Musical instruments play an important role in the musical lives of people. Each nation has created its original musical instruments. Throughout the years, due to the contacts between nations, these instruments have traveled from country to country. Therefore, often different people and nations made the same instruments.
Like all civilized people, the Armenian nation has its own national musical way of thinking, its original melodies, and unique musical instruments which accompany those melodies.
HISTORY OF THE ARMENIAN MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
Since ancient times, musicians together with their musical instruments accompanied dancers and singer during various holidays and ritual celebrations.
At first, they were very simple. They were made of reed, clay, wood, horns, and bones. During the excavations of Garni, a bone reed pipe of 2nd millennium BC was discovered.
The historiographical works of the Armenian historians also contain not only information about the ancient dancers and minstrels, as well as accompanying musicians together with their instruments during various rituals.
In his “Armenian History,” Khorenatsi mentions the stalk (or Eghegan pogh) and the double reed woodwind instrument made of apricot wood (or Duduk). He also mentions about bandura and drums.
Meanwhile, another Armenian historian, Pavstos Buzand describes the murder of the Pap of Armenia. According to him, it happened when the king, with enthusiasm, was listening to the musicians. That’s when the conspirators used the moment and killed him.
The medieval Armenian musical instruments included the violin, qanun, santur, pkun, blul, parkapzuk. Later, zurna, dhol, duduk, baglama, tar, kamancha, and so forth appeared.
Over the centuries, as a result of the cultural contacts between different nations, many of these instruments crossed from country to country. The neighboring countries changed and improved them.
Many musical instruments mentioned in our writers’ works in the 12th-15th centuries are considered as common Eastern musical instruments since they were common throughout Transcaucasia, Persia, Turkey and Arabic countries.
Hovhannes Yerznkatsi (13th century) makes serious comments on the Oud. It is an Arabic instrument but with some changes, Armenians used it as well.
Arakel Syunetsi (15 century) speaks about the eight-string lyre, presents a number of brass and string instruments. They are also Eastern.
And Hakob Krimetsi (15th century) describes the “sandir” (santur), “ghanon” (qanun) and “arghanon” musical instruments.
In Armenian famous epic “Sasna Tsrer”, minstrels who praised the Khanduth Khan, played the Saz instrument in front of David. The Armenian miniature paintings of 15-16th centuries represent minstrels together with ashoughs holding Kamancha and Tar.
Ashough is a folk professional artist, poet-singer-musician from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and a number of other countries of the USSR, as well as from the East countries. Ashoughs perform their poems in the form of a song. They accompany these songs by a traditional or their own melody playing with various musical instruments.
Over time, people improved the musical instruments, created new varieties, developed the technology of their production.
In the 16th-17th centuries, Europe had professional musicians. They taught their skills to the beginners. Also, as a separate branch of science separating, the art was developing. This branch included the study of Music as well, which had its own standards and rules.
According to these standards, people were preparing professional musical instruments with the right diapason and accurate tone.
The violins, for example, included the following types: violin, viola, violoncello, and double bass.
People classified musical instruments not only by their origin (Eastern musical instruments, European musical instruments, etc.) but also by their use: professional musical instruments and folk musical instruments.
The folk musical instruments, however, never lost their charm at all. In the musical life of every nation, folk music, which people play with folk musical instruments, takes an important place. It preserves the peculiarities of the nation and gives a deeper insight into the musical culture of the people.
Armenian Wind Instruments
Armenian wind instruments made of apricot wood, were zurna, sring (reed, flute), blul, and also duduk. These are the most advanced varieties made of ancient apricot wood.
All musical instruments above have eight chanters in the same order as duduk. The flute and blul, however, do not have such special part. The voice is made when blowing right into the tube.
Let’s talk about them in more detail.
The Armenian zurna, which is the prototype of the European hobo is a double reed wind instrument. The length of the tube is about 29 cm, the upper part is narrow, and the bottom is wide with a diameter of up to 4 cm.
People usually play zurna usually with the dhol(double-headed drum), mostly for performing funny dances.
People believe the instrument has its origins in China. However, one can find its variations (with their own names) throughout Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans, as well as in the Caucasus.
