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مقامThe Music of Azerbaijanمقام Vol 05







“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.”


Tar, is one of the oldest musical instruments of Azerbaijan. Таr is hollowed out from a tree in the form reminding a guitar. It has the case in the form of two bowls from the mulberry tree, tightened by a membrane replacing to a deck from an animal bubble or the fish skin, a long neck and a head from a nut tree. On a signature stamp -22 basic modes (lads) and 2-3 additional cane, pasted at the case. The basic frets are fixed by the plug-in wooden pegs which are in a special fillet of a neck.

Ancient 4-6-stringed таr had untapped 19-stepped tone lines, including small (less a semitone) intervals; the sound was taken from horn plectrums. Modern Azerbaijan tаr-11-stringed (the number of strings has increased); bass unary strings are in the center, melodic-steam rooms, the basic and additional (the last are used only in kadansakh), are located along the edges. Pair strings have constant adjustment, unary-a variable (depending on a genre and a harmony of the performed play, including in mugams). The developer of tar is the Azerbaijan musician-designer Sadyghjan (Mirza Sadyg Asad oglu), living in a XIX-th century and received a nickname «the Father of tar». He reconstructed and has improved tar: To poorly sounding five-string tool has added six strings and quantity of frets on a signature stamp has finished to seventeen, having added tone of mugam Zabul, and to mugam Mirza Huseyn Segah-tone of mugam Mukhalif. To increase the resonance Sadyghjan had added choruses (resounding strings) in the top register and performing style “lal barmag” (style of “a mute finger») is entered.

55The most widespread (one of 13) adjustment container: c1, c1; g, g, c1; c; g; g1; g1; c1, c1;. Chromatic tone lines of tar includes 2,5 octaves. The tool range covers sounds from “do” a small octave to “sol” of the second octave, but at play it is possible to take also sounds «la» and «la be mol».

Musical parts for tar are written in mets-soprano key. Tar-exclusively masterly tool, is used as solo, also in ensembles. Folk tunes on tar, as a rule, represent a melody performed usually on two strings in a unison (sometimes on one; then the second becomes resounding) and leaning against incidentally included chords. The bottom register of tar-dense, sated, a velvety timbre, top-sonorous, silvery.

In the Azerbaijan music таr was applied, mainly, as the leading tool as a part of so-called mugam trio, including also khanende (singer), kamancha and gaval. It is necessary to notice that таr, both in structure of mugam trio, and in solo quality, continues to play an exclusive role in mugam art till now, traditional and popular in Azerbaijan.

New blossoming performance on tar begins in the XX-th century. So, for example, таr has taken a leading place in the first musical orchestra of national musical instruments created in 1931 at the initiative of Uzeyir Hajibeyov. The school of musical performance on the national tools, based by Uzeyir Hajibeyov, even more has expanded technical and art possibilities of tar.

Tar is one of the most important Iranian/Persian musical instruments. The formation, compilation, edition, and inheritance of the most authentic and most comprehensive versions of  radifare all worked on tar. The general trends of Persian classical music have been deeply influenced by tar players. It is a plucked stringed instrument (a long-necked lute) that is also played in Caucasian countries (like Azerbaijan, Armenia and so on) and central Asia (like Tajikistan).     It exists in two forms now, the Persian (that is named Tar-e-Shiraaz or Irani) and Caucasian (that is named Tar-e-Ghafghaaz). The Persian tar is carved from a block of mulberry wood and has a deep, curved body with two bulges shaped. The upper surface is shaped like two hearts of different sizes, joined at the points. The sound box consists of two parts. The small part is called Naghaareh and the large part is called Kaasseh (that means bowl (sound box)). The sound box is covered with a baby lambskin. On the lower skin, a horn bridge supports six metal strings in three courses. The long fingerboard has twenty-two to twenty-eight movable gut frets. The strings are plucked with a brass plectrum coated on one side in wax. Its range is about two and a half octaves.

We can use the words Tar, Tar player (or Tarist), Tar maker, Tar tunings…, while it is clear for you which kind of Tar you mean. Persian Tar is the Tar that is mainly played in Iran for Persian Classical Music. Persian Tar belongs to the Chordophones category of instruments, and in more details to Plucked-Stringed Instruments or it can be said Persian Tar is a Persian Long Necked Lute and also a fretted instrument.

Iranians consider the tar the “sultan of instruments .The tar appeared in its present form in the middle of the eighteenth century in Persia. The body is a double-bowl shape carved from mulberry wood, with a thin membrane of stretched lamb skin covering the top

The fingerboard  has twenty-five to twenty-eight adjustable gut frets, and there are three double courses of strings Its range is about two and one-half octaves  and it is played with a small brass plectrum.
The long and narrow neck has a flat fingerboard running level to the membrane and ends in an elaborate peg-box with six wooden tuning pegs of different dimensions, adding to the decorative effect. It has three courses of double “singing” strings (each pair tuned in unison: the first two courses in plain steel, the third in wound copper), that are tuned in fourths (C, G, C) plus one “flying” bass string (wound in copper and tuned in G, an octave lower than the singing middle course) that runs outside the fingerboard and passes over an extension of the nut. There are also two pairs of shorter symphathetic strings that run under the bass and over two small copper bridges about midway on the upper side of the fingerboard: their tuning is variable according to the piece to be played and with the performer’s tastes: Every String has its own tuning peg and are tuned independently The Persian tar used to have five strings. The sixth string was added to the tar by Darvish Khan. This string is today’s fifth string of the Iranian tar. The Azerbaijani tar, designed by Sadigian, has a slightly different build and has more strings. It is an essential component of the traditional Azeri mugham trio . The surface of the fingerboard is made from the Camel leg bone and the middle part of this surface is from walnut or ebony.

Frets of Persian Tar are mostly made of gut embedded around the neck and located at the points that are determined according to the ears of the musicians. The frets are moveable, because we need sometimes to move the frets to get a new arrange of frets. There is no exact 1/4 or half tone in Persian Classical Music. Pressing a string against a fret determines the strings’ vibrating length and therefore its resultant pitch. The pitch of each consecutive fret is defined at a half-step interval on the chromatic scale. Frets worn down from heavy use can be replaced. Frets are sometimes made of Nylon or metal. The frets of Persian Tar are between 22 and 30.

