About Azerbaijani Modal System and Mugham Music
Mugham (also known as mugam) is the Azerbaijani modal system. Though it is clear that the word mugham is derived from the Arabic word magham, but the melodic, rhythmic, literal and structural comparision of Azerbaijani mugham music with Persian (Iranian) dastgah music shows that Azerbaijani mugham music has more common roots with Persian dastgah music than most probably with the Magham system in Arabic music and similarly the Makam system in Turkish music.
Mohammad Reza Darvishi, researcher of Persian regional music, in his famous book, Encyclopedia of the Musical Instruments of Iran, p. 267 writes: “Mugham system in the music of Azerbaijan, is very similar to the Persian dastgah system and both systems have the same root. More precisely Azerbaijani mugham music is the Azerbaijani version of Persian dastgah music.”
In fact the Arabic magham system and the Turkish Makam system are more related to the old modal system with the name magham discussed in ancient manuscripts, written by Al-Kindi (Iraqi Arab), Farabi (Persian, though some believe more research on his nationality and origin needs to be done) and many Persian scholars such as Abu Ali Sina, Safi-al-Din Urmawi, Qotb-al-Din Shirazi, Abdul-Qadir Maragheh’i and Mohammad Bana’i.
While the main theme of this article is to investigate the Azerbaijani mugham music by taking Persian dastgah music into consideration, definitely the academic researchers who are interested in having a better understanding of modal system of North Africa, Middle East and Central Asia should consider to investigate on the other modal systems such as Uyghur 12 Muqam System (see also https://saxonianfolkways.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/music-of-the-uyghur-tribe/), Tajik-Uzbek Shashmaqam (Shash is a Persian word and its meaning is the number six) and – to my knowledge -Indian Raga.
Azerbaijani Mugham Music
Azerbaijani mugham music is the main form of art music based on mugham modal system. The mugham modes are associated not only with scales but with an orally transmitted collection of melodies and melodic fragments that performers use in the course of improvisation exactly similar to what can be seen in Persian dastgah music.
There are seven main (or chief) modes and three auxiliary modes in Azerbaijani mugham modal system plus a couple of some smaller mughams. One can compare them with seven main modes in Persian dastgah music with five or six “avaz”-es (quasi-dastgahs) .
The Seven Main Modes in Azerbaijani Mugham Music
In Azerbaijani mugham music, every mugham is formed by combination of various pieces of music with special names in special orders. Most mughams are introduced by a special piece of music called “Bardasht” and end with a special pieces of music called “Ayaq”. Similarly in Persian (Iranian) dastgah music, every dastgah is formed by combination of various pieces of music (called gusheh) with special names in special orders. All dastgahs are introduced by a special piece of music called “Daramad” that is the first gusheh of any Dastgah and contains the first tetrachord of the Dastgah to witch the musical composition must return. This return to the first tetrachord of the Dastgah is called “forud” that literally means landing.
In Persian language, “daramad” – that comes from the verb “dar Amadan” – means “to enter”. Daramad is the first gusheh in every dastgah and the musician (or the ensemble) “enters” to the chosen dastgah by performing the daramad of every dastgah. This discussion becomes more interesting if one notices that the word “bardasht” comes from the Persian verb “bardasht kardan” and this literally means “to start” in Persian language. Therefore the meaning of the word shows that the main aim of playing “bardasht” in every Azerbaijani mugham is to start playing the chosen mugham. By this discussion, it is therefore reasonable to compare the music piece “daramad” in Persian dantgah music with the music piece “bardasht” in Azerbaijani mugham music. Finally the main role of “Ayaq” in every mugham is similar to the concept of “forud” in Persian dastgah music. Note that “ayaq” is an Azerbaijani word and it means foot, leg, stem and end.
Now we introduce the seven main modes in Azerbaijani mugham music.
1) Rast (a Persian word that means straight, right and true).
The mugham “Rast” that is considered as the most important mugham in Azerbaijani mugham music is formed of the following pieces of music:
Bardasht (with Novruzu-Ravanda), Maye, Ushshag, Huseyni, Vilayati, Dilkesh, Kurdu, Shikasteyi-Fars (Khojasta), Erag, Penjgah, Rak-Khorasani, Gerai and Ayaq.
