20 February 2019

Wednesday, 06:10



The Novruz holiday week in Baku was accompanied by the World of Mugham international festival



One of the most remarkable events timed to coincide with Baku's year as the capital of Islamic culture was the World of Mugham international festival held from 20-25 March. Remarkable because mugham, as one of the highest forms of music, is a wonder, not just of Azerbaijani, but of all oriental music. This is underlined by the fact that Azerbaijani mugham has been included on UNESCO's list of masterpieces of verbal and non-material human heritage. But there are musicians who do not regard mugham as belonging only to the orient, and believe that it can be combined with Western culture. For example, the well-known Azerbaijani organist, Arif Mirzayev, who lives in Germany, has described mugham as the improvised music of an Oriental Rebirth, saying that it has a hidden polyphony. It is no accident that we mention Arif Mirzayev. The point being that he is known worldwide as a Muslim composer who writes Protestant music, and in his "Organ Symphony in Memory of Bach" and "January Passions" (Islamic mourning mass), the composer combines the spiritual music of Islam and spiritual Protestant-Catholic music. Moreover, Mirzayev thinks that "mugham intonations" can also be found in the works of the great Bach.

In an interview with the Russian media, Mirzayev affirmed that he had been researching this issue for quite some time. "When I was young, I was told: 'You are Azerbaijani and you have to write Azerbaijani music'. Our founder Uzeyir Hacibayov said the same: if you do not write your own country's music, you will not be able to make discoveries. I listened to his words - this is an issue of aesthetics, not one of nationalism. He himself always composed polyphonic works, although polyphony is not typical of Azerbaijani music: our mughams are multilayered. Then my teacher Qara Qarayev persuaded me that the national aspect in music should be viewed in-depth. And I started digging into the Islamic spiritual music played during funeral wakes. After that, prayers from the Koran were recited in the main modes - seven mughams, and each of them has its own sound. On the other hand, I am sure that the theme of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is oriental: it has many intonations untypical of Europe. In Germany, I discussed this with Udo Zimmermann, a composer, the principal conductor of the Leipzig Opera House and director of the modern music laboratory. I proved to him that this music by Bach is really an oriental improvisation. Bach had never been to the East, nor had he been to Italy or France - he simply possessed this information. Zimmermann said that I had different polystylistics, different from Schnittke and which combine incredible forms at three levels. The first level is oriental and western music. Contrary to Kipling, who said that West and East would never meet, I am trying to prove that they can. The second level is music of the oriental and European renaissances: baroque, ancient dances like the passacaglia, jig, gavotte, saraband and minuet. The third level is the spiritual music of Islam and spiritual Protestant and Catholic music. The history of world music has never seen anything like it."

Germany has allowed that Arif Mirzayev is the first composer to engage in such syntheses, which is why he was hailed the "Bach of the East" and awarded the Johann Sebastian Bach Silver Memorial Medal of the Bachhaus in Eisenach, in 1994, for his contribution to world "bachiana". Mirzayev has also managed to secure equal recognition and success for mugham.


A world enveloped in mugham

The official opening of the World of Mugham international festival was held in the recently-built International Mugham Centre on the Baku Boulevard. The ceremony was attended by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, his spouse, Mehriban Aliyeva, UNESCO Secretary-General Koichiro Matsuura and numerous guests from 17 different countries. It must be noted that a great deal of work has been done over the last few years to maintain, develop and promote mugham under the direct patronage of the president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Mehriban Aliyeva. The international mugham festival, held on the initiative of UNESCO and ICESCO good will ambassador, Mehriban Aliyeva, is one of the most important events to popularize and promote Azerbaijani culture and music. The festival organizers - the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Union of Composers of Azerbaijan, with sponsorship by the Foundation of Friends of Azerbaijani Culture and the Ministry of Education - invited more than 100 guests from the CIS and other countries to our capital. Among the guests were the ensembles Maraghi (Italy), Huseyn al-Adhami (Iraq), Vasumathi Badrinathan (India), Aisha Redwan (Egypt), Anqam al-Rafidain (Iraq), Mozaffar Shafe'i (Iran), Nodira Pirmatova (Uzbekistan) and others. Azerbaijan was represented at this festival of music by all types of folklore: folk songs and dances, mugham, jazz mugham and classical compositions. Well-known singers such as People's Artists of Azerbaijan, Agaxan Abdullayev, Malakxanim Ayyubova, Mohlat Muslimov, Sakina Ismayilova, Alim Qasimov and Zabita Nabiyeva, displayed their skills to lovers of mugham. The festival was also attended by the Qara Qarayev State Chamber Orchestra, a choir, a dance ensemble and the State Ensemble of Ancient Musical Instruments. The extremely lively and packed schedule of the festival was preceded on 18 March by Uzeyir Hacibayov's opera "Koroglu" at the Azerbaijani State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre with soloists Samir Cafarov and Ilaha Afandiyeva. On the following day, 19 March, the Azerbaijani State Philharmonia hosted a concert by the State Symphony Orchestra which performed Fikrat Amirov's symphonic mughams "Sur", "Kurd Ovsari" and "Gulustan Bayati Siraz". On 21 March, the International Mugham Centre was the venue for a festival and concert - Mansur Ibrahimov brilliantly performed "Rast" and Malakxanim Ayyubova - "Bayati Siraz". Foreign guests also sang - the Maraghi ensemble (Italian soloist Sepideh Raissadat) and Al-Kindi (Syrian soloist Umar Sarmini). At the same time, an ethnic-jazz music audience witnessed an unforgettable performance by Azerbaijani jazzmen at the Jazz Centre.