The tar features prominently in Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, in the section “Horsell Common and the Heat Ray”. George Fenton played it on the original album, and Gaetan Schurrer can be seen playing one on the DVD of the 2006 production.
A tar is depicted on the reverse of the Azerbaijani 1 qəpik coin minted since 2006[3] and on the obverse of the Azerbaijani 1 manat banknote issued since 2006.
The first point to make a very good and reference class Tar is choosing the best tone wood so that the instrument can create a very warm and soft sounding. The second step is to value the beauty ness of Tar and to pattern great old masters of Iranian Tar like Yahya and Jafar-e Sanat. The third point is not more only the aspect of nice looking, but also to own the mastership of making instruments with excellent sounding. Not all of the Tar makers deserve the notice

of the late great master of Tar Yahya or Jafar Sanat.
Yahya Khan (above picture, the most famous Tar maker in Iran, The Priceless Tar)
Hovanes Abkarian (1876-1932) or famous as Yahya Khan is an Armenian, Tar maker from Iran, who can be named as the father of the modern Persian Tar. He has reformed the sound box shape of Persian Tar that has resulted the most beautiful form of the sound box and the most pleasant sound.
Among the contemporary Iranian alive Tar makers are the followings notable: 

Ostad Farahmand, Ostad Pourya and Ramin Jazayeri. 

The Tars of the above masters costs about between $6000 – $8000
About Persian Tar Tuning; If we put Sharp (#) or Diese in Farsi next to a note, the note will become half note higher, Flat (b) or Bemol, half tone lower, Sori (it just used in Persian music), 1/4 tone higher and Koron (It just used in Persian Music also) 1/4 tone lower. The signs and definitions that we use here are only to find the exact frets or to show the exact notes that we play in the mentioned musical culture. For example when we use Mi Diese wich is E sharp, we do not mean the note, that is half tone higher than Mi, but we mean the note or fret between Re and Mi Koron. It means the usage and function of the signs are not exactly like the definitions of the signs. We count the strings from down to up. The most traditional tunings come always first. We assume that the strings No 1 and 2 have always the Do (C) tuning.
Persian Tar Classical Tunings
Dastgah Mahur
Base Note:
Do, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Do, String No. 6: Do
Dastgah Rast Panjgah
Base Note:
Fa, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Fa, String No. 5: Do, String No. 6: Do
Dastgah Homayun
Base Note:
La Koron, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Re, String No. 6: Re

Dastgah Nava
Base Note:
Sol, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Re, String No. 6: Re
Dastgah Shur
Base Note:
Sol, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Do, String No. 6: Fa

Avaz Bayat Kord
Base Note:
Re, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Do, String No. 6: Fa
Avaz Dashti
Base Note:
Re, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Do, String No. 6: Fa
Avaz Bayat Tork
Base Note:
Si Bemol, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Si Bemol, String No. 6: Fa

Avaz Abuata
Base Note:
Do, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Do, String No. 6: Fa

Avaz Afshari
Base Note:
Do, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Do, String No. 6: Fa
Dastgah Segah
Base Note:
La Koron, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: La Koron, String No. 6: Fa

Avaz Bayat Esfahan
Base Note:
Sol, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Re, String No. 6: Re

Dastgah Chahargah
Base Note:
Do, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Do, String No. 6:
Do, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Do, String No. 6: Fa
Dastgah Segah
Base Note:
La Koron, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: La Koron, String No. 6: Fa

Avaz Bayat Esfahan
Base Note:
Sol, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Re, String No. 6: Re

Dastgah Chahargah
Base Note:
Do, Strings No. 1 & 2: Do, Strings No. 3 & 4: Sol, String No. 5: Do, String No. 6: Do.


About the music treatment and role of Tar as an instrument,

If music can affect the well being of plants, should it come as a surprise that human health can be affected as well. Here’s what medieval scientists and physicians from Azerbaijan and the region had to say about the curative powers of music.

Many centuries ago, physicians were well aware of the potency of music. Seven hundred years go, Azerbaijani scientist Safiyaddin Urmiyyayi (13th century) wrote treatises, explaining his ideas about the antidotal powers of music in “Message to Sharafaddin” and “The Book On Musical Tones”. 

His works name some of the modal scales of that early epoch, such as Metabil, Erani, Tanjiga and Segah. To alleviate tiredness and provide relief from neurosis, to lift one’s spirits or to induce sleep, our ancestors used to listen to music performed on the ancient Eastern musical instruments such as the rubab, ud, dutar, tambur, ney, mizmar, surnaya, chang, shahrud and kanun. In Iran and some of the Arabian countries, Safiyaddin Urmiyyayi is considered to be the “Father of Mugham” (the genre of traditional modal music). He was the first person to develop a scientific theory for this genre, create musical terminology and identify and teach modal scales. He wrote about the positive influence of music on human health. During the century that followed, another Azerbaijani musician Abdul-Kadir Maraghayi (1353-1433) continued his work. 

Below: Medieval physicians recognized the power of music and nature to relax and cure their patients. Miniature from Baku Institute of Manuscripts.

Between the 9th and 14th centuries, the medical properties of music were elaborated by well-known scientists such as Abu Nasr al-Farabi, al-Khorezmi, Abu Reyhan Biruni, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Safiyaddin Urmiyyayi and others. 

What did they define as the curative nature of melodies? The Great Turkic scholar Abu Nasr al-Farabi (873-950) in his “Great Book About Music” observed: “Music promotes good mood, moral education, emotional steadiness and spiritual development. It is useful for physical health. When the soul is not healthy, the body is also ill. Good music, which cures the soul, restores the body to good health. “Do you have a headache? Relax beside a flower bed or a trickling fountain, or invite a musician to come and perform so you can fall asleep to the gentle sounds of dutar (Eastern stringed instrument)!” advised the great physycian Ibn Sina (980-1037). Seven centuries later Mahammad Yusif Shirvani (18th century) prescribed melodies of stringed instruments for those who were suffering from melancholy and insomnia. 

The well-known doctor Sultan Giyasaddin in his work “Kitab as-Sinaat” (18th century) challenged his colleagues to study music, noting that “scholars of India recommend that physicians study melodies and the theory of music. This science is necessary for the doctor, just like his search to understand the subtleties of diagnosing the pulse. In addition, some illnesses may be cured when the patient listens to certain melodies.”

Some Indian melodies are still performed in Azerbaijan, such as the mughams known as Humayun and Maur-Hindi. Numerous Indian traders and colonists who came in Azerbaijan and stayed here permanently brought Indian melodies to Azerbaijani. For example, Turkic tribes who came here from northern India and Pakistan in the 17th-18th centuries settled many villages in the Mughan lowlands of Azerbaijan. Some of the men had fought in the armies of the Safavid shahs who, in turn, granted them land in Azerbaijan for their loyal services. 