Related mughams to Rast are: Mahur, Mahur-Hindi, Orta Mahur, Bayati-Qajar, Gatar
As mentioned above, Rast and Bardasht are both Persian names. It is really interesting that the Bardasht of Rast is performed with a special piece of music called Novruzu-Ravanda. Novruz is the Upper (North) Azeri dialect of the Persian the word Nowruz, the traditional ancient Iranian festival which celebrates the start of the Iranian New Year and literally means “new day” in Persian language. There are several pieces of music in Persian dastgah music with the name Nowruz such as Nowruz-e-Saba, Nowruz-e-Khara and Nowruz-e-Arab in Dastgah-e-Homayun.
There is also a piece of music called Ravandi in Dastgah-e-Homayun. Ravand is the name of some places in Iran and Iraq and also it literally means a special kind of string or rope that bunch of grapes are hung.
Maye is a Persian word and literally means ferment, leaven, yeast, capital, fund, source, cause, grounding and background. There exists a magham in old Persian magham music with the name Maye.
Ushshag is an Arabic word, plural of Ashegh that literally means lover. In the past Ushghagh was one of the 12 maghams in ancient Persian music .
Huseyni is also an Arabic word attributed to the Arabic name Huseyn. Huseyni was one of the 12 maghams in ancient Persian music.
Vilayati is an Arabic word coming from the word Vilayat and in Persian language it literally means province and also guardianship.
Dilkesh is a Persian word, literally means fascinating and attractive. There is a piece of music called Delkesh in Dastgah-e-Mahur.
Kurdu related to Kurd. Kurds are an Ethnic-Iranian Ethnolinguistic group mostly inhabitating in a region called Kurdistan which includes adjacent parts of today Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
Shikesteyi-Fars. Shekasteh in Persian language means broken, broken down, sad and doleful. Fars is the arabicized of the word Pars. For a detailed discussion of the words Fars and Pars please go to Some points about the words Iran, Iranian, Persia, Persian, Fars and Farsi.
Khojasta is the Persian word Khojasteh that means happy and auspicious.
Erag is also a piece music in Persian dastgah music and mentions to Iraq.
Penjgah. Panj means five in Persian language and “gah” literally means time and also place. In Persian dastgah system, as we mentioned above, there are seven main modes and three of them are called Segah, Chahargah and Rastpanjgah. There is also a piece of music called Dogah that exists in Bayat-e-Tork. Note that Do, Se and Chahar are the Persian names for the numbers two, three and four respectively.
Rak-Khorasani. Rak is actually the arabicized of the word Rag (also spelled as Raga that the modal system in Indian classical music). There are music pieces Rak-e-Abdollah, Rak-e-Hendi and Rak-e-Kashmir that they appear in Dastgah-e-Mahur for example.
2) Shur (a Persian word literally means sensation, emotion, passion; fervour, enthusiasmanxiety) Shur in Persian dastgah is considered as the mother of all dastgahs.
Shur that is the most important mode in Ashig art music of Azerbaijan is formed of the following pieces of music:
Bardasht, Maye, Salmak, Shur-Shahnaz, Busalik, Bayaty-Turk, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, Ashiran, Semai-Shams, Hijaz, Shakh Khatai, Sarenj, Gemengiz, Nishibi-Feraz and Ayaq.
Mugams relating to the Shur are: Shahnaz, Sarenj, Arazbari, Osmani, Rahab, Neva.
3) Segah (Se in Persian language means three and gah means place, and time)
Segah is one of the most developed mughams in Azerbaijani mugham music that is formed of the following pieces of music:
Zabul-Segah-Bardasht, Maye, Muya, Manandi-Mukhalif, Segah, high-pitched tone Zabul, Manandi-Hisar (in high-pitched tone), Manandi-Mukhalif (in high-pitched tone), Ashig-Kush, Mubarriga, Zabul and Ayaq.
Kharij Segah-Bardasht, Maye, Takhtigah, Mubarriga, Manandi-Hisar, Manandi-Mukhalif, high-pitched tone Segah and Ayaq.
Mugams relating to Segah are: Hashym Segah-sol Kharij Segah-si Mirza-Huseyn-lya Orta Segah-mi Zabul Segah
4) Chahargah (Chahar in Persian language means the number four)
Chahargah is formed of the following pieces of music:
Bardasht, Maye, Bali-Kabutar, Djovhari, Basta-Nigar, Hisar, Mualif, Garra, Mukhalif, Ouj Mukhalif, Maghlub, Mansuriyya, Uzzal and Ayaq.