23 March was the busiest day of the festival. Sakina Ismayilova and Nuriya Huseynova, as well as the Nahda ensemble (Morocco) and Chargoh (Uzbekistan) performed before another mugham audience. Niyazi's symphonic mugham "Rast", the "Mughamvari" symphony, the "Bayati Siraz" choral mugham and the "Fuzuli" cantata were also performed at the Philharmonia. The remaining two days of the festival were marked by Zulfuqar Hacibayov's "Asuq Qarib" opera, performed by Gulyaz Mammadova and Sabuhi Ibayev at the Opera and Ballet Theatre and by "Cahargah" sung by Alim Qasimov at the Mugham Centre. On the final day of the festival, the audience was treated to "Sur" performed by Zabit Nabizada, the Indian singer Vasumathi Badrinathan and the Egyptian ensemble Al-Adwar, with soloist Aisha Redwan. The official closing of the festival was held with the participation of the State Symphony Orchestra, the Ensemble of Ancient Musical Instruments, masters of mugham and winners of the International Mugham Competition at the Heydar Aliyev Palace. Incidentally, the mugham competition which was held as part of the festival was for vocalists under the age of 35. The main prize - the Grand Prix of the Jury - was awarded unanimously to Azerbai-jani singer Tayyar Bayramov. He was presented with an honorary certificate and prize money of 20,000 euros. Yulduz Turdyyeva, from Uzbekistan, took first place and a prize of 15,000 euros. The Iranian musician Mohammad Motamedi was in second place and Egypt's Mustafa Sa'id took third place. They received prizes of 10,000 and 5,000 euros respectively. The jury was comprised of People's Artists of Azerbaijan, Arif Babayev and Ramiz Sohrabov, UNESCO representative and professor of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, Jean During, Vice-President of the International Council for Traditional Music, Wim van Zanten, Turkish music expert Fikret Karakaya and the International Peace Music Award winner Michael Dreyer, from Germany.

Commenting to local media on the organization of one of the most important events in the capital's cultural life, representative of the Azerbaijani Union of Composers and artistic director of the World of Mugham international festival, Firangiz Alizada, observed that "the programme was completely fulfilled. We achieved what we had planned. The first goal that we set - the popularization of mugham - has already been surpassed, because mugham is popular enough now. This is not the mugham of 1999 or 2000. Today mugham is known in every country, and not only by people well-versed in music and particularly in traditional music. It has reached the point that Washington does not hold festivals without mugham. Moreover, festivals are held in Europe and Asia, from Taiwan to Canada. Mugham is played at all these festivals. We aimed to show that in its best form - dastgah, in its classical form combined with tasnifs and folk songs in the modes we selected, mugham is a living component of present-day Azerbaijani music."

Winner of the International Peace Music Award, and also director of a German music festival, Michael Dreyer thinks it necessary to hold more presentations of mugham around the world. "It is necessary to create more syntheses like the synthesis of mugham and jazz. I personally would like to hold joint concerts of musicians from Iran, Azerbaijan and Syria. Now in the 21st century, it is necessary to unite cultures and carry out cultural exchanges in order to show the Western listener who thinks that his culture is the best and most advanced, what oriental culture is," said the German expert.


