The art of mugham is an important branch of the verbal heritage of the Azerbaijan professional music culture. It has deep roots in cultural traditions and the history of Azerbaijan people. Great numbers of people follow this cultural tradition in the country. It plays an important role in the national culture, serving as a source of endless enthusiasm for the composers, painters, sculptors and poets, who form the basis of this culture in Azerbaijan. Several common features link Azerbaijani mugham to Iran destgahs, Uzbek and Tajik shashkoms, Uygur mukams, India ragas, Arabian nubas and Turkish tegsims. They comprise the common artistic traditions of oriental music.
The art of mugham is one of the main cultural wealths that forms the basis of the national self-consciousness and self-identification of Azerbaijanis. This kind of art is also famous among the Talishes, mountain Jews, Armenians, Lezgins, Georgians, Avars and other ethnic groups living in the Azerbaijan territory.
The artistic values of Azerbaijani mugham for the national culture and the culture of the whole world have been acknowledged by the international organization UNESCO in 2003. UNESCO named the mugham as 'one of the masterpieces of the verbal and non-material heritage of the world'.
The term 'mugham' in Azerbaijan music also means the categories of fret, melody and genre.
In the meaning of 'fret', the term 'mugham' has been used for at least 700 years. In the booklet of the prominent theoretician, performer and composer of Azerbaijani music Abdulgadir Maragai – who lived in the 14th century - mugham is applied to 12 main frets widely found in the music of the Near and Middle East (Buselik, Neva, Ushshag, Irag, Isfahan, Zirafkend, Bozurg, Rehavi, Huseyni and Hijaz). Today mugham is not only the main seven melodies in Azerbaijani music (Rast, Shur, Segah, Chahargah, Bayati-Shiraz, Humayun, Shushter) but also a number of tonic variants (Mahur, Dugah, Bayati-Gajar, Kharic Segah, Orta Segah, Mirza Huseyn Segahi, Yetim Segah, etc.). Thus, in its broad meaning, the term 'mugham' is also applied to the main sub-classes of the main frets and generally reflect them as a fret.
Melodies with free measure in modern Azerbaijan music are also called 'mugham'. Despite the fact that the traditional repertoire of mugham comprises different types, i.e. the melodies without any measure or improvised melodies ('bahrsiz hava'), melodies with tact measure ('bahrli hava') and melodies of mixed types of the measure ('garishig bahrli hava'), a singer who is asked to perform a mugham will surely understands 'bahrsiz hava'. The widespread idea is that the melodic style of mugham was derived from the traditional reading of the Koran. But according to the opinion of some scientists, it is similar to the traditions of performing the anthem of Avesta. The opinions differ, on the one hand, and overlap when it comes to the sacral character of mugham, on the other.
Mugham is the general name of the largest genre of traditional Azerbaijan music and is applied to all its forms. Nevertheless, they all carry their own names. The main forms of music representing this genre are destgah (vocal-instrumental or instrumental), mugham (vocal instrumental, solo instrumental and solo vocal) and zerbi-mugham. The most common in terms of literary idea of the various forms of mugham in Azerbaijan music is the destgah.
Vocal instrumental destgahs (the earliest variety of the destgah) were widespread in Shusha, Shamakhi, Baku, Ganja, Lenkeran and Sheki cities of Azerbaijan in the 19th century. Mir Mohsun Nevvab Garabagi gave the first scientific description of the mugham in the booklet 'Vuzuhul-erqam' (1884). Destgahs had stable principles of form until the 20th century. The same destgah might be performed differently by mugham schools of Garabag, Baku and Shamakhi.