5) Shushtar (Shushtar is an ancient fortress city in the Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran)
Shushtar is also one of the main mughams of Azerbaijani mugham music and is formed of the following pieces of music:
Amiri, Shushtar, Masnavi, Movlavi, Tarkib and Ayaq.
Relating mugams to the Shushtar are: Ovshary (related to Afshari the name of the Avaze-e-Afshari in Persian dastgah music) and Heydari.
6) Bayaty-Shiraz (Shiraz is the sixth most populous city in Iran and is the capital of Fars Province. Shiraz is located in the southwest of Iran on the Rudkhaneye Khoshk seasonal river. Shiraz has a moderate climate and has been a regional trade center for more than one thousand years).
Bayaty-Shiraz is formed of the following pieces of music:
Bardasht, Isfahanak, Maye, Gardaniyye, Nishibi-Faraz, Bayaty-Isfahan, Khums-Ravan, high-pitched tone Bayaty-Shiraz, Abulchap, Khaveran, Uzzal, Shikasteyi-Fars, Dilruba and Ayaq.
Humayun (related to the Dastgah-e-Homayun) is formed of the following pieces of the music:
Bardasht, Humayun, Bakhtiyari, Feili, Boyuk Masnavi, Movlavi, Shushtar, Tarkib, Uzzal or Bidad, Kichik Masnavi and Ayaq.
There are three auxiliary modes and their names are: 1) Shahnaz, 2) Sarenj and 3) Another form for Chahargah.
1) Bayaty-Kurd, formed of the following pieces of music:
Bayaty-Kurd, Kerkuki, Bayaty-Ajem, Ayag.
2) Mahur-Hindi, formed of the following pieces of music:
Bardasht (with Novruzu-Ajem), Maye, Buzurk, ayag for Ushshag, Huseyni, Vilayeti, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, Erag, Gerai or Rak-Abdulla, Ayag.
3) Bayaty-Gajar, formed of the following pieces of music:
Bardasht, Maye, Huseyni, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, high-pitched tone Bayaty-Gajar, Dugah, Ruhul-Ervah, Zaminkhara, Maverennahr, Shah-Khatai, Ayag.
4) Shahnaz, formed of the following pieces of music:
Shahnaz, Dilkesh (Shahnaz-Khara), Kurdu, high-pitched tone Shahnaz, Azerbaijan.
5) Rahab, formed of the following pieces of music:
Bardasht, Amiri, Rahab, Boyuk Masihi, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, Erag, Gerai, Kichik Masihi, Ayag.
6) Gatar, formed of the following pieces of music:
Gatar, low-pitched tone Gatar, high-pitched tone Gatar, Ayag.
7) Orta Mahur, formed of the following pieces of music
Bardasht (Rizan), Huseyni, low-pitched tone Maye, Mahur, Ayag for Ushshag, high-pitched tone Huseyni, Vilayeti, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, Ashiran, Ayag.
: The names of the seven dastgahs:
The names of five quasi-dastgahs (avaz):
Dashti and Afshari (considered as sub-modes of Shur)
and Bayat-e-Esfahan (Those who perform traditional Esfahan consider Esfahan as a sub-mode of Mokhalef of Segah,
while some who perform modern Esfahan consider it as a sub-mode of Homayun). Finally some music scholars such as maestro Nasrollah Nasehpour consider Bayat-e-Kord as the sixth avaz in the system of Persian dastgah music. Bayat-e-Kord is a sub-mode of Shur. Shur is considered as the mother of all dastgahs.
: The list of the names of the twelve maghams in different manuscripts has altered during the history.
(Courtesy by Peyman Nasehpour)
Piecing Together History, String By String
The Reconstruction of Azerbaijan’s Medieval Instruments
Azerbaijani folk music ensembleBy studying manuscripts and miniature art, musicologists have discovered that more than 60 different string, wind and percussion instruments existed in ancient and medieval Azerbaijan.
They know the names of most of these now-extinct instruments, such as the “chang” mentioned by Azerbaijani poets like Nizami. (The “chang” is featured on the cover of this issue.) Until now, however, many details about these instruments have eluded historians.
For the past 25 years, Azerbaijani musicologist Dr. Majnun Karimov has been searching for the answers to questions about what these instruments looked and sounded like. Through careful research and study, he has literally pieced together a portion of Azerbaijani musical history by recreating some of these ancient instruments. 1 Thanks to Karimov, instruments such as the chang, barbat, chogur and rubab can now be heard once again.
