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ClassicsOnline Home » ARMENIA Douduk - The Sound of Armenia
Douduk The Sound of Armenia
Armenian folk-music has come down to us from ancient times,
continually influenced by and influencing the musical cultures of other Middle
Eastern peoples. It embraces work-songs as well as ritual and funeral songs.
The art of the gusans and ashugs, medieval Oriental
minstrels, played an important role in the development of folklore. They used a
variety of musical instruments: string-bow (kamancha and bambir),
string-pizzicato (tar, saz, kanoon), wind (sring, zourna, douduk) and
percussion (dhol, tmbuk).
The music itself is fundamentally monophonic. Musical
intervals are based on the diatonic scale, like the old Greek modes as well as
non-diatonic mugam intervals. Rhythmically, Armenian music is very free; one
can hear metrical changes, asymmetric rhythms (5/8, 7/8 etc) and syncopations.
The whole of the Middle East has for a long time expressed
itself in dialects of one and the same musical language, using very similar
instruments. But at the same time each nation has its primordial, main
instrument, the living essence of the soul. One of them is the douduk; it is
the quintessential Armenian instrument.
The origins of the douduk (pronounced doo-dook) predate
Persian-Arabic traditions and it is much older than the Christian hymns. The
douduk has its own special voice, of inimitable beauty: soft, with a slightly
nasal timbre. Perhaps it retains the voice and soul of the apricot tree, from
which it is carved. Or perhaps the soul of the Armenian resides in this simple
pipe with seven holes. Or maybe it reflects the passion, celebration, and
suffering of Armenia? At any rate, the douduk has a 1500-year-old history and
is considered the most ‘Armenian’ of all folk instruments.
In the life of the people, the douduk is heard as often at
weddings and other cheerful celebrations as at solemn occasions such as
funerals. For dances, the rhythmic music of the douduk usually involves one or
two other douduks, as well as the dhol. It is equally effective as a solo or
ensemble instrument. The child of an ancient pagan culture, the douduk has
survived until our own day, in the manner of an old proverb, captivating in its
simplicity and tonal beauty.
The douduk is a
cylindrical instrument made of apricot wood, typically 28, 33, or 40 cm in
length. It has eight or nine finger holes and one thumb hole which together
provide a range of one octave. The double reed, also known as ramish or yegheg
in Armenian, is typically 9-14 cm in length and surrounded by a thin flexible
wood binding that slides along the length of the reed. This binding is used for
tuning the douduk by controlling the opening and closing of the reed. The reed
itself grows plentifully along the Arax River in Armenia.
On this recording the douduk is heard in the company of some
other widely used Armenian folk instruments, the kamancha, kanoon and oud.
The kamancha appeared in Armenia in medieval times. The most
famous kamancha-player was the eighteenth-century ashug Sayat-Nova. Until 1912
kamanchas had only three strings, but a fourth string was added thanks to the
great kamancha-player Alexander Hovanisyan. With this the range of the
instrument increased and enhanced the instrument’s technical and sonic
potential. The kamancha is the primary instrument of folk orchestras, much the
same as the violin is in symphonic music. Indeed, it is very often called the
violin of the East, and is capable of producing music of contrasting character
– sad, joyful and dancelike.
The oud (a type of lute) is widespread throughout the
musical circles in Armenia, a great favourite of folk-music lovers. It is also
considered to be the main instrument of the East. The oud originated in ancient
Persia, where it was called ‘babat’, meaning ‘tree’. At first it had only two strings and was made from turtle
shell with a leather cover, but over time its shape and name changed several
times. Now it has five strings and as a result increased technical and sonic
possibilities. The oud plays the leading role in folk ensembles and, with a
range of three octaves, it frequently plays solo parts.
Lastly, the kanoon is a delicate instrument with a voice
that may be likened to silver bells. It has been known in Turkey and Arab
countries for a very long time. In the 16th and 17th centuries it spread to the
Caucasus and especially to Armenia. At first the instrument was played in
Kilicia (the former part of Armenia which is now located in Southeastern Turkey)
only by men. But now in Armenia it is typically played by women. The kanoon has
a very wide range of technical possibilities since it has 75 strings and a
range of three octaves. Musicians play the kanoon as often in ensembles as
Most of the tunes presented on this album are traditional
folk songs and dances, created by the people themselves many years ago for
various purposes and still very popular among Armenians. All of them had and
still have some practical usage and are sung at specific events.
Thus Horovel and Vakhenam knem are typical work-songs of the
villagers. Khani vur jan im, Dzenet khahtzir ounis, Hayots akhchikner, Ser, im
sirun es, Sari sirun yar, and Es me gharib blbuli pes are tender love songs,
depicting the feelings and sufferings of enamoured couples. Erzroumi shoror, Gyoumrva parer,
Khazakhi, and Tuy-tuy are folk dances from different regions of Armenia.
Having kept its expressive empathy with the human soul, the
douduk has now become an instrument of the world. The soulful sound of the douduk was recently in the World
Music spotlight thanks to musical artist Peter Gabriel. Gabriel has integrated
the douduk into several recordings including the soundtrack to The Last
Temptation of Christ. Armenian douduk master Djivan Gasparyan has also recently
recorded with guitarist Michael Brooks for the Hollywood blockbuster Gladiator.
I am sure we’ll hear its mellow, feminine voice in new and unexpected contexts.
The producer of this album is the president of ARDZAGANK
Music Company, Mr Yeghishe Petrosyan – musician, singer, composer and one of
the founders of the group Ardzagank, the very popular, almost legendary,
Armenian rock band. Although continuing to pursue his creative activities, Mr
Petrosyan also remains deeply committed to producing young talented musicians
of various genres.
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ARMENIA Douduk - The Sound of Armenia