The Kamancha of Azerbaijan
 
 
 
 
The History of Kamancha
Kamancha is an ancient stringed musical instrument of Azerbaijan played with a bow. Various kinds of kamancha are famous among the peoples of the Eastern and Middle Asia. This instrument, characterized with a charming, tender and melodic sounding, has been improved throughout centuries and survived till our times.

The one and two stringed kamancha is supposed to originate from the spring Gopuz (also Azerbaijani musical instrument). The description of kamancha is widely spread in the works of Medieval classics. The painting “The musical assembly” of Mir Sayid Ali, a representative of the painting school of Tebriz of the 16th century, reflected berbet, daf and kamancha. Abdulgadir Maragai in his works cited kamancha along with other musical instruments and gave broad information about it. The German traveler E.Kempfer, who visited Azerbaijan in the 17th century, noted that kamancha is a three or four stringed instrument with a wonderful sound timber. The genius Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi gives the following description to kamancha in his poem “Khosrov and Shirin”


It is known that the three, four and even five stringed kamanchas existed already in the last century. A five stringed kamancha of the 19th century, preserved in the Ethnography Foundation of the Museum of History of Azerbaijan is interesting in this sense. The said museum has a kamancha, belonging to the prominent composer of Azerbaijan Zulfugar Hajibeyov. The body and the neck of this three stringed kamancha are skillfully encrusted with natural pearl. The peculiarity of this 19th century instrument is that a part of its body is made of a vertical section of wood, which covered with leather clothing.


The kamancha, played with a bow is made of mulberry tree or walnut-tree, while the bow is made of a horse hair. Kamancha consists of a body, a neck and a spike, which enters the inner part of the body and goes out and communicates both parts of the body. The body, the neck and the tuning peg are produced by special machine tools by way of cutting. The total length is 700 mm, the height of the body is 175 mm and the width is 195 mm. Its diapason ranges from the small octave A to the third octave A. The notes for kamancha are written in the G clef and sound one tone higher than written. It is tuned in fourths or fifths.


The great composer of Azerbaijan Uzeyir Hajibeyov highly evaluated the sound timbre of kamancha. “…Music played on kamancha is perfect as for the sounding and is closer to a human voice. Kamancha is the best of all melodic instruments.” The legends of the Middle Asia state that the stringed gopuz was created by Dede Gorgud. A number of scientists, especially doctor Verner Bahman, state according to the treatise of Al Farabi, that the Middle Asia is considered the home of the stringed instruments.


Kamancha on the left is called "Kamancha Tarhu" made by "Peter Biffin",who is one of Australia's leading instrument makers, maintaining an international presence at the highest level for the last thirty years. One main characteristic of this instrument, besides many other constructive details, is the elimination of animal skin. Kamancha Tarhu was first played and used by the legendary musician "Habil Aliyev".

Peter Biffin:
Habil has a depth and range in his use of tone color. I heard a recording of him in 1995 just when the tarhu was coming into existence. Habil's playing helped me to form an image of what bowed sound could be, and this has guided the development of the small tarhus ever since (kamancha tarhu and tarhui).
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