The Place of Zurna in Traditional Azerbaijani Music


Key words: Zurna, rendition, ensemble, jangi, dance music, mugham

The aim of he Present Article is definition of the place of zurna, which is one of the windmusic instruments of the aerophone group, in the Azerbaijani folk music.The long the historical past of zurna, its organological features, its types existing in other Oriental music cultures, genre and stylistic peculiarities of the examples of music rendered in zurna, as well as the present state of the regional rendition schools will be in the focus of attention.

The history of wind  instruments in Azerbaijan, including the ancient history of zurna has found its confirmation in a number of archeological excavations and written monuments. The archeologists have found a gold bowl for drinking water with desrciptions of wind, percussion and string music instruments on it in the suburbs of the town of Jighamysh of the Iranian Azerbaijan belonging to the sixth millenial BC. After this discovery, which  became the focus of interest of the scholars of the world, there appeared an article in the United States of America devoted to it (10.00). The set of wind instruments discovered  near the town of Mingachevir of Azerbaijan is referred to the third millenium. It is interesting that on one of them a circular element of zurna, which is called tağalaq(bobbin, reel), is clearly visible.

Zurna is mentioned in the heoric epos of the Oghuz Turks, which is called Kitabi –Dede Korkut (The Book of Grandfather Korkut), written in the seventh century AC. In the poems of classical Azerbaijani poets Afzaladdin Khagani, Nizami Ganjavi, as well as in the works of the great musicologist scholar Abdul Gadir Maraghayi (XIV-XV centuries). The words sirnay, surnay, zurna, which have been used in these souuces, express different forms of this instrument.

Other kinds of zurna may be encountered in differen Asian and African countries in the form of zurna in Turkey,şahnay in İndia, suna in China and others.

In the Islamic Orient of the Middle Ages. This instrummen, which is used in Turkey and Azerbaijan bear the same name, nevertheless, they differ instrong timbre, diapason, dynamics and retention idiosyncrasies, which proceed from the difference of the sizes.

In the Islamic Orient of the Middle Ages there appeared various ensembles of percussion and wind instruments differing in the number of the player in the ensemble. They were callednağaraxan, təblxana, mehtər taqımları and used in the military crusades. In one of his works Abdul Gadir Maraghayi noted one and a half octave diapason of surna among the wind instruments and said about the sound of this instrument that “its sound will be heard from a longer distance than the sound of other music instruments.” (Murat Bardakçı,p. 107). It is noted that in the Middle Ages the players in surnay were called surnayi, for instance, Ustad (master) Əsəd Surnayi,İsmayıl Surnayi, Şah Məhəmməd Surnayi (A. Nəcəfzadə, p.63).

The contemporary musicologists note  certain differences  between zurna played in Azerbaijan and surnay: “Surnay is longer than zurna, its sound is much stronger and deafening” (Ə. Bədəlbəyli). Butin playing zəngülə, which is a special kind of ornament, zurna is moreh preferrable, therefore surnaywas gradually forgotten.

Different from the davul-zurna duet, which is popular in Turkey, the nağara-zurnacompanies consisted of three or four musicians, who performed the main texture principles of national folk music. The widely spread groups of zurna players in Azerbaijan consisted mainly of  two zurna players, which also included one or two drummers, that is, two zurnas + one or two drums. The master player performs the main melody, the second player of zurnar,who  is called dəmkeş (accompanist), accompanies him and prolongs the most important tune. Two nağaras of different sizes added to them bear differen trhythmic functions due to their timbre-dynamic features. Zurna player ensembles of quartet are characteristic four regional schools of Sheki and Naknchivan. As only one ordinary nağara is used in other territories the trio-type ensembles are popular.

These mentioned types of ensembles (trio and quartet) were the main bearers of the dance music till the beginning of the 20th century in the towns of Azerbaijan, mainly in Baku. Later being unable to compete with such borrowed music instruments as clarinet and accordion the ensembles zurna players have preseved their importance only in rurals.

The examples of jengi (melody challenging to battle),which  is full of spirit of heroism, and folk dance melodies form the main repertories of these zurna players compnies. Jengi melodies, which have reached our days, have hereditary relations with the nağaraxana war battle musicdue to their warlike spirit. They have got their force, power from the heroical eposesand are considered to be the striking examples of epic music in the culture of Azerbaijan.