Chang and Barbat
One of the greatest thrills in Majnun Karimov’s music career took place in 1988 at the 500th Jubilee (birthday) of Shah Ismayil Khatai2 when an ensemble o f musicians performed on medieval instruments that he, himself, had reconstructed. It was a dream come true for Karimov to recreate the sweet, melodious sounds of stringed instruments so that a contemporary audience could appreciate. His work has become a major contribution to the cultural history of Azerbaijan.
Majnun first became interested in folk instruments as a young boy when his mother brought her father’s tar to their home. Mostly, it hung on the wall in his house, but from time to time, his father would take it down to play. Later, Majnun’s father bought him an accordion.
His serious research on traditional Azerbaijani instruments began in 1972 after he graduated from the Baku Music Academy. At that time, he began searching the classical writings and art miniatures for clues that would unlock the musical secrets of the past. For several years, he researched the manuscripts at Azerbaijan’s National Manuscript Institute. Eventually in 1995, he completed his Ph.D. thesis on “The Ancient Stringed Musical Instruments of Azerbaijan.”
Karimov’s first attempt at building a replica was for the ” rud ” (pronunciation rhymes with “food”), a large-bodied, four-stringed instrument made partly of wood and partly of leather. Similar to the “ud,” the neck of the rud is longer. The process took several months after much trial and error. “Sometimes the measurements weren’t right,” Karimov confesses, “and I would have to disassemble the whole thing and start all over again. It took me so much time to prepare the strings which were supposed to be made out of gut and silk thread using a special technique. Then I had to figure out how to adjust them. Finally, I was able to play it. The “rud” had such a beautiful timbre reminiscent of a very old sound. It inspired me to push on to work on other instruments.”
And so he did. Nine early instruments, completed during the 1980s, are currently on display in the Ethnic Instruments Department of the State Museum of Azerbaijani Musical Culture.
Thanks to Karimov’s efforts, a special laboratory was opened in 1991 at the Baku Music Academy to “restore and improve old musical instruments.”
Karimov insists that many factors must be considered when building these instruments including the correct choice of timber, its seasoning and moisture content. Even the time of year when the tree is felled must be taken into account. The sap is lowest in January and February. Wood that is full of sap can develop cracks as it dries. Karimov notes that wood that has dense annual rings produces a stronger sound.
There are two ways to assemble instruments according to Karimov. One is to fashion the parts separately and put them together as with the “barbat.” The other method is to plane a block of wood down to the correct specifications as is done with the chang. It’s much easier to plane wet wood. Afterwards, the roughly hewn wood is allowed to dry for a long time at a specific temperature. A few years later, the wood is worked again. Finally, the frets and stem are attached.
Karimov has found that the strength of the wood is particularly important for the neck and fingerboard because of the pressure caused by tuning. The fingerboard can become distorted if the material is not strong enough. He recommends walnut and pear pegs because they can withstand atmospheric factors of humidity and temperatures and maintain stable tuning.
Various species of trees are used for these old instruments including mulberry (Morus alba), walnut (Juglans regia), red willow (Salix acutifolia), pear (Pyrus communis) and apricot (Prunus armenica). The strings are mostly made of silk, horsehair or animal gut.
Sounding boards are usually made of mulberry or walnut and those covered in leather create the greatest resonance. In addition to sheep skin, sometimes fish skin, the Absheron gazelle skin or even the inner lining of an animal heart is used.
Evidence shows that stringed instruments were common in ancient Azerbaijan. Archeological excavations in the village of Shatirlar near the city of Barda uncovered an earthenware piece dating between the 4th and 3rd century B.C. depicting a woman playing an instrument similar to the chang.
Much of what we know about Azerbaijan’s musical heritage during the Middle Ages comes from folklore and classical poetry. Important examples are the writings of poet and philosopher Nizami Ganjavi (12th century), the poet Fuzuli (16th century) and the studies of eastern musicologists Urmavi (13th century), Maraghayi (14th century) and Navvab (19th century).
Maraghayi was especially interested in the restoration and improvement of stringed musical instruments. In his work “Magasid Al-Alhan,” he provides information about numerous musical instruments such as: udi gadim (old ud), udi kamil (improved ud), shashtay, kamancha, jiganak, Shirvan tanbur, Turkish tanbur, rubab, shidirgi, shahrud, mugni and nuzha.