Following the advice of Sultan Giyasaddin, the physicians of the Middle Ages tried to understand what was known about the curative powers of music (elm al-musigi), but it was not so easy. Music was such a subtle and exacting science that the Central Asian scientist al-Khorezmi (783-850) included it in a section of mathematics, specifically in the discussion of his famous work on algebra!

“The Musical Treatise” by Abdul-Kadir Maraghayi and “Large Book On Medicine” by Abu Reyhan Biruni (973-1048) are both filled with mathematic, geometrical figures, sketches and drawings of musical instruments. But it seems that physicians did not mind spending time to study the powerful effects of music, as they considered it invaluable for the health of their patients.

At that time, 12 basic kinds of mugham and 12 musical modes were known. Maraghayi wrote: “Turks prefer to compose in the “usshag”, “nova” and “busalik” mugham styles, though other mughams also are included in their compositions”. 

Sharaf-khan Bidlisi (16th century) described a feast of the Azerbaijani ruler Shah Ismayil Safavi: “Sweet-voiced singers and sweet-sounding musicians started singing a usshag melody with both high and low pitched voices, and then the tears of the harps and lyres kidnapped reason and logic from the listeners, both great and the small.” Music promoted the development of a number of mystical sciences. In the 13th century, the Turnini Dervishes (Mavlavi) considered that knowledge of God was possible only when they fell into a trance brought on by listening to special music and which slowly turned into a mystical dance. The Azerbaijani philosopher Sukhravardi (died in 1191) who was close to the Sufi mystics wrote: “Know that those engaged in the exercise of the spirit sometimes use a gentle melody and pleasant incense. Therefore, they are able to obtain a spiritual light that is habitual and sustained for a long time”. 

At the end of the 10th century, a group of the Shiite philosophers (Brothers of Purity) had developed a science about the relationship between music and various elements of a nature: animals, herbs, minerals and color. According to this theory, each musical sound corresponds to a specific color and is associated with a certain mineral, herb and animal. Some sounds were equated with bright colors, bright metals, beautiful flowers and active animals.

Our ancestors believed that musical instruments were similar to medicinal plants and aromatic spices. The tar (stringed instrument) was compared with health-promoting and fragrant saffron. The naghara (small drum) was identified with the curative powers of cloves or ginseng. The ud (stringed instrument) was associated with the soothing effect of valerian or lemon balm. The zurna (a nasal-sounding wind instrument) was associated with strong coffee. The medical properties of these and other instruments are provided below. Abdul-Kadir Maraghayi, Farabi and Safiyaddin Urmiyyayi document information about the healing properties of instruments in such books as “Gabusname” by Keykavus Ziyari, and from books. Primarily, however, this information comes from Azerbaijani verbal folklore of the 19th-20th ashugs (minstrels), a large heritage of which has been collected and kept at the Baku’s Institute of Manuscripts.

NEY, The gentle sound of the ney (wind instrument that produces a sound resembling the flute) calms the nervous system, reduces high blood pressure and tiredness, and promotes good sleep. The ney is believed to awaken a reflective mood, causing a person to appreciate and enjoy nature. It is linked to deep philosophical ideas.

UD, Our ancestors considered that listening to the sound of ud (pronounced as “ood”) was an excellent remedy against headache and melancholy, reducing muscle spasms and creating a strong calming action. The ud was one of the most widespread and favorite instruments in medieval Azerbaijan. It is related to the ancient Greek harp. Instruments, similar to the ud are depicted in ancient Egyptian frescos.
Music performed on the saz (national stringed instrument) calms the nervous system and enhances and lifts one’s mood. It is useful in treating melancholy and for eliminating feelings of pessimism.

ZURNA,This wind instrument is said to stimulate the spirit of battle and sometimes even to instigate aggression and war-like characteristics. The sound of zurna helps to reduce apathy, indifference, and increase the blood pressure.

This instrument helped the doctors to deal with bad mood, melancholy, intellectual and physical exhaustion, as well as low blood pressure. It was considered that the Naghara could substitute for some medicinal plants and tones like spicy cloves. The rhythmic beating of the naghara is believed to lead to the strengthening of the heart. The naghara is described in the Early Middle Age Azerbaijani literary epic, “Kitabi Dada Gorgud” (The Book of my Grandfather). Instruments resembling the Naghara were also well known in ancient Egypt. Thus, according to the rich scientific and musical heritage of our ancestors, it seems that not only did they listen to music for enjoyment and entertainment, but also they perceived music a potent force in the prevention and treatment of various diseases.

Dr. Farid Alakbarov heads both the Department of Translation and the Department of International Relations at the Institute of Manuscripts in Baku. His articles about medieval manuscripts can be found by searching at AZER.com. Some of Dr. Alakbarov’s articles published in Azerbaijan International have been translated into Azeri (Latin script).

Now about the Tar, the melodies performed on tar were considered useful for headache, insomnia and melancholy, as well as for eliminating nervous and muscle spasms. Listening to this instrument was believed to induce a quiet and philosophical mood, compelling the listener to reflect upon life. Its solemn melodies were thought to cause a person to relax and fall asleep.

The author of “Gabusname” (11th century) recommends that when selecting musical tones (perde) to take into account the temperament of the listener. He suggested that lower pitched tones (bem) were effective for sanguine and phlegmatic persons, while higher pitched tones (zil) were helpful for those who were identified with a choleric temperament or melancholic temperament.

Here is the list of a few famous Tar Player in Iran since Qajar era until now,
1- Darvish Khan
2- Alinagi Vaziri
3- Hossien Gholi
4- Mirza Abdollah
5- Aliakbar shanazi
6- Mahamd reza lotfi
7- Hossien allizadeh
8- Daryosh talai
9- Farhang sharif
10- Hoshang zarif
11- Jalil shahnaz, …



(Text excerption courtesy by Aahba Motallebi)



“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.

Study and Recovery of Musical Instruments

As a 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.

Performing 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.

(Courtesy by musigi-dunya)

See also a General Information on Azerbaijani Culture


مقام The Music Of Azerbaijanمقام Vol-03




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) [1].

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

Etymological discussion.

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 [2].

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.

7) Humayun

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.

[1]: The names of the seven dastgahs:





Rast Panjgah



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.

[2]: 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.”

First Attempt

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.

Early Music

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.


مقام The Music Of Azerbaijan Vol-02 مقام

Azeri Musicians

Jabbar Garyaghdioglu performs “Heyrati” Mugam (Maqam)

(with Gurban Pirimov on Tar and Gylman Salahov on Kamancheh




Gurban Bakhshali oglu Primov (Azerbaijani: Qurban Primov) (October 1880, Abdal Gulabli near Shusha, Karabakh, Azerbaijan  – 29 August 1965, Baku, Azerbaijan) was an Azerbaijani folk musician and tar-player.