In spite of the variations of the forms and tunings, there are two things that they all have in common. It is their loud, piercing, nasal sound and also the fact that they usually accompany festivities and important events.
Zurna has deep roots in the Armenian traditional culture. Moreover, there is even a specific mention of the zurna in Armenian literature (IX century), in the epic story “David of Sasoun(Sasna Tsrer)”. In the old times, people played zurna during harvests, holidays, as well as weddings.
Nowadays, just like in the past, the zurna still plays an important role in the musical culture.
SRING (reed, flute)
The Sring, in fact, originated in Eastern Armenia. People generally consider it as Shepherd’s flute. This wind musical instrument is an end-blown flute. Moreover, there are many end-blown flutes around the flute. They, however, are all different in their own ways.
The Sring is usually made of Apricot wood, but people also make it out of bamboo and other woods. It, just like a typical end-blown flute has eight finger holes (chanters).
In addition, the sring is Komitas’ favorite instrument. The Armenian musicologist believed that the sring, among all the Armenian instruments, was the most characteristic one.
“Sring” is also the general term for end-blown flutes.
Blul is also a shepherd flute. Just like the sring, it has 8 finger holes, 7 above and 1 below. Like a flute, people play it using their lips.
Blul is sometimes made from the reed. It is a widely famous instrument in a number of provinces of Armenia (Aparan, Nor Bayazet, Bulanikh, Vaspurakan, Aragatsotn, etc.).
The sound is mild, velvety. Komitas says Blul is identical to the sring which has 50 cm length and a thickness of 2-2.5 cm.
The Duduk is a very popular wind instrument among Armenians. It is made of apricot tree wood. In addition, duduk has a double reed setup. People often compare it with a clarinet.
The instrument originally owned the name ‘apricot pipe’. In fact, it is literally an apricot pipe! The mouthpiece of Duduk gives the instrument a unique sound. The large double reed, in its place, adds even more uniqueness to its sound it.
The length together with the tuning depends on the person who is playing it. Moreover, different regions use different tunes and also various lengths of the Duduk.
Duduk, however, is not only famous in Armenia and among Armenians. It is also popular in eastern European countries, and generally, all over the world. Many movies and shows in the U.S. have scenes which include the Duduk and its use.
You most likely have heard or watched movies where the sound of Duduk was present. And probably did not pay attention to it. The instrument was played in such popular movies like the Avatar, Harry Potter, and the Deathly Hallows. Also, The Kite Runner, The Witch, The Lion, and The Wardrobe. The Pirates of The Caribbean: At Worlds End, The Passion of Christ are also on the list, which can go on and on.
The Armenian wind instrument Parkapzuk is also very interesting. It is a drone less and horn-belled bagpipe. The double-chanters have five or sometimes six finger-holes each. The chanters, however, are tuned slightly apart, which gives a “beat” as the soundwaves of each interfere. This results in a penetrating tone.
People make Parkapzuk out of sheep or lamb skin, which they gut and harden. The size of the ‘bag’, highly depends on the player’s comfortable size. The pipes are made of wood. Masters prefer the apricot tree wood.
Armenian String Instruments
Armenian string instruments are also interesting and original. The prototypes of the oldest ones among these instruments, Qanun and Santur were still in ancient Egypt. Both of the instruments have a shape of a wooden rectangle.
Santur is a multi-stringed instrument. People play it using small hammers, with the help of which they hit the strings, making beautiful sounds. The wires are metallic, the upper eyelid has a sound hole. The kanone is a string-wired instrument whose rectangular side of the wooden waist is covered with a film.
As a national, beloved instrument, the Qanun became dear to us thanks to the amazing master-performer Angela Atabekyan. The other Armenian string instruments include Tar, Saz, Kamancha(Kemenche) and Kamani.
These were also the favorite musical instruments of the Armenian ashoughs. In order to prepare them, not only the skills of the makers were important, but also the right choice of materials, the use of the Armenian traditions which had a history of centuries.
Now let’s talk about the string instruments in more detail.
The Santur is a multi-stringed instrument.It consists of a trapeziform case, which is made of rosewood or walnut wood. Its strings are metallic, on the upper part of its ‘back’, there are sound holes.