Musical instruments were also depicted in miniature paintings made by artists of the 16th and 17th centuries, such as Sultan Muhammad Aga Mirek, Mirza Ali, Muzaffar Ali and Mir Sayid Ali. These tiny pictures have become important documents for reconstructing these instruments.
The question is always asked: What happened to these early instruments? Innovation and changing times brought the demise of some of these instruments. In other cases, instruments were adapted to fit the needs of the time and older designs were replaced by new ones. In some cases, a completely new instrument evolved. Many musicians think that the “tar” originated from the “chogur.” The chogur had 22 frets and was used between the 12th-18th centuries. Research shows that the chogur’s assemblage and sound structure of these two instruments were very similar. Mirza Sadig Assadoglu ( Sadig -jan) modified the five string tar to 13 strings. After his death in 1902, it was simplified to 11 strings.
Chang and Barbat
Two examples of instruments that Karimi has rebuilt are the chang and the barbat. The chang is the forerunner of the harp and seems to have been used extensively in medieval Azerbaijan. Some believe that the chang was derived from a hunting weapon, such as a bow. Its sounding board seems to resemble a fish. Like the harp, the chang is plucked with the fingers of both hands.
Maraghayi wrote that the chang had leather stretched over the sounding board, and that the strings, sometimes as many as 24, were made of threads. In his article “Music and Dances of the Ancient Turks,” Dr. Faruk Sumer, who has studied the ancient musical instruments of the Turkish peoples, mentions that two changs were found during the excavation of the Altay grave site in Turkey dating to 250-500 B.C. Legend suggests that the chang was created by the Almighty. Actually, in some early drawings, the chang is depicted as a holy angel.
The barbat is a member of the lute family, a pear-shaped stringed instrument. Miniatures by the artist Mirza Ali show that its body was bigger than that of the lute, and that it had a long neck. Written sources tell us that the barbat was played much like the ancient lute, although tuned according to different intervals. The 12th century Azerbaijani poet Afzalagdin Khagani wrote that the barbat had eight strings, was made of animal gut and had four sound openings, called “four little stars.” Musicologist T. Vyzgo describes it as having an Arabic derivation, originally called an “al-ud.”
The barbat was chiefly played at palace feasts, often along with the chang. Nizami describes the chang and the barbat as complementary instruments: “Nekisa took up her chang, Barbad took up his barbat. And the sounds resounded in winged harmony like a rose in harmony with both color and fragrance. Barbat and chang, intoxicating and robbing one’s strength.”
More Music to Come
It’s possible to hear these instruments being played again today in Azerbaijan by the Ancient Instruments Ensemble, a group created by the Folk Instruments Museum in 1996. Karimov is the director of this 12-member ensemble. The group’s repertoire includes folk melodies as well as music written down by Urmavi and Maraghayi, in an alpha-notational system based on what is known as the ABJD system (pronounced “ahb-jad” which rhymes with the word, “pad”) . These four letters name the sequence of first letters in the Arabic alphabeta lef, beh, jim, dal. Each note was represented by a single letter or a letter combination . For example, note 1 was “A,” note 2 was “B,” note 3 was “J,” etc. As the progression continued, letters were written in combination, such as “AA,” “AB,” “AJ,” etc. Duration of notes was also indicated.
With great effort, Shamil Hajiyev, a musicologist associated with the Ensemble, has adapted a music computer program to transcribe the alphabetic notational system and convert it into a melody line.
To learn one of the old melodies, the members of the Ancient Instrument ensemble listen to the melody line played on his computer laptop and improvise the harmony for their various instruments. Needless to say, it’s a long and tedious process. English composer and musicologist George Farmer (1882-1965) has also researched Urmavi’s works and deciphered some of these early melodies.
Work continues at Karimov’s laboratory, as more ancient instruments like the “golcha gopuz,” the “nuzha” and the “mugni” are being researched and restored. It is Karimov’s hope that research and restoration of the ancient folk instruments will be able to continue until many of the mysteries and harmonious sounds created in the past are available for contemporary man to enjoy as well.
Majnun Karimov is the head of the Laboratory for the Reconstruction of Ancient National Music Instruments, located in the basement of the Academy of Music at 98 Shamsi Badalbeyli Street. Tel: (99-412) 98-69-72; Home Tel: 91-95-48.