He was born in Karabakh, in mountainous village of Abdal-Gülablı  near Shusha, Azerbaijan  then in the Russian Empire. The Primov family had had long lasting musical traditions: Gurban’s great-grandfather Valeh was a famous Karabakhi ashik; and his older brother Aghalar was a saz-player. Deeply in love with folk music, Gurban Primov dropped out of school at age 13 to move to Shusha, then one of the important cultural centres of the Caucasus.

He was introduced to the celebrated musician of the time and the designer of the Azerbaijani tar, Sadigjan, whose apprentice he later became. By 1895 Pirimov was already widely known in Karabakh as a talented musician who worked with some of the most renowned khanandas of the time. In 1905 he met Jabbar Garyagdioglu and Sasha Ohanezashvili on a wedding in Ganja, and for the next 20 years they were performing as a trio. The ensembled successfully toured the Caucasus, Central Asia, and some of the Middle Eastern cities. He accompanied Garyagdioglu on the tar during the recording of mughamats on vinyl in Riga and Warsaw in 1912, and also performed some pieces solo. Together they appeared in the 1916 Azeri film Neft va milyonlar saltanatinda (“In the Realm of Oil and Millions”). Pirimov’s outstanding skills were mentioned by singer Seyid Shushinski who personally witnessed Pirimov’s indefatigable playing during Garyagdioglu’s five-hour performance of one mughamat.

Later in life Pirimov was also a music consultant to prominent composers such as Muslim Magomayev, Reinhold Glière, Fikrat Amirov, and Gara Garayev. In 1930 Primov was recognized as People’s Artist of Azerbaijan. Gurban Primov married to Nabat khanum Aghalar gizi and issued four children: Asgar, Sara, Tamara, Adela.

He continued to perform until his death at age 84. His last concert took place at the Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall on 10 August 1965, followed by his death 19 days later. He was buried at the Avenue of the Honored Ones Cemetery in Baku.


Folk songs and ashug art, being among the very significant forms of Azerbaijani music art, are considered to appear much later than “mugham”. It is practically impossible to define the time of appearance of mugham, because it has very ancient sources. The creation of mugham is closely connected with definite and immediate feelings. This is the very reason why the word “mugham” has the meaning of time and moment. The first musical “cries” of primitive man appeared in some definite joyful or sorrowful moments of his life. For instance, after a successful or unsuccessful hunt, primitive man feels rejoice or grieve, uttered definite sounds which later became “music”. So, in this way was formulated the notion of joyful and sad music.
Also the role of nature in the appearance of music and especially of mugham was quite significant. The sounds of blowing winds, raging rivers, flashing lightnings, rumbling rain clouds, wild animals and birds, became the primitive music. It was developed to the immortal delight for heart and ears, and was delivered by means of primitive instruments made of wood, stone and leather.
The mugham is considered to be part of not only Azeri musical art; it also exists in near and middle eastern African and Asian musical art. But it should be noted that only in Azerbaijan has mugham reached the highest and most mature level of its development. The reason is that for the performance of mugham a very high timber of voice is needed. This voice timber is the characteristic feature of Azerbaijani people. There is no country in the world where the voice timber of mugham performers is so high and strong as in Azerbaijani. Nowadays the khanendas (mugham performers) from the exhausted, crying and groaning Karabakh, which was occupied by Armenia, fascinate and astonish the whole world by their singing.

One mugham consists of 6,8 or 10 levels. Depending on the area of mugham, it can be performed 1-2 hours without a break. The formation of the complete complex of mugham from ancient times was provided by the works of great mugham performers and musicians. Among them should be mentioned such scientists as Abdulgadir Maragai, Safiyaddin Urmavi ; such mugham performers as Hadji Khuzu, Jabbar Garyaghdi, Mohammed Kechachi oghlu, Meshedi Mohammed Farzaliyev, Zabul Gasim, Seyyid Shushinsky, Khan Shushinsky, Zulfi Adigezalov, hajibaba Huseynov, Fatma Mekhraliyeva, Hagiget Rzayeva, rubaba Muradova, Yagub Mamedov and others.

The heritage of mugham, which has been passed down to us, is developed by modern mugham performers such as Arif Babayev, Janali Akberov, Islam Rzayev, Aghakhan Abdullayev, Alibaba Mamedov, Qadir Rustamov, Alim Gasimov, Sakina Ismaylova, Melekhanum Ayubova and others.
Besides the minor forms of mugham in Azerbaijan we can distinguish 17 main forms:
3 forms of segah – “Segah of Mirza Gusein” “Zabul Segah”  “Kharidg Segah” Then “Rast”, “Bayaty Shiraz” “Chahargah”, “Mahur”, “Orta Mahur”, “Rehab”, “Humayin”, “Shushtar”, “Bayaty Kurd”, “Shahnaz”, “Gatar”, “Shur”, “Dashti”, “Bayaty Gajar”.
Mugham is considered to be an inexhaustible source not only for tesnifs and folk songs, but also for symphonic songs (opera). For instance “Rast” and “Shur” are symphonic mughams.
If in his youth Uzeir Hajibeyov had not paid much attention to the mughams performed by Jabbar Garyaghdy, he might never have created such masterpieces as “Leyli and Mejnun” and “Koroglu”.
All khanendes widely use the poems of classical poets in the performance of mugham; usually they use gazels (Lyrical poems) more than bayatis or goshmas, because the style of gazels is closer to the mugham. At the end of a mugham can also be performed 1-2 bayatis.
Mugham gives the people the irreplaceable calm feeling of alienation (or detachment) from reality and the approach to something spiritual and sublime. Doctors confirm that mugham has a very good influence on the human organism.
In the study and teaching of mugham, Asef Zeynally’s musical college is of great significance.
“The most perfect music of the world is mugham. Mugham is the inexhaustible source for all the music of the world.” – the words of Jean Pierve (the director of film “The Voice of the World”).


Mugams, being the most ancient and the rearest «pearls» of Azerbaijan music culture, are mature creative expression of moral world of people’s wit. Azerbaijan music is based on Mugam. Mugams, which are foundations of our music, are art taste of not only Azerbaijan, but also all of Eastern people. In historical source, there is an information about the existence of great music culture in the states; Shumer, Manna, Midia.