In 1922 teaching the mugham was included in the curriculum of the first European type of musical school established in Baku. Developing the curriculum led to reforms in the structure of Azerbaijan destgahs and the relative unification of traditional district schools. According to a request by Uzeyir Hajibayov (1885-1948), a group of prominent musicians (Mirza Faraj Rzayev, Mirza Mansur Mansurov, Ahmed khan Bakikhanov, Seyid Shushunski, and Zulfi Adigozalov) worked out simplified versions of the destgahs for education. Nevertheless in the 1920s and 1930s, versions extended by the masters existed simultaneously with the versions for education. Simplified versions started to be performed later in concerts, on the radio and recorded on gramophones, thus strengthening its position. Many melodies performed in Azerbaijan destgahs in the first decade of the 20th century were already forgotten in the 1960s and 1970s.
As a musical term, 'destgah' means 'set or sum of the tons and steps'. The form is based on the set of several definite melodies, 'mughams' different in each destgah. For example, the set of the melodies in 'Rast' destgah differs from the set of the frets of 'Chahargah' destgah. The pattern of the destgah in Azerbaijan music, i.e. composition of the fret cycle, may only have the above-mentioned main melodies and their tonal variants. The main difference between the forms of destgah and that of the mugham is that the musical pattern of the destgah comprises several various mugham- fret systems, while mugham is composed of the musical composition of one mugham-fret with all the possible tonal varieties. Destgah and mugham also differ in their volumes. (Rahab mugham is an exception here, as in the process of its historical evolution it changed from destgah to mugham and in some degree preserved the principles of the fret and composition of the destgah.)
Vocal instrumental varieties of the compositions are performed by a group. The group is composed of a singer-khanende, playing on a gaval (percussion musical instrument), tar (a musical instrument) and kamancha (a musical instrument).
This group of mugham and destgah performers is called 'trio of mugham', performing in Azerbaijan since the late 19th century. There are larger groups of performers too. Performance of the destgah by one soloist-khanende (singer) has become popular in Azerbaijan music recently.
Vocal instrumental destgah is composed of a standard musical measure (Deramed, Tesnifs, Regler (colors)) and free verse improvising parts (Berdasht, Maye and Shohbet). There are some destgahs based on the simultaneous sequence of both melody types (Zerbi-Mugham). Practically, all the parts of the destgah, except Berdasht, may be performed apart from destgah in small musical forms. Each part of the destgah has its definite function and form. Deramed and Berdasht are prelude instrumental plays. The third part, Maya (translated as the base, dough leaven) is the main and the largest part of each destgah. Deramed, Berdasht and Shohbet are inseparable parts of the vocal instrumental destgah; they determine its motion and logics. The tesnifs (music type vocal instrumental melodies) and rengler (shades) (mainly in instrumental plays used for dances) divide the destgah into layers and bring beauty to it. The performer is free to choose them to suit his/her wish, taste and the literary meaning.
The rule of following the parts in destgah is: from tonic (Maya) the melody rises to the highest level of the tonic and again returns to Maya; this forms the stepping structure of the raise and then the destgah is completed. The dramaturgy of destgah is a cycle of the changing spiritual condition of a human. The sequence of these conditions is directed to the emotional peak at each destgah. The artistic conception of the destgah takes the human through emotional stages ('moments') morally freeing and purifying him, and embodies the idea of the moral way of a human's personality. This way is created through the gradual release of the human spirit from the social ties, through separation from the outer world and interference of the world of personal feelings and experiences. Sometimes the peak of this process is the ecstatic reflection of these feelings. Then freedom comes.
The art of mugham is closely related to classic poetry. Some of the melodies in the mughams carry the names of the forms of poems, such as mesnevi, saginame, semai, shehrashub, or dubeyti. This shows the relation of the melodic pattern to those forms of the poetry, or even the source of those patterns. The melodies of the vocal mugham are performed by the poems of the quantitative meter fitted to the peculiarities of the Azerbaijan language.
Gazal, a genre of classical poetry, is the main form of the poems performed in mughams. The singers of the past preferred the gazals of Azerbaijani poets, such as Nizami Ganjavi and Khagani Shirvani (12th century), Imadeddin Nasimi(14th century), Shah Ismail Khatai and Mahammad Fuzuli (16th century), Molla Panah Vagif (18th century), Khurshid banu Natavan and Seyid Ezim Shirvani (19th century). Singers of the modern period preferred the gazals of Aliaga Vahid (20th century), the latter classic poet of Azerbaijan.