The Museum of Folk Instruments, located in the former residence of the famous tar player, Ahmad Bakikhanov, is at Zargarpalan 119. Contact: Tapan Gaziyeva at (99-412) 94-60-62.
UP 1 The medieval instruments described in this article are all stringed instruments. They include barbat, chang, chogur, golcha gopuz, gyjak, mugni, nuzha, rubab, rud, shashtay, Shirvan tanbur, shahrud, shidirigi, Turkish tanbur , udi gadim (old ud ), udi kamil (improved ud) and tar.
2 Shah Ismayil was the founder of the Persian Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736). An Azerbaijani, he lived in Ardabil (an Azerbaijani city located today in Iran) and played a vital role in subjugating local tribes and in unifying the fragmented Persian Empire. Shah Ismayil was also the leader responsible for proclaiming Shi’i Islam the state religion which, in turn, served to create a national consciousness among the various racial elements of the region.
(Courtesy by Jean Patterson)
From Azerbaijan International (5.4) Winter 1997
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All Rights Reserved.
Hypotheses of Early Azeri Scholars
by Zemfira Safarova
Much of Azerbaijan’s long musical history has been passed down orally from one musician to another. Fortunately, some of these ideas about music were written down for posterity by a few Azerbaijani scholars. Their texts tell us that they theorized about the properties of sound, musical forms such as mugam and early instruments. In this way, musical scholars such as Urmavi, Maraghayi and Navvab laid a foundation for generations of musicians to come. Both Urmavi and Maraghayi take their names from cities in which they lived-Urmiya and Maragha-which today are located in the Azerbaijani part of Iran. Navvab lived in Shusha, a city in the Karabakh region of the Azerbaijan Republic, which has been military occupied by Armenians since 1992.
Safiyyaddin Abdulmomin ibn Yusif al Urmavi (13th century) was the author of two fundamental works in Arabic, “Kitab al-Advar” and “Sharafiyya,” which were crucial to the theoretical and practical development of Azerbaijani music. These books deal with sound and its quality, intervals, reasons for dissonance, mugams and techniques for playing instruments with two strings.
Urmavi defined a tone as a sound continuing during a certain period of time at a certain high or low pitch to which a person feels naturally inclined. The pitch of a sound can only be understood if you compare it with another sound. Urmavi also wrote about how different pitches are created, based on the length of its strings or the space available for air inside a wind instrument.
Urmavi disagreed with earlier scholars who said that a musical sound is, by nature, pleasant to the ear. He countered, “It is not necessary for a musical sound to be pleasant to the ear. Sometimes we don’t like a sound. But still it can be a musical tone. Suppose we hear two sounds. If we can differentiate between these two sounds according to pitch (e.g., one is half a tone or two tones higher than the other) or identify them as equal, then we can talk about musical tone.” Urmavi pointed out that musicians needed to be careful with dissonant intervals, such as the augmented fourth: “C – F Sharp.”
Urmavi organized the Eastern sound system into a scale of 17 keys. This was different from the 12-key chromatic scale founded by Al-Kindi and the 22-key scale created by Al-Farabi. Azerbaijani melodies were recorded in Urmavi’s writings using the “ABJD” Arabic alphabetic notational system. “ABJD” (pronounced “abjad” which rhymes with “pad”) are the first sequential letters of the Arabic script. Urmavi used this sequence of letters to indicate pitch. Duration of the note was indicated below that alphabetic symbol. There were 59 different notes designated. This score system was widely used up until the 16th century.
Urmavi was a composer himself and played the ud, a pear-shaped, stringed instrument. He also invented new music instruments such as “nuzha” and “mugni.” The nuzha resembles a tar except that the two globes are connected and not separated like the tar’s. The mugni is a percussion instrument made of wood which has 81 strings on a trapezoid-shaped base.
Abdulgadir Maraghayi (14-15th century) picked up where Urmavi left off. This composer, researcher, poet, singer and performer wrote an interpretation of Urmavi’s “Kitab al-Advar” called “Sharhul al-Advar.” Other works by Maraghayi included “Kanzul al-Alhan” (Treasury of Melodies), “Jame al-Alhan” (Collection of Melodies) and “Magasid al-Alhan” (Purpose of Melodies).
One of the questions that Maraghayi touched upon was the choice of repertoire by performers. He suggested that performers should choose songs that suit the spirit or nature of the audience. Suggested topics were love and separation, joy and grief, spring and Noruz (the holiday of Spring Solstice, March 20-21, which ushers in the New Year).