In the X-IX centuries B.C., during the leadership of Midia, around the lake Urmia, the Mugs, being ancient Azerbaijan tribes, living in Mugan, were spreading out their scientific knowledge in palaces, among the people and were involved in music. Nizami Ganjavi, (1141-1209) stating, that the Mugs were musicians, writes in his «Igbalname»: «Singer, play an ancient melody. Play some Mugan melody like the Mugs». According to this, we can say that Mugam melodies first appeared in the territory of Mugan. The music critics of Iran, Arabian countries and also other countries, making investigations of mugam state, that mugam had been widely spread out in Sasani times (III-VII centuries) and mugams were played in the form of «destgah», which means in groups. As the most talented musicians of the time were working in the palaces, that is why mugams were created by these artists there.

Mugams have been the most favorite music of the Turks, the Arabs, Persians, Indians and other peoples, living in the big geographical–administrative territories, for many centuries and in each country mugams improved people’s inherent moral features. Mugams, being a central genre of Eastern traditional music, based on oral traditions, were called differently in the languages of different peoples. But the essence is the same. Azerbaijani called this musical genre as «mugam», Turks and Arabians as «makam», Persians as «destgah», Indians as «paga», Tadjiks and Uzbeks as «makom», Turkmens and Uygurs as «mukam», the Japaneses as «gaganu», Indonesians as «patet», the Kazakhs as «kuy», the Kirghiz as «ky», Pakistani as «khayyal».

Beginning from IX-X centuries, the science of music began its development in the countries of Near and Middle East. The first scientific information about the mugams is given in the poem «Gabusname» by Keykavus. But as the note writings of the mugams, created in the Middle Ages did not come till our time, we can find information about them in the handwritings of Eastern music critics living in the IХ–ХIХ centuries. The founder of Eastern music Science Abu Nasr Mohammed Farabi (865-950) writes his work «Kitab-ul musigi-al-kabir» («Great book about the music»). Abu Ali Ibn Sina’s (980-1037) work called «Risatun fi elm–ul-musigi» (the treatise about music) became the most widespread work. At the beginning of XII century the encyclopedia called «jame–ul-ulum» of Fahraddin Al Razi introduced to music lovers. In the XIII century the outstanding Azerbaijan music critic Safiaddin Urmavi (1230-1294) enriched music science by «Kitab al-advar» (Book of Times) «Sharafiyya» treatise. Mohammed ibn Abubakr Shirvani wrote and completed the book «Ikhvanus-safa music». In the XIV century Mahmud ash-Shirazi and Mohammed ibn Mahmud Al-Amuli also wrote their scientific works on music.

Azerbaijani music scientist of XIV-XV centuries Abdulgadir Maragai (1353-1433) took science of music to the highest level by his works; as: «Megasir ul-alhan» (1413), «Jame–ul-Alhan» (1418), «Favaidi-ashara» («10 advantages»), «Lahniyya» («About melody»), «Kanzul-alhan» (Music Treasury) and «Zubdatyl advar fi sharhi risalatil advar» («Selected melodies in the explanation of music collection»).

In the XVI-XVII centuries new information about mugams was given to music lovers in the treatise «Risalei-musigi» of Najmaddin Kavkabi, in the book of Darvish Ali, who was the musician at the palace of Imam Gulu khan (1611-1642), and in the work called «Risalei-Musigi» of Azerbaijani musician Mirzabay.

In the ХIХ century, Mir Mohsun Navvab, writing about mugam culture, explained the origin of mugams, musical instruments, alikeness of poetry and music in his work called «Vuzuhil-apram» and also wrote about the branches, types and melodies of mugam «destgahs» not only in Azerbaijan, but also in all Eastern countries. He also made schedule of them.

Azerbaijan mugams, being different from pieces of music of this genre, have been enriched in the essence by the talent of conducting of our singers and have been matured in the form. From this point of view, mugams consisting of different melodies, appeared in accordance with definite events, were called differently depending on the essence:
mugams of lad-magam (type) («Shur», «Humayun», and etc), mugams of emotional-figurative structure («Semai-Shams, «Rast», «Dilkash» etc.), mugams of different areas («Arazbari», «Garabagh Shikastasi», etc), mugams of different persons («Shah Khatai», «Khostovani», «Huseyni», etc), mugams of different cities («Bayati Shiraz», «Bayati-Isphahan» , etc), mugams of different nations’ names («Bayati-Kurd», «Bayati-Turk», etc.), mugams called according to the way of conducting («Kesme shikasta», etc) and according to the ordinal numerals («Yegah», «Dugah», «Segah», «Chahargah», «Panjgah»).

In the beginning of ХIХ century Azerbaijan literary sphere entered its new development stage. In Shusha «Majlisi-Faramushan», and «Majlisi-Uns», in Shamakhi «Beytus-Safa», in Baku «Majmausi-Shuara» poetry-musical literary «mejlises» (gatherings) began their activity. Differing from other cities of Azerbaijan, Shusha becomes the cultural center of famous poets, music critics and singers. Singers of marvelous art center –Shusha represented Azerbaijan music not only in their Motherland, but also in other Eastern countries, creating the history of Azeri music. The music talents of Shusha appeared neither in the cities of Caucuses nor The East. Shusha vocal school takes the same position in the history of the East, which Italian vocal school in the history of European music. Shusha was called «Italy of Caucuses».

The names of famous singers, «tar» and «kamancha» players, who eastablished Azerbaijan mugam school in the first beginning of ХIХ century , also being famous in Near and Middle East by their wonderful voices, are given in undergiven tables:

In the first  beginning of ХIХ century the  singers were singing by the accompanying of «tar», «kamancha» and «yastibalaban» (national musical instruments. This group of 4 men consisting of the singer and the players was called group of «sazendes (players)». In the beginning of XIX century the group of 4 players became consisting of 3 persons: singer, tar, kamancha and goshanagara players. The songs of this group of 4 men and triple (group of 3 men) were dedicated mostly to love and female beauty. In accordance with the changes in spirits of people, the way of singing mugam also changed. So, mugam was being sung during 2-3 hours before, but later this time was shortened and became 15-20 minutes.

Beginning from the Middle Ages till the beginning of XX century, mugam was considered to be an art, conducted only by the male singers, but in spite of this fact, beginning from the 20s years, the names of talented female singers, who developed our culture and took it to the pick, are given in undergiven schedule:

The delicacies of poetry, expressing philosophy of life, love to nature, love for all the men, which exists in Azerbaijan mugams – unit of poetry and music, is the most important thing, which makes completeness together with wonderful music melodies. The following outstanding Azeri poets praized mugam in their works: Gatran Tabrizi, Mahsati Ganjavi, Nizami Ganjavi, Falaki Shirvani, Givati Mutarrizi, Khagani Shirvani, Imadaddin Nasimi, Mahammad Fuzuli, Molla Panah Vagif, Gasim bey Zakir, Seyyid Azim Shirvani, Huseyn Razi, Bakhtiyar Vahabzadeh, Aliaga Vahid, Samad Vurgun, Suleyman Rustam.

