Azerbaijani Modal System and Azeri Mugham Music

We Love Azeri Music

Azerbaijani Music
Mugam System

By Dr. Peyman Nasehpour


 Mugham (also known as mugam) is the Azerbaijani modal system. Though it is clear that the word mugham is derived from the Arabic word magham, but the melodic, rhythmic, literal and structural comparision of Azerbaijani mugham music with Persian (Iranian) dastgah music shows that Azerbaijani mugham music has more common roots with Persian dastgah music than most probably with the Magham system in Arabic music and similarly the Makam system in Turkish music.

Mohammad Reza Darvishi, researcher of Persian regional music, in his famous book, Encyclopedia of the Musical Instruments of Iran, p. 267 writes: "Mugham system in the music of Azerbaijan, is very similar to the Persian dastgah system and both systems have the same root. More precisely Azerbaijani mugham music is the Azerbaijani version of Persian dastgah music."

 In fact the Arabic magham system and the Turkish Makam system are more related to the old modal system with the name magham discussed in ancient manuscripts, written by Al-Kindi (Iraqi Arab), Farabi (Persian, though some believe more research on his nationality and origin needs to be done) and many Persian scholars such as Abu Ali Sina, Safi-al-Din Urmawi, Qotb-al-Din Shirazi, Abdul-Qadir Maragheh'i and Mohammad Bana'i.

 While the main theme of this article is to investigate the Azerbaijani mugham music by taking Persian dastgah music into consideration, definitely the academic researchers who are interested in having a better understanding of modal system of North Africa, Middle East and Central Asia should consider to investigate on the other modal systems such as Uyghur 12 Muqam System, Tajik-Uzbek Shashmaqam (Shash is a Persian word and its meaning is the number six) and - to my knowledge -Indian Raga.

Azerbaijani music concert

Ostad Elchin Nagiyev on Azeri Tar, Dr. Peyman Nasehpour on Persian Tonbak, and Ostad Elshan Mansurov on Azerbaijani Kamancha

Ostad Elchin Nagiyev on Azeri Tar, Dr. Peyman Nasehpour on Persian Tonbak, and Ostad Elshan Mansurov on Azerbaijani Kamancha

Azerbaijani Mugham Music

 Azerbaijani mugham music is the main form of art music based on mugham modal system. The mugham modes are associated not only with scales but with an orally transmitted collection of melodies and melodic fragments that performers use in the course of improvisation exactly similar to what can be seen in Persian dastgah music.

 There are seven main (or chief) modes and three auxiliary modes in Azerbaijani mugham modal system plus a couple of some smaller mughams. One can compare them with seven main modes in Persian dastgah music with five or six "avaz"-es (quasi-dastgahs) [1].

 The Seven Main Modes in Azerbaijani Mugham Music

 In Azerbaijani mugham music, every mugham is formed by combination of various pieces of music with special names in special orders. Most mughams are introduced by a special piece of music called "Bardasht" and end with a special pieces of music called "Ayaq". Similarly in Persian (Iranian) dastgah music, every dastgah is formed by combination of various pieces of music (called gusheh) with special names in special orders. All dastgahs are introduced by a special piece of music called "Daramad" that is the first gusheh of any Dastgah and contains the first tetrachord of the Dastgah to witch the musical composition must return. This return to the first tetrachord of the Dastgah is called "forud" that literally means landing.

 In Persian language, "daramad" - that comes from the verb "dar Amadan" - means "to enter". Daramad is the first gusheh in every dastgah and the musician (or the ensemble) "enters" to the chosen dastgah by performing the daramad of every dastgah. This discussion becomes more interesting if one notices that the word "bardasht" comes from the Persian verb "bardasht kardan" and this literally means "to start" in Persian language. Therefore the meaning of the word shows that the main aim of playing "bardasht" in every Azerbaijani mugham is to start playing the chosen mugham. By this discussion, it is therefore reasonable to compare the music piece "daramad" in Persian dantgah music with the music piece "bardasht" in Azerbaijani mugham music. Finally the main role of "Ayaq" in every mugham is similar to the concept of "forud" in Persian dastgah music. Note that "ayaq" is an Azerbaijani word and it means foot, leg, stem and end. 

Now we introduce the seven main modes in Azerbaijani mugham music. 

 1) Rast (a Persian word that means straight, right and true).

 The mugham "Rast" that is considered as the most important mugham in Azerbaijani mugham music is formed of the following pieces of music:

 Bardasht (with Novruzu-Ravanda), Maye, Ushshag, Huseyni, Vilayati, Dilkesh, Kurdu, Shikasteyi-Fars (Khojasta), Erag, Penjgah, Rak-Khorasani, Gerai and Ayaq.

 Related mughams to Rast are: Mahur, Mahur-Hindi, Orta Mahur, Bayati-Qajar, Gatar.

 Etymological discussion.

 As mentioned above, Rast and Bardasht are both Persian names. It is really interesting that the Bardasht of Rast is performed with a special piece of music called Novruzu-Ravanda. Novruz is the Upper (North) Azeri dialect of the Persian the word Nowruz, the traditional ancient Iranian festival which celebrates the start of the Iranian New Year and literally means "new day" in Persian language. There are several pieces of music in Persian dastgah music with the name Nowruz such as Nowruz-e-Saba, Nowruz-e-Khara and Nowruz-e-Arab in Dastgah-e-Homayun. 

There is also a piece of music called Ravandi in Dastgah-e-Homayun. Ravand is the name of some places in Iran and Iraq and also it literally means a special kind of string or rope that bunch of grapes are hung.

 Maye is a Persian word and literally means ferment, leaven, yeast, capital, fund, source, cause, grounding and background. There exists a magham in old Persian magham music with the name Maye.