Mugham as a symbol of infinity

So, what is mugham? What do researchers say about its origins? Most scientists tend to believe that the word mugham has two different, but related meanings. On the one hand, it is used to signify a mode in Azerbaijani folk music. There are seven main modes: Rast, Sur, Segah, Sustar, Cargah, Bayati Siraz, Humayun and several lateral modes. On the other hand, this term signifies a special form of music related to the Arab maqam, Uzbek maqom and Indian raga, which also have their own structural rules. For this reason, many scientists believe that mugham has an Arab-Iranian origin. Thus, for example, encyclopaedias write about this concept, saying that the word mugham originates from the Arabic word maqam - location or position, specifically, the position of the finger on the fingerboard of an instrument, or maqam (Arabic) - a model complex of tunes in a certain mode in Arabic, Iranian and Turkish music (maqom, maqam and raga are kindred forms). This was the opinion of the great Uzeyir Hacibayov. Further, there is a view that, as a form of Azerbaijani folk music, mugham comes from the spiritual culture of the East where it originated with the religious tunes of Koran reciters and music performed at the Persian court, while the technique of performance is traditional among asuq singers in Azerbaijan - who use their voice as a full music instrument. Every mugham composition consists of several parts united by a common creative idea and is named according to the mugham mode in which it is performed. Moving from one part of the mugham to another, the singer expands the sound range, rising from a low register to a higher one: from lyrical recitative he moves to emotional singing. Tasnifs are sung between the chapters of a mugham - vocal compositions, or rangs or dirings, instrumental interludes which usually have the character of a dance.

Some researchers, however, take a different view. Specifically, Alakbar Alakbarov, a specialist in Turkic philology and doctor of science, points out that since the word "mugham/maqam" has a Semitic origin - Arabic "maqam" and Jewish "maqom/location", we should remember that in the Middle Ages, the idea of maqams/locations as special mystical states was in common use, especially by Sufis during meditation, and mughams/maqoms, according to Sufism, are steps (locations) on the path towards the recognition of truth and merging with God. But since all researchers are uncertain about the age of mugham, there is room for great doubt about the identification of the word "mugham" with the Semitic word "maqam/maqom" - location. The very idea that mugham is related to the Sufi teaching of "tariqat" is interesting, but it is unlikely to be possible to link every mugham to one "location". First and most important, there is no written evidence, and second, mugham itself defies such definition because, as a genre, mugham took shape between the 10th and12th centuries, according to the researcher.

In his opinion, for 1,400 years, Islam and its philosophy have had a naturally dominant influence upon everyone who regards himself as Muslim, particularly Azerbaijanis. "According to the material available to us, mugham and Azerbaijan are ideas that supplement each other and cannot be separated. The fact that Azerbaijani music experts mention Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle, as well as the correlation between the ideas of "music/musiqa-mugham", allows us to believe that the term mugham has a pre-Arabic origin. It should certainly be noted that throughout the existence of the caliphate, Muslims persecuted representatives of dualistic trends such as Zoroastrians and Manicheans.

The pre-Arabic and pre-Muslim origin of mugham is supported by the existence of parts named Novruz, Mani, Khurram and Kabri (gebr - Zoroastrian). According to some reports, there was a song called Mazdakani. Nizam al-Mulk reported that Mazdak claimed to be a prophet and wanted to put the world on the wrong track. Mowlan al-Nadwi wrote about Mazdak, saying that in his time, the whole of Iran plunged into sexual anarchy and an erotic crisis. Since we believe that as a mode, mugham has a pre-Arabic and pre-Muslim origin, it is wrong to link the idea of mugham to the Semitic word "maqam/location". It is also wrong to believe that under the rule of the Zoroastrian faith, Semitic terminology would have had such a strong influence on the outlook of the local population," the expert writes.

R. Imrani has carried out interesting research in this area. He links mugham to the Median-Zoroastrian tradition, as can be seen in the titles of mughams and their parts. This is an interesting idea and requires further elaboration, thinks Alakbarov. It is quite possible that mugham appeared in the pre-Zoroastrian period, which some researchers have conveniently labelled Tengrianism (relationship between man and the environment and natural idolatry) - the period of Yalli. Of course, the word Yalli derives from the Turkic word "Alov/Yalov". Indications of this dance can be found in mesolithic cave paintings in Azerbaijan - Qobustan (12th century BC).

The Yalli dance is based on the Cargah mode, about which M. Navvab wrote: "Cargah was taken from the heavenly rumble and, besides, it has attained perfection with four songs and corners. It is initially called Cargah". As can be seen from this example, the four main elements (earth, air, fire and water) are related to the Thunderer whom the Turks call Qan Tanri. Quar, i.e. Yalli (Cargah) is also linked to the cult of God (Light).

The characteristic feature of mugham performance (including Indian raga) as well as Yalli, regardless of the number of performers, is unison, which also supports the unity of God. But mugham unison has its own specific feature, namely that mugham cannot be performed by a choir, because everyone has their own inner world and their own form of God-Man contact. Apparently, this is why the musical notation of mugham is insensitive. Thus, expert in Turkic philology Alakbar Alakbarov believes that mugham is a purely Azerbaijani phenomenon.