Daramad: «Daramad» is an instrumental melody widely used in mugam «dastgahs» and it is an introduction part of vocal-instrumental mugams. «Daramad» expresses the features of mugam to which it refers and it is called as the mugam.

Berdasht: «Berdasht» is an instrumental melody written in the genre of oral traditional music. «Berdasht» is widely applied in mugam art. From this point of view, «Berdasht» is an introduction part of instrumental mugam «destgshs».

Reng: «Reng» is played after definite divisions of «destgah» and is called as the mugam it refers to. By nature, «rengs» are divided into those, looking like a dance, a march, and lyric ones. The first type of «reng» is «Diringi».

Diringi: «Diringi» is a melody, less than «reng» and it is more danceable than «reng». It is usually played in divisions or branches of little volume, or finalizes them.

«Reng» and «Diringi», being a piece of music, when played, gives a singer an opportunity for preparing for the next mugam division.

Gushe (branch): Im comparison with division, «Gushe» is a mugam episode of improvisation character, with less volume. Like, divisions, branches also have different names.

Avaz: «Avaz» usually means a completed musical sentence. «Avaz»s have no definite names and they are sung either within divisions or branches. So, a division is made of 5-6 «avaz»s, and a branch is made of 2-3 «avaz»s.

Maye: «Maye» plays a main role in vocal-instrumental and instrumental mugams and it determines their structure by its essence. «Maye» plays a central role in mugam «destgah»s and all the divisions of «destgah» are activate around it. The conductive features of divisions and branches generally depend on «Maye» part.

Tasnif: «Tasnif», has a lyric and dance like character and is sung after the singing of each division of mugam «destgah». Each of tesnifs are sung independently as a complete piece of music.

One of the widely spread genres of  Azerbaijan oral-traditional music are impact mugams. When they are sung, in the ensemble, accompanying the singers, impact instruments are preferred. Impact mugams begin with instrumental introduction of active-emotional character and on the basis of musical parts of this introduction the main melody is played.

The songs, tesnifs, operas, symphonies and other musical genres created by our composers are based on mugam. So, they widely used mugam in their creative activity. The outstanding composer Uzeir Hajubayov composed his operas; «Leyli and Majnun», «Sheykh Sanan», «Rustam and Zohrab», « Koroglu», «Shah Abbas and Khurshid Banu», «Narun and Leyla», «Asli and Karam» on mugams ans at the same time, he wrote his fantasies for national musical instruments orchestra on «Chahargah» and «Shur» mugams. These fantasies are called the same as the 2 mugams. He prepared «Arazbari» mugam for cord orchestra, established new gazal (classic poem)-romance genre, based on Nizami Ganjavi’s gazals «Sensiz (Without you)» and «Sevgili janan (Belowed)». muslim Magomayev in his opera «Shah Ismayil», Zulfugar Hajubayli in his opera «Ashig Garib», Shafiga Akhundova in her opera «Gelin Gayasi» have used mugam melody. Asaf Zeynali applied mugam to chamber instrumental music, also he wrote his work «Mugamsayagi» for violin and piano and «Chahargah» for piano. Fikrat Amirov, when writing «Shur» and «Kurd-Ovshari» symphonic mugams, he kept traditional structure of «Shur» in «Kurd-Ovshari» he used examples of impact mugams. He wrote his «Azerbaijan» capriccio on «Mahur» tasnif. Azerbaijan tasnifs are wonderfully expressed in Fikrat Amirov’s «Gulustan-Bayati Shiraz» symphonic mugams. Composer and conductor Niyazi in his «Rast» symphonic mugam, Suleyman Alasgarov in his «Bayati-Shiraz» symphonic mugam, Jovdet Hajiyev in his «The fourth symphony» and in «Ballada» written for piano, Gara Garayev in his «The third symphony», have used mugam melodies. Chorus, sung in the 3rd part of «Azad» opera of Jahangir Jahangirov is «Chahargah» mugam. He created role of Fuzuli by means of «Rahab» mugam in the introduction of «Fuzuli» cantata.

In his «The Fourth Symphony» and «The Sixth Synphony», Arif Malikov used melodies of mugam destgahs. He also composed his «Love Legend» ballet on «Humayun» mugam. Agshin Alizadeh has professionally used «Shur», «Chahargah», «Segah», «Vilayati» mugams in his «Fourth symphony» called «Mugamvari». Russian composer R. Gliyer in his opera «Shahsanam» used «Arazbari» mugam and 30 Azerbaijan national songs and ashig n songs (national melodies).

Afrasiyab Badalbayli used «Mansuriyye» and «Heyrati» mugams in his ballets «Giz Galasi (Maiden tower)». Soltan Hajibayli in his «Karvan» symphonic work has used musical colourings of impact mugams. Learning and investigating of mugam, which is an oral-traditional mucis of the East, is one of the most important tasks of music critics in the World.

Beginning from the Middle Ages till nowadays, studying this genre of Eastern music culture has become the theme of research of the scientists. A number of articles, research works have been written. The names of these scientists are given below: Al-Kindi, Al-Munajjim, Al-Farabi, Ibn-Sina, S. Urmavi, G.Shirazi, Al-Amuli, Al-Jurjani, Abdulgadir Maragai, Shabaddin Ajami, H. Farter, K..Zaks, R. Derlanjs, Kamal Al-Holan, Ahmad Aminaddin, Mahmud Mukhtar, Mahammad Salahaddin, Yusif Shauki, R. Khaligi, A.N. Vaziri, M. Barkishli, A. Shabani, R. Yekta, Sadaddin Arel, S. Azgi, I.H.Ozkan, Y. Elsner, S.M. Uzdilek, M.Karadeniz, Y. Tura, M. Barzanchi, V. Belyayev, V.Vinogradov, U.Hajibayov, M.S.Ismayilov, E.Abbasova, G.Abdullazadeh, R. Mammadova, R. Zohrabov, I.R.Rajabov, R.Imrani, F.M. Karomatov, T.S.Vizgo, O.Matyakubov and others.

Some of the conferences and symposiums held on international standards concerning Eastern oral-traditional music:

ВII International Music Congress held in 1971 in Moscow in the theme «Tradition and Modernity», III International Tribune of Asian Countries held in Alma-Ata in 1973.