The santur consists of a trapeziform case made of walnut wood (or rosewood, betel palm). The strings are usually set up to hitch-pins along the side of the left hand. Every quadruple strings’ set rests on a movable type bridge of hardwood.
These are aligned almost in parallel with the case sides. In addition, the right-hand rank corresponds to the bass strings. In the center of the santur, the high-pitched strings on the left cross the low-pitched strings on the right. People play this by striking or hitting the strings with two hammers, which they hold in three fingers of each hand.
In the Caucasus and also the Near East, the santur can have from 13 up to 26 courses from triple to quintuple. Mainly, folk poet-singers and ensembles are the ones who use this string instrument.
Among the popular Armenian ashoughs, Jamalin (Mkrtich Talyan), the father of the famous singer Shara Talyan, played the Santur.
The Qanun is a string instrument, plucked box zither, which mostly played in the Middle East, central Asia, North Africa as well as Southeastern Europe.
The name originated from the Arabic word ‘kanun’. The word means rule, principle or norm.
The string instrument has a trapezium shape. One of the sides is rectangular. Armenian models of Qanun generally do not have more than two string-levers. Qanun is a type of large flat box-shaped instrument which has a narrow soundboard.
In order to play the Qanun, the musicians put it either on their knees or on a table. Then, they pluck the strings using a ring-shaped plectrum on their index fingers. The range of the instrument varies between three and four octaves.
In Armenia, people play it either as a solo instrument or in ensembles. The instrument has 24 triple courses of gut strings tuned to a diatonic scale of D major.
The qanun which people use in Turkey, Armenia, Greek, Azerbaijan, Persia as well as Arabia is made up of 26 courses of strings which possess three strings per course. People play this musical instrument, as already mentioned above is known, on their lap or tables. They pull the strings with two tortoise-shell picks.
The Turkish qanun is generally 95 to 100 cm long and has a 38 to 40 cm width, also 4 to 6cm height. The qanun also has special latches which the player can lower quickly while playing the instrument. The Armenian Qanun has halftones and the Arabic one has quarter tones.
Additional information about the Armenian Qanun
Armenians are the ones who created the world’s first ever musical instrument bass qanun, as the musician Ara Gevorgyan announced during the meeting with the journalists.
The idea came to the musician when some years ago the qanun-player musician Hasmik Leyloyan and Ara Gevorgyan made a composition with 50 qanuns.
According to Armenpress, they achieved the result which they desired only when they regulated the music using a computer. It was the very moment when Ara Gevorgyan decided to create a national musical bass instrument.
The first ever bass qanun is made of maple wood from Sochi, contrabass cords. The shape is similar to the shape of qanun. The instrument, however, is quite expensive. It costs about 1000 USD.
The creation of the bass qanun was registered under the name of the master Albert Zakaryan. He developed the project and also made the instrument itself in about eight months.
Currently, the masters are making two instruments. Moreover, the initiators decided to give them the names of Armenian women. The first one: “Alvard”. The second one: after the name of the wife of the benefactor, who is the sponsor of the expenses of the instrument’s creation.
The initiators, in addition, have already applied to the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia in order to include the instrument in the list of the UNESCO material culture values.
Tar is an Iranian waisted string instrument. However, many countries such as Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and other areas near the Caucasus region share the instrument. The word “Tar” itself means “string” in Persian.
The tar appeared in its current form in the middle of the eighteenth century (Persia). The body has a double-bowl shape, It also has a thin membrane of stretched lamb-skin that covers the top.
The fingerboard has 25 up to 28 adjustable gut frets. There are also three double courses of strings. The range is about two and one-half octaves. Moreover, people play the instrument with a small brass plectrum.
The Caucasian Tar is different from the Iranian one because of a shallower, also, less curved body. The payers pluck the strings using a bone plectrum. The intonation is harder and drier. The playing style of Tar is closer to that of the rabab.
Musicians hold it almost horizontally against the upper chest. They shake the tar slightly in order to produce a vibrating sound. One can also achieve the same effect by rapidly moving the little finger of their right hand. The Caucasian tar is very famous in Azerbaijan and Armenia. You can also find it in Uzbek ensembles.