Along with the gazal, it is possible to use national poems in the forms of goshma or bayati in mughams (especially in zerbi-mughams). The singer is free to choose the kind of the poem, but should take into consideration the melodic peculiarities of the mugham s/he performs. For instance, gazals chosen for a 'Rast' mugham – that have positive emotive shades – would not go with 'Humayun' mugham – which according to the description of U. Hajibeyov carries the shades of 'deep sadness' – or to 'Shushter' mugham which is mainly performed at religious or mourning ceremonies.
Until the early 20th century, Azerbaijani khanendes (singers) followed the tradition to perform the mugham with Persian poems. The tradition was broken by the prominent Azerbaijani khanende, Jabbar Garyagdioglu (1861-1944), who founded the tradition of performing mughams in the Azerbaijani language. This tradition was popular in Azerbaijan and also in the South Caucasus.
Instrumental varieties of the mugham have the same structure and the principles of extension of the form just like vocal instrumental varieties. The difference is that Deramed, Berdasht and Tesnifs are not performed in instrumental compositions.
Instrumental kinds of the mugham were widespread during the early 20th century when new, talented instrumentalists appeared in Azerbaijan and developed instrumental performances. Mirza Sadig Asad oglu played a particular role in the process to make changes on the tar (musical instrument). Once brought to Azerbaijan from Iran, the tar possessed a stronger sound which was useful for concerts. Today the destgahs can be performed on other traditional instruments, for example on kamancha, ud, canon (stringed), zourna, balaban, and ney (breathing). At the beginning of the 20th century, some European instruments (clarinet, oboe, accordion) penetrated the traditional music; performing the mugham on them is seen by audiences as being authentic.
Both the vocal instrumental and instrumental varieties of the genre can be performed in the form of melody cycle (destgah) or in a one-part melodic improvisation in one fret.
Small mughams (vocal instrumental and instrumental) – 'Rahab', 'Gatar', 'Shahnaz', 'Sarenj', 'Bayati-Kurd', 'Neva', 'Deshti', 'Hijaz – in comparison with other destgahs are free musical compositions with a smaller volume. If tesnifs may comprise five to 10-12 sub-divisions, with the exception of the tesnifs and the shades, mughams are generally composed of about three sub-divisions. The only mugham that has more than five divisions is 'Rahab'.
Vocal mugham (without instrumental accompaniment) is performed at ceremonies or in mourning, by the gazals and gasidaz written in religious or mourning character.
Zerbi-mughams (rhythmic mughams) are composed of one-part vocal instrumental composition, performed within one fret and refers to the group of small, independent forms of mugham. Eighteen samples of this mugham – used in the 19th century – are preserved in 'Garabag shikestesi', 'Shirvan shikestesi', 'Kesme shikeste', 'Zerbi-Simayi-Shems', 'Zerbi-Mensuriyye', 'Arazbari', 'Ovshari', 'Maani' and 'Heyrati'. The characteristic feature of those compositions is the coordination of the independent in measure vocal melodies (usually of high register) with rhythmic instrumental accompaniment. There are totally instrumental patterns ('Heydari') of this genre that are kept within the frames in definite measure ('bahri hava').
Culture of mugham performance
Literary and musical societies established in Azerbaijan cities beginning in the 1820s to the 1900s played a great role in expanding mugam performances and gave it a professional stature. The most famous among them were 'Mejlisi-Feramushan', 'Mejlisi-Uns', 'Society of mucisians' in Shusha, 'Beytus-safa' and the musical society of Mahmud aga in Shamakhi,'Majma-ush-suara' in Baku, 'Divani-hikmet' in Ganja, 'Anjuman-Ush-shuara' in Ordubad, 'Fovjul-fusaha' in Lenkeran. The poems, literary men, musicians, intellectuals, experts and connoisseurs of classical poetry and music gathered in those societies, carefully listened to mughams, and discussed the delicate performance of music and poetry. In the 19th century, society was one of the main forms where the mugham was performed before the auditory performance. A concert form of musical performance in the early 20th century and the democratization of Azerbaijan music led to the disappearance of those societies.