Maraghayi’s unique contribution was his discovery of 24 “shobes” and their characteristics. A “shobe” is a section within a mugam piece. He also invented new musical instruments and rhythmic patterns. They were adjusted to fit the various poetic rhythms of Eastern poetry. Maraghayi was one of the first theorists to describe the unique characteristics of Near Eastern musical forms and genres.
One of the musical instruments he invented was the “Chini sazi kasat.” This was a set of 76 bowls of many different sizes filled with different levels of water. The bowls were arranged in gradations from large to small, the larger bowls producing lower pitches. Another instrument was the “Sazi elvah,” which consisted of 46 copper slats and which was played much like a xylophone.
On the night before the beginning of Ramadan, January 11, 1377, Maraghayi attended a conference in Tabriz in Sultan Hussein’s palace. The topic was the most complicated form found in Eastern music, “Novbati Murattab.” The scholars there stated that composing a piece in this particular form required great skill and talent. Maraghayi boasted that he could write one such piece each day during the month of Ramadan. Sultan Hussein challenged him. The words, rhythmic patterns and mugams were given to him only one day in advance. The prize was 100,000 dinars. On the 30th day, they had to admit that Maraghayi was the successful winner.
Mir Mohsun Navvab (1833-1918) lived in Shusha, a city in Karabakh, an area known as the cradle of music and poetry of Azerbaijan. Shusha has been called “The Conservatory of the Caucasus” because so many musicians have come from there. Unfortunately, because of the military occupation of Karabakh by Armenians, Azerbaijanis had to flee in 1992 and still have not been able to return to their city.
Navvab established a library as well as a printing house in Shusha where the works of well-known Azerbaijani poets were printed. But more importantly, he organized a music school, which offered basic music education. Topics included the aesthetics of music, performance and choice of poetry for mugam settings. Students such as Mashadi Jamil Amirov, the father of the famous composer, Fikrat Amirov, studied music theory there.
In 1884, Navvab wrote “Vuzuhul-argam” (The Interpretation of Numbers in Music). This was the only work about music written in the Azerbaijani language (Arabic script). Navvab deals with topics such as: the origin of music, problems of aesthetics, the acoustics of sound and the interpretation of numbers in mugams.
Navvab based his theories about numbers on those of earlier Greek and Arabic scholars, stating that the 4 “souts” (main tones) corresponded to 4 elements (water, air, fire, earth). The 7 “perdes” (keys) referred to 7 celestial bodies. The interval between the 4 main tones was in 3 tones. Multiplying 4 by 3, we get 12, which corresponds to 12 mugams.
In his book, Navvab touches on the relationship between music and medicine, anticipating the modern profession of musical therapy. He wrote “All diseases are based on either cold or fever. If a disease is caused by cold, then joyous and merry music will help cure it since merriment brings warmth to the body. However, if the illness is based on fever, sad and quiet music would be appropriate, since sadness and pessimism cools the body.”
Navvab also used his book as a platform for ideas about the proper positioning of an audience during a performance. “It is important that there be distance between the performers and the audience. The air between the audience and the performers will catch all unnecessary elements of music and pass on the very essence, the most wonderful part of it to the audience.”
Acoustics fulfill a spiritual purpose, according to Navvab “It is also important that the performer should sit lower and the audience higher, since music is spiritual and its center is high in the heavens.”
Likewise, Navvab was aware of the importance of the appearance of the performer. He wrote: “It is important that the performer be good looking. Otherwise, the audience will not enjoy the performance. If the performer is not good looking, he should cover his face with a veil.”
Urmavi, Maraghayi and Navvab were not the only Azerbaijani musical scholars, but they are the ones most often named as the three masters of this discipline. Any student who wants to understand some of the early history of Azerbaijani music must become familiar with the ideas and works mentioned above. By attempting to approach music scientifically, these scholars began to articulate and define some of the fundamentals upon which Azerbaijani music is based today.
Zemfira Safarova wrote her Ph.D. thesis on “Azerbaijan’s Music Science from the 13th-19th Century.” She has published the following books on the subject- Safiyyaddin Urmavi (1995) and Abdulgadir Maraghayi (1997). She is currently preparing the reprinting of “Vuzuhul Argam” by Mir Mohsun Navvab.
(Courtesy by Zemfira Safarova)
From Azerbaijan International (5.4) Winter 1997
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All Rights Reserved.