It is important to note that throughout the history people believed that the melodies of tar were useful for a headache, insomnia, and melancholy, as well as for getting rid of nervous and muscle spasms.
They also believed that listening to the instrument was able to induce a quiet and also a philosophical mood. The solemn melodies of the Tar made the person relax and fall asleep more easily.
The Saz is a long-necked fretted lute. It belongs to the tanbur family. This is a string musical instrument, which the Turkish call “baglama”. If we translate from Persian, Saz means an instrument. People sometimes call it “cura” as well. One can use both ‘baglama’ and ‘saz’ terms interchangeably.
The name “saz”, in fact, refers to the family of plucked string instruments, which people used in Ottoman classical music, Turkish folk music, Azeri music, Iranian music etc… Armenian music is also on the list.
In Iran and the Caucasus, the saz is most likely a descendant of the jugti-saz (or double-saz), a three-stringed lute. Its resonator has a pear shape. People carve it from a single piece of wood.
The instrument has a thin wooden soundboard, which in its place has small soundholes. Musicians play it with a plectrum. The Caucasian Saz is an ashough instrument (means, folk poet-musicians played it).
The traditional repertory of the Saz includes heroic historical songs, epics, even romantic stories and humorous, satirical and love songs.
The Armenian one differs a bit in its function and performance. The length ranges from 55 to 110 cm. The instrument has metal strings arranged in three or four double or triple courses. The first course, in addition, is for the melody, the middle course or courses for a sustained drone, and the last one performs a supplementary role, harmonic and sometimes melodic.
Similiar to the Western lute as well as the Middle-Eastern oud, Saz has a deep round back. It, however, has a much longer neck. Other than a plectrum, people can also play it with a fingerpicking style, or in other words – şelpe.
KAMANCHA (KEMENCHE, KAMANCHEH)
Another string instrument which is probably the most famous one in Armenia is Kamancha. Its body has a ball shape (is spherical). In Persian, the word means ‘a little bow’.
Mother-of-pearl and bone are popular decorations for the instrument. The bridge of Kamancha rests on a circular sound-table. In addition, it is made of an animal membrane, bladder as well as fish-skin.
Musicians play Kamancha on their knees (vertically). Then the player turns Kamancha to meet the bow rather than guiding the bow itself across the strings. The musician also tightens the horse-hair bow with the hand while playing. which is tightened with the hand while playing (by inserting the fingers between the horsehair and the wood (by inserting the fingers between the horsehair and the wood).
The instrument has a long neck. There is also a fingerboard. Traditionally the kamancha had three silk strings. The modern instrument, however, has four metal strings. Its body has a long upper neck and a lower resonating chamber of a bowl shape, which masters make from a gourd or wood.
One can tune Kamancheh just like the ordinary violin (G, D, A, E).
In addition, the Armenian Kamancha has 4 strings. It has a very pleasant and soft sound.
MORE ABOUT THE ARMENIAN KAMANCHA
Kamancha is famous not only in Armenia but also throughout the Eastern world. Unlike the Armenian duduk, which is made from an apricot tree, Kamancha makers can use walnut wood as well.
Speaking of this amazing musical instrument, it is impossible to ignore the great Sayat-Nova, because the instrument accompanied him through his whole life.
For more than 200 years, the kamancha of Sayat-Nova, together with his notebook, are kept in the Charents Museum of Literature and Art.
In Armenia today there are a lot of talented musicians playing this amazing instrument. One of them is the artist Hakob Khalatyan.
“I started playing Kamancha by chance. My favorite pastime was drawing. I’m an artist by profession and it’s already 20 years that I’m drawing. And playing musical instruments was for just leisure. However, after meeting the professional player of Kamancha, Martin Khachatryan, I followed his advice and took up music seriously, “- says Hakob.
According to the musician, in the Soviet years, Kamancha lost its former importance. At the music school named after Romanos Melikyan, they even closed the class for this instrument.
“Today this branch of art has an individual character. You need to love your job very much, so you can devote your life to playing Kamancha. There is no other way. And that’s what I actually did, “- says Hakob.
Armenian Percussion Instruments
The drum, naghara, dap, and dhol are the most famous Armenian percussion musical instruments.