The societies formed a tasteful, understanding auditory level ('the society of the wise') that required a particular culture and careful listening of the mugam as well as its high artistic performance. At late 19th and early 20th centuries, the societies stimulated the professional perfection of Azerbaijan musicians.
The school of rovzakhanlar (performers of musical repertoire at ceremonies) under the mosques also had some educational importance. Boys with a good voice were taught here to perfect their performance of mughams and also the correct pronunciation of classical poems. Until the 1920s these schools were the only educational institutions that trained mugham performers to attain professional perfection.
Since 1920s in the Soviet Period, musical education as well as the education of mugham in Azerbaijan had three phases: secondary school ->technical school ->conservatoire. Thus the process of teaching mugham formally takes 14-15 years. According to the opinions of mugham performers, professional perfection is achieved in not less than 5-10 years of professional training. To master mugham and to become a professional, the performer needs 20-25 years. Such a high level raises mugham to the level of professional art of verbal tradition.
The art of mugham performance requires that the performer has a special musical memory and comprehension, capability to improvise, and talent to compose. Professional musicians should know all the mugham repertoires, be able to perform before the audience without repetition. Khanende should know the classical poetry and the measures of eruz, the range of his/her voice should not be less than two octaves. The instrumentalist (sazende) should be able to perform mugham in different solo and accompanied versions. A mugham performer who has all the above-mentioned skills is called a master.
The process of teaching mugham was and is realized in the form of repetitions started by the teacher and continued by the student. The teacher performs parts of the melody and the student repeats them till memorized, then the process goes on with the next fragment of the melody. In the majority of cases, students use compact disks with the melody that they learn. They also use dictaphones to write the melody which they are learning with the advice of their teachers.
The culture of mugham performance is a creative achievement of prominent musicians: the heritages of the khanendes and sazendez are famous in the Caucasus and Iran. The great khanendez of the past were Mirza Sattar, Haji Husu, Meshedi Isi, Ebulhasan khan Azer Igbal, Mirza Mukhtar Mammadzadeh, Jabbar Garyagdi oglu, Alesker Abdullayev, Abdulbagi Zulalov, Agasaid Agabalaoglu, Mirtagi Mirbabayev, Majid Behbudov, Kechesi oglu Mahammad, Islam Abdullayev, Meshedi Mammad Farzaliyev, Huseyngulu Sarabski, Seyid and Khan Shushinskis, Bulbul and Zulfu Adigozalov, the prominent sazendez (instrumentalists) of past tar players Mirza Sadig Asad oglu, Mirza Faraj Rzayev, Meshedi Jamil Amirov, Shirin Akhundov, Meshedi Zeynal Hagverdiyev, Mirza Mansur Mansurov, Gurban Pirimov, brothers Bakikhanovs, Pasha Aliyev and Firuz Alizadeh, kamancha players Ismail Talishinsli, Gilman Salahov, the prominent clarinet players Abutalib Yusifov, Kamranbeyim, Ehed Aliyev, Kerbalayi Letif, Teyyub Demirov and the zourna player Ali Kerimov.
In the Soviet period, the art of mugham was preserved by the khanendes Abulfat Aliyev, Gulu Asgarov, Nariman Aliyev, Hagigat Rzayeva, Yaver Kelenterli,Zehra Rahimova, Jahan Talishinskaya, Fatma Mehraliyeva, Rubaba Muradova, Shovket Alekberova, Tohfa Aliyeva, Hajibaba Huseynov and Yagub Mammadov, the tar players Ahsan Dadashov, Bahram Mansurov, Baba Salahov, Kamil Ahmadov, Haji Mammadov, Habib Bayramov, Mammadaga Muradov, Amirulla Mammadbeyli, Khosrov Malikov, Geray Melikov, Adil Geray and Anver Mansurov, the kaman players Gilman Salahov, Talat Bakhikhanov, Elman Badalov and Adalet Vezirov, the clarinet players Latif Alitev, Abutalib Yusifov, Ahad Farzali Oglu, Meshedi Ali and Teyyub Demirov and the national music performers Nadir Akhundov, Agasef Seyidof and Firuza Zeynalova.