These  traditions ave mixed and mingled with each other, it can be seen in the name of one jengi melodies, which is called Koroğlu nağarası. We must remind that the epos of “Koroğlu” is widely spread with its different variants in Azerbaijan, Anadolu and Middle Asia and found its reflection in folk music. It is not accidental that a gramophone record, called Azərbaycan qəhrəmani musiqisi (Battle Music of Azerbaijan), contains folk dance music as well as battle (jengi) music collected from different regions of Azerbaijan like Shamakhi, Sheki, Nakhchivan, Davachi (now Shabran). At present the jengi melodies accompany sports competitions such as wresling, horse race, rope-dancers organized during wedding parties and in national holidays. In the past the melodies played in zurna were also performed during the trainings of the wrestlwers called zorxana, that is, the place in which such a competition was held. Unlike Iran, now such zorxanas du not function in Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, zopu-zopuor zoppo (an ancient folk dance) and zorxana melodies belonging to different regions of Azerbaijan  have been preserved in the repertories of the players of zurna, and sometimes we also encounter their staged versions, too.

In the past çovqan (a ball game played on horseback), a game in the cycle of sports games, was held under the accompaniment of melodies played in zurna. We can find information about this game in miniature paintings and in the examples of poetry. It is interesting that the nilançovqan(a kind ofçovqan)played on horseback has attracted the attention of foreign travellersand its new form known as polo became widely spread in the European countries, for instance, in England.Recentlyçovqan  has been restored in the district of Sheki, where the tradition of art of rendition in zurna is strong.

The repetories of the ensembles of zurna players differ depending on local music culture. For instance, they benefit from yallı dance melodies in Nakhchivan, ashug melodies in Gazakh, ashug melodies and dance music of Shirvan in Shamakhi. Əli Dədə Kərimov (1874-1955), a great man of music art in Shamakhi, was popular as best performer of dance melodies. Ələfsər Rəhimov, a prominent representative of Sheki music school, played some pieces of muğam in high pitch register and gained fame by creating a new performance style inherent to him.

One of the conspicuous and interesing regional schools in the performance in zurna in Azerbaijan became popular in the region of Sheki, in the north-west of the country. It was one of the centers of art, cultuture, craftsmanship and known as  “ the Lions of Azerbaijan”, silk industry played an impotant role in economic, social and cultural development of this region, in the development of of a number of kinds of art ( for instance, music, poetry, architecture, carpet-weaving, chain-stitch and others). If Şəki Xan Sarayı (the Palace of the Khan of Sheki) built at the end of the18th century is considered to be one of the pearld of the national archtectural art, the second half of the next century presented the muğam art of Azerbaijan with  a mighty singer as Ələsgər Abdullayev.

Along with the said, deep sympathy and great love to zurna along the centuries were continued and developed in the town environment of Sheki. Scholar F. Xalıqzaə explains the position of this music instrument (zurna) with the influence of the heroic eposes in the region: “The development of the art of zurna music is conditioned not only with the purely music traditions, for instance, with the love of people for dance folklore of the people, with the spread ofwrestling, horse-race and others, as well as with the heroical spirit of the epos of Koroğlu”(3, p.45). The colourful painting on the wall of one of the rooms ofŞəki Xan Sarayı describes the military orchestra in the battle field. Special description of such a point shows that the same spirit is  briliantly manifest in music, dance, ceremonies andperformances.

The warlike spirit of the population of the region has found its striking reflection in the legend about a fortification castle located near Sheki. According to the legend, the reply of the fighters to the threats of the enemy defined the name of the castle, since then the castle is called “Gələrsən-görərsən“ (You will Come and See).

Old and popular man-of-art Həbibullah Cəfərov (1902-1987) once in an interview to Professor F. Çələbi,ethno-musicologist,  said:Koroğlu melodies”, particularly “Koroğlu qaytarmasi” is very much loved in Sheki. Once the wedding parties used to begin with “Koroğlu” and ended with “Koroğlu”. The best dancers of Sheki used to dance under the melodies of “Koroğlu”.

He also gave valuable information about the professional masters of sportsmen: “When the brave men began the horse-race, they used to order to play “The music melody of horse-race ofKoroğlu”. They tied a thin suilk kerchief to the horn of a ramn and made him remain at the end of the race field. The first horseman had to ride, take the ram by its horn and put it on the ground.Both the victory and the ram had to belonge to the first horseman, who then untied the kerchief and tide it to his own neck, then he would slaughter the ram and arrange a party for the rest. Then they would ask to play “Koroğlu’s Party Melody”.

On the other hand, the spread of the professional muğam art with oral tradition in Sheki exerted its influence on the performance of zurna. The roads of the art of muğam and the performance in zurna  had to intersect in Sheki. The talented musician Ələfsər Rəhimov joined the two spheres of the music and performance arts on his own desire and high level, incomparable mastery and opened a new page in the history of performance of national music. Thus, there has always been a great interest in the performance of zurna among the people of the town, too, there has appeared a new ideosyncratic kind of the art of muğam.


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Kheyala Tohrab Abdulrahmanova