Vol. 5, No. 19 (October 1, 2012)

The rebirth of the chang

Alla Bayramova
Azerbaijan State Museum of Musical Culture

This year, at the direction of President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijanis will continue to mark the 870th anniversary of the great Azerbaijani poet, Nizami Ganjavi, whose works—masterpieces of world literature—are increasingly attracting the attention of musicologists, because the poetry of Nizami refers so often to the musical instruments of his time—most particularly, the chang—and because his references so often have led artists to illustrate his manuscripts with precise pictures of those instruments. 

By the nineteenth century, the chang had ceased to be used and was almost completely forgotten.  Its second life began during the last quarter of the 20th century when in 1975 Majnun Karimov, then a music school teacher in tar, became interested in medieval instruments and their restoration.  His first instrument, which appeared in 1978, was the chang.  Other instruments followed.  And at the present time, Karimov and the scholars at the Baku Musical Academy have so far restored 10 instruments, the last of which appeared in 2010.

The State Museum of Musical Culture of Azerbaijan has been very interested in the preservation and use of the chang and thus purchased, in 1989, the replica of this instrument made by Karimov.  (Subsequently, the museum has purchased several other restored instruments.)  In 1996, then-President Heydar Aliyev, having heard the ensemble playing the chang and other revived instruments at the jubilee of outstanding scientist Yusif Mammadaliyev, issued a directive providing state support for the ensemble and its work.  Since that time, the ensemble, as part of the museum, including the chang, works with government support.  One of its outstanding achievements was the inclusion of its playing on the UNESCO disk “Forgotten Voices of the Past” in 2002.

Public knowledge about the chang has been promoted by the works of Majnun Karim and the author of this note.  Musicians from Turkey followed suit, including Feridun Ozgoren, Fikret Karakaya (whose chang was created in 1995) and later Mehmet Soylemez (who created the chang for leading Turkish harpist Shirin Pancharoglu).  In 2012, Azerbaijani engineer Mammadali Mammadov, who works in the Azerbaijani National Conservatory, created his own acoustically improved version of the chang with 44 strings.  At the present time, Fazila Rahimova in Azerbaijan, Fikret Karakaya and Sekhvar Besiroglu in Turkey, and Prof. Robert Labaree in the United States are among the leading players of the chang.

Despite what has been achieved, research on the chang continues.  New questions are appearing and arguments about its authenticity are common.  The existence of various forms of this instrument suggests that its creators were involved in a search.  Studying the iconography of the chang in the art of miniatures, it is clear that the chang was a most specific instrument.  But that only adds to the questions worthy of research: Why in the majority of miniatures is the chang shown with a long support-like leg as it is, while none of its modern replicas features the same?  Moreover, the technique used to play the chang today, including the specific way of holding it, is not always correspondent with that used in earlier centuries as shown in the miniatures.  

The overwhelming majority of miniatures suggest there were two main ways of playing the chang.  However, not one of our contemporary players holds the chang as did its original users.  Why has there been this change?  What were the varieties of playing in the past?  All these questions require more research.  However, even the existence of such questions, disagreements and arguments only confirm that the chang is once again in a focus of the musical tradition of Azerbaijan and that the Azerbaijani State Museum of Musical Culture is playing a small role in promoting that development.