The Naghara looks like a clay or wooden crocks with a leather membrane on the upper opening. The strings that stretch the leather membrane are wrapped around the back of the instrument and the ends at the lower part are tied to each other.
The Dhol has a drum shape. It has leather membranes on both sides. Musicians play the instrument by hitting the membranes using their hands.
The Dap has a wooden back of ball shape (spherical). There, with the help of metal clips, a leather membrane is stretched. There are small metal discs on the sides. By hitting them, musicians make shrill, metallic sounds.
FAMOUS ARMENIAN FOLK MUSICIANS (ASHOUGHS, MINSTRELS) OF ALL TIME
He spent his childhood and adolescence in Tiflis. He learned to read and write in Armenian, Georgian and also learned Arabic alphabet.
The song and music have attracted him since he was a kid. Until the age of thirty, Sayat-Nova has improved in ashough art, learned simple and mixed plays. Then has invented his own ones with compatible melodies and performed them during public gatherings.
The Armenian ashoughs of the Transcaucasian and the late medieval Armenian singers and musicians, especially the works of Naghash Hovnatan and ashough Dosti had a huge influence on Sayat-Nova. He started his creative career with Turkish plays, then gradually changed into Armenian and Georgian.
Sayat-Nova is also the first person who invented and sang Georgian games plays using Persian poetry. For this innovation Georgian king of Kakheti, Herakl II invited him to the palace and made him his own folk music player.
He was singing, making people happy, glorifying justice and honesty, condemning fraud and slander, humiliation, and deceit, social and moral defects. He has always kept his dignity high.
Only a small amount of compositions have reached to us, but they include all the rhythmic and important Armenian ashugh songs’ styles.
Sayat-Nova was also a prominent musician-performer. He had a “sweet voice”. He accompanied his songs first by Saz, then by the Tambour and Chongur, finally by his beloved instrument, Kamancha.
In addition, Armenian composer A. Harutyunyan also made the “Sayat-Nova” opera, by partially using the songs of Sayat-Nova.
According to Georgian sources, he was the palace singer and painter of King Vakhtang VI of Georgia.
Naghash left a rich literary heritage. His poetry has been preserved and has come to us in numerous examples.
He preached creative works, honesty and clean human relationships (“Love God, those who have envy in their hearts, let go of it. “). He complained against evil, injustice, also praised science and art.
Naghash Hovnathan has used the folklore. He wrote in the current national language, harmoniously combined traditional forms of folklore and created new songs.
He chose or invented melodies for his poems, and then he himself sang and played them.
He invented songs from the age of 12 to 13. He traveled to Yerevan, Tiflis, Baku, Astrakhan, Shushi, Kars and other Armenian-populated places with the famous Kamancha master Chungur Hago trio. Sheram also had his own band. In 1905 he visited Etchmiadzin with his group. There the famous Armenian composer Komitas listened to him and put up the music for his song “Al U Alvard Es Hagel” (“You Wear Scarlet And Iridescent”).
As a composer and creator, the Armenian ashough songs of that time shaped him. He didn’t want to use the difficult forms of poetry and preferred simple ones, which is closer to the folk mentality.
As a composer, he appealed to the origins of Armenian folk songs, both rustic and urban more boldly than his predecessors. He developed lyric poetry, colorfulness, and emotionality of the melodies. Sheram’s songs are recorded and published. He died in 1938. on March 7, in Yerevan.
Jivani is another great Armenian folk musician. About 800 songs of him have reached to us. He had many tours with his band, both in Armenia and in the cities of Georgia and Russia.
He also participated in the liberation struggle of Armenians. There is even a school in Yerevan named after Jivani, as well as streets in Yerevan, Gyumri and elsewhere.
He sings about solidarity, brotherhood, about his homeland, as well pure love.
Jivani was a publicist, philosopher, ethnographer. People spread his wise advice and preached and used them as aphorisms.
In the 19th century, Jivani was the biggest ashough in the Armenian reality. He raised the ashough art to a new level, created his own school.
A large part of his poems he created for singing them. He usually was a part of a group of three or four people playing violin on his knees (also Kamani), singing with a powerful and sensitive voice. Jivani continued and deepened the traditions which Naghash Hovnatan and Sayat-Nova developed. He created special melodies for each song.