Performers and pedagogues like the khanendes Islam Rzayev, Arif Babayev, Alibaba Mammadov, Janali Akberov, Agakhan Abdullayev, Alim Gasimov, Mansum Ibrahimov, Sakina Ismayilova, Gandab Guliyeva, Melekhanum Eyyubova, Zabit Nabizadeh, Zahid Guliyev, the tar players Agaselim Abdullayev, Vamig Mammadaliyev, Mohlet Muslumov, Firuz Aliyev, Server Ibrahimov and kaman players Habil Aliyev, Mirnazim Asadullayev, Shafiga Eyvazova and Fakhraddin Dadashov also made great contributions to the Azerbaijan culture of mugham performance.
Azerbaijani musicians were the first in the Moslem East to start touring in Europe. They recorded albums and attracted the auditory which was non-traditional to mugham. For the first time in 1906, an English Joint-Stock Company 'Gramophone' recorded Azerbaijani music of the performance of the famous khanende Jabbar Gryagdi and other musicians of Azerbaijan. In the period 1906-1914, some album recording studios, as well as the French company 'Brothers Pate', Germanic Joint-Stock Company 'Sport Record', Russian companies 'Extraphone', 'Concert-Record', 'Monarc Record', 'Gramophone Record' and 'Premier Record' issued tens of records with Azerbaijani mughams, tesnifs and colours (shades).
After the establishment of the Soviet regime in Azerbaijan, particularly at the beginning of the 1930s, the culture of music had completely been taken under state control. The policy of 'Iron barrier' applied by the Soviet state, created an obstacle for Azerbaijani music and Azerbaijani musicians to the international music market for a long time. During the first decade of the 20th century, in the period when Western audiences who were interested in the culture of the East, traditional musicians of the Soviet East faced obstacles due to the political situation. The large gap in the artistic market of the West, among all the music cultures of the Moslem Middle East occupied traditional Arabic, Iran and Turkish music. Azerbaijan mugham lost its position in the foreign cultural environment and nihilist tendency expressed in evident slogans ('down with tar!', 'down with mugham') of the 1920-30s gradually weakened the social status of mugham.
At the beginning of the 1930s to the 1970s, the primitive attitude to mugham gradually strengthened its position in Azerbaijan society, but it still remained popular in parts of this society. The attitude toward the art of mugham started to changed only in the 1970s, with the first international symposiums and festivals of traditional music held with UNESCO's support (Moscow 1971, Alma-Ata 1973, Samergend 1978, 1983) and when those processes caused a reaction in Soviet society. Thus, those measures sparked interest in the art of mugham and the negative attitude towards mugham changed.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the Azerbaijan mugam attracted the attentions of audiences, specialists and managers in the world. Traditional musicians of Azerbaijan participated in international festivals, toured the world, and had their disks produced in the largest record studios of the West.
The art of mugham stimulated the creation of 20th century Azerbaijan composers. Beginning in 1908, when the Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov staged his first opera in Baku and started professional musical theatre in Azerbaijan, many new musical works were created on the basis of mugham. Those were mugham opera (brothers Uzeyir and Jeyhun Hajibeyovs and others), symphonic and chorus mughams (Fikret Emirov, Niyazi, Suleyman Alesgerov, Nzim Aliverdibeyov), sonta-mugham (Agshin Alizadeh, Nariman Mammadov), jazz-mugham (Vagif Mustafazadeh, Rafig Babayev, Azize Mustafazadeh). A growing list of works by Azerbaijani composers is based on the principles of mugham.