In the I International symposium, held by UNESCO in 1978 in Samargand in the theme: «Traditional music of Near and Middle East Peoples and Modernity», the following Azerbaijani musician scientist took part: E. Abbasova, L.Karagijiyeva, N. Aliyeva, R. Zohrabov, Z. Gafarova, N. Mammadov, A. Eldarova and S.Agayeva. They made interesting reports.

In the II International symposium held in 1983 in Samargand, E. Abbasova, N.Mammadov, S.Gasimova, Z.Safarova, I.Efendiyeva , R. Zohrabov made reports.

Tar player B.Mansurov, kamancha player T.Bakikhanov, singers J.Akbarov and A.Gasimov sang Azeri mugams.

In III International symposium held in 1987 in Samargand, which represented more than 400 musicians, N.Aliyeva, S. Dashdamirova, S.Agayeva, composer E.Mansurov made reports. Our singers A.Babayev, and A. Gasimov, tar players R. Guliyev and A.Abdullayev, kamancha player Sh. Eyvazova were applauded by the audience.

No doubt, that all these music forums will play an important role in studying musical heritage of Eastern Peoples, in strengthening relations between musician scientists. According to the opinion of World musicians, Azerbaijan mugams, which are richer and stronger among mugam musicians in different geographical areas, according to their emotional impression and development level, will become a source of creativity for many composers for many years and will be investigated by musicians. The successes achieved by our singers and ensemble of national musical instruments in foreign countries is the evidence that they are devoted successors of our classic music heritage.
(courtesy of azworld.org)


Mugam also known as Azerbaijani Mugham (Azerbaijani: Muğam; مقام) is one of the many folk musical compositions from Azerbaijan, contrast with Tasnif, Ashugs.  Mugam draws on Iranian-Arabic-Turkish Maqam

It is a highly complex art form that weds classical poetry and musical improvisation in specific local modes. “Mugham” is a modal system. Unlike Western modes, “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. “Mugham” is a compound composition of many parts. The choice of a particular mugham and a style of performance fits a specific event. The dramatic unfolding in performance is typically associated with increasing intensity and rising pitches, and a form of poetic-musical communication between performers and initiated listeners.

Three major schools of mugham performance existed from the late 19th and early 20th centuries – the region of Garabagh, Shirvan, and Baku. The town of Shusha (Garabagh) was particularly renowned for this art.

The short selection of Azerbaijani mugham played in balaban, national wind instrument was included on the Voyager Golden Record, attached to the Voyager spacecraft as representing world music, included among many cultural achievements of humanity.

In 2003, UNESCO recognized mugam as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Azerbaijan also has a great tradition of composers and musicians of western classical music. Uzeyir Hajibeyov with his Leili and Majnun created the genre of mugham-opera. Fikret Amirov (1922-1984) was the first Azeri composer symphonic mughams — Shur, Kurd Ovshari, and Gulistan Bayati Shiraz. Azerbaijani composers created a plethora of compositions that fused mugham and traditional European genres. Among those, for example, Vasif Adigozal’s mugham oratorio Shikestesi.[7] Such works are obviously very different from traditional mugham formations but in fact incorporate many mugham idioms. On the level of musicians, there remains a strict separation between classical and “traditional” music in terms of training. Even if the musicians are educated at the same conservatorium they stick to one camp.

In the course of its long history, the people of Azerbaijan have retained their ancient musical tradition. Mugham belongs to the system of modal music and may have derived from Persian musical tradition. The Uighurs in Xinjian (Sinkiang) call this musical development muqam, the Uzbeks and Tajiks call it maqom (or shasmaqom), while Arabs call it maqam and Persians dastgah. In Azerbaijan the word is mugham from Arabic Maqam. It is based on many different modes and tonal scales where different relations between notes and scales are envisaged and developed.
Uzeyir Hajibeyov merged traditional Azerbaijani music styles with Western styles early in 20th century.

The meta-ethnicity and intricate complexity of this music also becomes apparent in the fact that terms such as mugham, maqam, or dastgah, omnipresent in oriental music, can mean one thing in the Turkish tradition, while the same term in the music of Uzbekistan takes on quite another meaning, and yet another in the classical Arabian tradition. So, in one culture mugham may be related to a strictly fixed melodic type, while in another it is only the cadences, the melody endings that are associated with it. In a third culture it may only correspond to a specific type of tone scales.

The genre itself has roots in prayer and lullaby and is passed on from mother to baby in this way. However, there are hundreds of varieties, such as songs similar to war chant.

In the 16-17th centuries the art of mugam was passing through the development process as a folklore professional music of the palace conditions. In this period a dastgah form starts to develop in the structure and forms of mugam. New colors and shades as well as tasnifs developed in mugam performance. The masters of mugam of Azerbaijan sang gazals written in aruz genre by Fizuli, Habibi and Khatai. The music events were held in most regions of Azerbaijan in the 19th century and mugam was performed at these events. In the 19th century famous French scientist Alexandre Dumas who attended the ceremony in Shamakhy, wrote in his works about his trip saying he was greatly impressed by mugam that sounded there.[8] Such events held in Azerbaijan were attended by khanendes from Karabakh, Baku and Tabriz which in turn caused the blending of singing traditions of different regions.

In the early decades of the 20th century, a member of native intelligentisa, Uzeyir Hajibeyov, the author of the first national opera Leili and Majnun, also formulated the theoretical basis of Azerbaijani mugham in his work The Principles of Azerbaijani Folk Music.[ Famous Azerbaijani composer Gara Garayev and Fikrat Amirov also made a great contribution to the development of the art of mugam through creating the mugam symphony.

According to the New York Times, mugham is a symphonic-length suite, full of contrasting sections: unmetered and rhythmic, vocal and instrumental, lingering around a single sustained note or taking up a refrain that could be a dance tune.
The seven main frets

In recent years, Azerbaijan folk music existed within the scope of folk art. The vocal-instrumental forms of folklore contain the elements of polyphony. The peculiarity of folk music clarifies itself firstly with the development of a fret system. It contains seven main frets – rast, shur, segyakh (are especially spread), shushter, bayati-shiraz, chargyakh, khumayun and three collateral kinds – shakhnaz, sarendj, chargyakh in some other form.[12][13] Before, it was considered that each of the frets has its special vivid emotional meaning. Every fret represents a strongly organized scale, possessing a firm tonic prop (maye), and each step of the fret has its melodic function.These include:

