib Bayramov, Baba Salahov, Haji Mammadov, Habil Aliyev, Shafiga Eyvazova, Aghasalim Abdullayev, Ramiz Guliyev, Mohlat Muslimov, Fakhraddin Dadashov, Munis Sharifov and many other instrumentalists raised the bar for performance technique and expanded the capabilities of Azerbaijani national musical instruments.


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