Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: “What If the Cello had Originated in Azerbaijan?”

Chaganeh player in Azerbaijan
Chaganeh player in Azerbaijan

For the Silk Road Ensemble musicians, hearing the ethereal voice of Azerbaijani mugham singer Alim Qasimov put their years of conservatory training into serious question.  As they delved into the mugham, they each wondered, “If this is how music should be played what have I been doing all these years?”

The quote above is from the liner notes to Kor Arab (otherwise known as Kor Ərəbin Mahnısı) which is track ten on the Silk Road Project CD, Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon.  The music was written by Fikret Amirov and the lyrics by Hüsayn Cavid.

Since I spent some time thinking about the origins of bowed string playing a couple of days ago I knew that I really wanted to say something about this instrument which I had just discovered while writing the post about origins.

The chaganeh is one of the few examples of world bowed strings that really closely matches the physical set-up of a cello and I was just thrilled to see a picture of it at the Wikipedia entry for kamancheh as I was writing the post mentioned above.  The kamancheh itself is an upright bowed spike fiddle as is the chaganeh, but as you can see from the photo above, the spike of the chaganeh is long enough, and the body of the instrument is big enough, that a musician can sit in a chair and play it upright and held between the legs.

As noted in the Wikipedia entry, the instrument is said to come from Azerbaijan, but with the little time I’ve had to look it up, I have come across other references stating the chaganeh originated in Iran.  Until I know more about the instrument I’ll simply say it’s of Central Asian origins.

The only video clip I’ve been able to find is this:

As you can hear, the range and timbre are very similar to that of the kamancheh and other spike fiddles of Central Asia and as you can see in the photo from which the above photo was extracted, it seems to be used as part of the standard art ensemble (Mugham) of Azerbaijan.  Continue reading “Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: “What If the Cello had Originated in Azerbaijan?””