  Rast mode is the first mode of main modes which kept its base and root, unchanged its function during the historical period of development. So, rast mugam based on this mode is called “mother of mugams”. Rast mode consists of 1+1+0.5 tone, which is created in three tetra-chords in the result of amalgamation of reach method of the first main tetra-chord.[16] Literaryly, Rast creates courage and cheerfulness at listener. Subgenres of Rast are: Bardasht (with Novruzu-Ravanda), Maye, Ushshag, Huseyni, Vilayati, Dilkesh, Kurdu, Shikasteyi-fars (Khojasta), Erag, Penjgah, Rak-Khorasani, Gerai, space for Rast. Other mugams relating to the Rast are: Mahur, Mahur-Hindi, Orta Mahur, Bayaty-Gajar, Gatar.[17]

Shur is the second mode and consists of 1-0.5-1 tone, which is created in the result of amalgamation of three tetra-chords with reach method of the first tetra-chord. Shur mode is the most used mode in Ashik art. Shur creates joyful lyrical mood at listener.[16] Subgenres of Shur includes: Bardasht, Maye, Salmak, Shur-Shahnaz, Busalik, Bayaty-Turk, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, Ashiran, Semai-Shams, Hijaz, Shakh Khatai, Sarenj, Gemengiz, Nishibi-Feraz, space for Shur. Mugams relating to the Shur are: Shahnaz, Sarenj, Arazbary, Osmani, Rahab, Neva.

Segah is the third mode and consists of 0.5-1-1 tone which is created in amalgamation of three tetra-chords with the reach method. Segah mugam associated with love, romantic feelings at listener.[16] Subgenres of Segah includes: egah 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, space for Segah, Kharij Segah-Bardasht, Maye, Takhtigah, Mubarriga, Manandi-Hisar, Manandi-Mukhalif, high-pitched tone Segah, space for Kharij Segah. Other mugams relating to the Segah are: Hashym Segah-sol, Kharij Segah-si, Mirza-Huseyn-lya, Orta Segah-mi, Zabul Segah.

Shushtar is the fourth and the smallest mode according to its amount of sounds. Sound line is created in amalgamation of two tetra-chords with different method. It has eight membranes and consists of 0.5-1-0.5 tone. In Shushtar mode the third membrane is the completive tone, the fourth membrane is Maye. It creates deeply sad feelings at listener.[16] Subgenres of Segah includes: Amiri, Shushtar, Masnavi, Movlavi, Tarkib, space for Shushtar. Other mugams relating to the Mugham are: Ovshary, Heydari.[17]
* Chahargah is the fifth and the longest mode according to the amount of sounds. It consists of eleven membranes. Three tetra-chords are amalgamated with two methods. The first and the second tetra-chords are amalgamated with the first method. The second and the third tetra-chords are amalgamated with different method. Tetra-chords are 0.5+1.5+0.5 tone structural. Chahargah mode is represented in two kinds in Uzeyir Hajibeyov’s composition.[16] It creates at listener excitement and passion. Subgenres of Chahargah are: Bardasht, Maye, Bali-Kabutar, Djovhari, Basta-Nigar, Hisar, Mualif, Garra, Mukhalif, Ouj Mukhalif, Maghlub, Mansuriyya, Uzzal, space for Chahargah.
* Bayaty-Shiraz is the sixth mode and consists of 1-1-0.5 tone, which is created in amalgamation of two tetra-chords with the third method. It consists of nine membranes. There passes membrane among the tetra-chords. It creates melancholic feelings at listener.[16] Subgenres of Bayaty-Shiraz are: Bardasht, Isfahanak, Maye, Gardaniyye, Nishibi-Faraz, Bayaty-Isfahan, Khums-Ravan, high-ptched tone Bayaty-Shiraz, Abulchap, Khaveran, Uzzal, Shikasteyi-Fars, Dilruba, space.[17]
* Humayun is the seventh mode and consists of 0.5+1.5+0.5 tone, which is created in amalgamation of two tetra-chords with the fourth method. It is able to get sound line of Shushtar mode by changing the tetra-chords’ places in Humayun mode. So, these two modes’ structures are close to each other. It creates deeply mournful feelings at listener.[16] Subgenres of Humayun are: Bardasht, Humayun, Baxtiyari, Feili, Boyuk Masnavi, Movlavi, Shushtar, Tarkib, Uzzal or Bidad, Kichik Masnavi, space.


Part of the confusion arises from the fact that the term itself can have two different, if related meanings. The famous Azeri composer Gara Garayev has the following explanation: “The expression mugham is used in two senses in the folk music of Azerbaijan. On the one hand the word mugham describes the same thing as the term lad [Russian for key, mode, scale]. An analysis of Azeri songs, dances and other folk-music forms show that they are always constructed according to one [of these] modes. On the other hand the term mugham refers to an individual, multi-movement form. This form combines elements of a suite and a rhapsody, is symphonic in nature, and has its own set of structural rules. In particular one should observe that the suite-rhapsody-mugham is constructed according to one particular mode-mugham and is subject to all of the particular requirements of this mode.” (Sovetskaya Muzyka 1949:3). Azerbaijani conservatory throughout the 20th century produced significant scholars and scholarship. Among them, Rena Mamedova explored the philosophical content of mugham, as an Azeri “formula of creative thinking”.[18] Elkhan Babayev wrote extensively on rhythmic aspect of mugham performance.[19] The native scholars continued and expanded Hajibeyov’s analysis of mugham.

Mugham describes a specific type of musical composition and performance, which is hard to grasp with western concepts of music in another respect: for one, mugham composition is improvisational in nature. At the same time it follows exact rules. Furthermore, in the case of a suite-rhapsody-mugham the concept of improvisation is not really an accurate one, since the artistic imagination of the performers is based on a strict foundation of principles determined by the respective mode. The performance of mugams does therefore not present an amorphous and spontaneous, impulsive improvisation.
Azerbaijan Mugham Theatre in Baku.

With respect to the concept of improvisation, mugham music is often put in relation to jazz, a comparison that is accurate to a certain point only. Although mugham does allow for a wide margin of interpretation, an equation with jazz is oversimplified, since it fails to account for the different kinds of improvisation for different Mugam modes. The performance of a certain mugham may last for hours. (For the uninitiated listener it is close to impossible to know whether a musician is actually improvising or playing a prearranged composition.) Furthermore, as Garayev stresses, mugham music has a symphonic character.

The songs are often based on the medieval and modern poetry of Azerbaijan, and although love is a common topic in these poems, to the uninitiated ear many of the intricacies and allusions are lost. For one, the poems do not primarily deal with worldly love but with the mystical love for god. Yet, strictly speaking, this is still secular music/poetry, as opposed to, say, Sufism.[21] Nevertheless, mugham composition is designed very similarly to Sufism in that it seeks to achieve ascension from a lower level of awareness to a transcendental union with god. It is a spiritual search for god.

(courtesy open-source)


Seyid Shushinski Ensemble