 Ushshag is an Arabic word, plural of Ashegh that literally means lover. In the past Ushghagh was one of the 12 maghams in ancient Persian music [2].

 Huseyni is also an Arabic word attributed to the Arabic name Huseyn. Huseyni was one of the 12 maghams in ancient Persian music.

 Vilayati is an Arabic word coming from the word Vilayat and in Persian language it literally means province and also guardianship.

 Dilkesh is a Persian word, literally means fascinating and attractive. There is a piece of music called Delkesh in Dastgah-e-Mahur.

 Kurdu related to Kurd. Kurds are an Ethnic-Iranian Ethnolinguistic group mostly inhabitating in a region called Kurdistan which includes adjacent parts of today Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

 Shikesteyi-Fars. Shekasteh in Persian language means broken, broken down, sad and doleful. Fars is the arabicized of the word Pars.

Khojasta is the Persian word Khojasteh that means happy and auspicious.

 Erag is also a piece music in Persian dastgah music and mentions to Iraq.

 Penjgah. Panj means five in Persian language and "gah" literally means time and also place. In Persian dastgah system, as we mentioned above, there are seven main modes and three of them are called Segah, Chahargah and Rastpanjgah. There is also a piece of music called Dogah that exists in Bayat-e-Tork. Note that Do, Se and Chahar are the Persian names for the numbers two, three and four respectively.

 Rak-Khorasani. Rak is actually the arabicized of the word Rag (also spelled as Raga that the modal system in Indian classical music). There are music pieces Rak-e-Abdollah, Rak-e-Hendi and Rak-e-Kashmir that they appear in Dastgah-e-Mahur for example.

 2) Shur (a Persian word literally means sensation, emotion, passion; fervour, enthusiasmanxiety) Shur in Persian dastgah is considered as the mother of all dastgahs.

 Shur that is the most important mode in Ashig art music of Azerbaijan is formed of the following pieces of music:

Bardasht, Maye, Salmak, Shur-Shahnaz, Busalik, Bayaty-Turk, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, Ashiran, Semai-Shams, Hijaz, Shakh Khatai, Sarenj, Gemengiz, Nishibi-Feraz and Ayaq.

Mugams relating to the Shur are: Shahnaz, Sarenj, Arazbari, Osmani, Rahab, Neva.

3) Segah (Se in Persian language means three and gah means place, and time)

 Segah is one of the most developed mughams in Azerbaijani mugham music that is formed of the following pieces of music:

 Zabul-Segah-Bardasht, Maye, Muya, Manandi-Mukhalif, Segah, high-pitched tone Zabul, Manandi-Hisar (in high-pitched tone), Manandi-Mukhalif (in high-pitched tone), Ashig-Kush, Mubarriga, Zabul and Ayaq.

 Kharij Segah-Bardasht, Maye, Takhtigah, Mubarriga, Manandi-Hisar, Manandi-Mukhalif, high-pitched tone Segah and Ayaq.

 Mugams relating to Segah are: Hashym Segah-sol Kharij Segah-si Mirza-Huseyn-lya Orta Segah-mi Zabul Segah

 4) Chahargah (Chahar in Persian language means the number four)

 Chahargah is formed of the following pieces of music:

 Bardasht, Maye, Bali-Kabutar, Djovhari, Basta-Nigar, Hisar, Mualif, Garra, Mukhalif, Ouj Mukhalif, Maghlub, Mansuriyya, Uzzal and Ayaq. 

5) Shushtar (Shushtar is an ancient fortress city in the Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran)

 Shushtar is also one of the main mughams of Azerbaijani mugham music and is formed of the following pieces of music:

 Amiri, Shushtar, Masnavi, Movlavi, Tarkib and Ayaq.

 Relating mugams to the Shushtar are: Ovshary (related to Afshari the name of the Avaze-e-Afshari in Persian dastgah music) and Heydari.

 6) Bayaty-Shiraz (Shiraz is the sixth most populous city in Iran and is the capital of Fars Province. Shiraz is located in the southwest of Iran on the Rudkhaneye Khoshk seasonal river. Shiraz has a moderate climate and has been a regional trade center for more than one thousand years).

 Bayaty-Shiraz is formed of the following pieces of music:

 Bardasht, Isfahanak, Maye, Gardaniyye, Nishibi-Faraz, Bayaty-Isfahan, Khums-Ravan, high-pitched tone Bayaty-Shiraz, Abulchap, Khaveran, Uzzal, Shikasteyi-Fars, Dilruba and Ayaq.

 7) Humayun 

Humayun (related to the Dastgah-e-Homayun) is formed of the following pieces of the music:

 Bardasht, Humayun, Bakhtiyari, Feili, Boyuk Masnavi, Movlavi, Shushtar, Tarkib, Uzzal or Bidad, Kichik Masnavi and Ayaq.

 There are three auxiliary modes and their names are: 1) Shahnaz, 2) Sarenj and 3) Another form for Chahargah. 


1) Bayaty-Kurd, formed of the following pieces of music:

Bayaty-Kurd, Kerkuki, Bayaty-Ajem, Ayag.

2) Mahur-Hindi, formed of the following pieces of music: 

Bardasht (with Novruzu-Ajem), Maye, Buzurk, ayag for Ushshag, Huseyni, Vilayeti, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, Erag, Gerai or Rak-Abdulla, Ayag.

3) Bayaty-Gajar, formed of the following pieces of music: 

Bardasht, Maye, Huseyni, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, high-pitched tone Bayaty-Gajar, Dugah, Ruhul-Ervah, Zaminkhara, Maverennahr, Shah-Khatai, Ayag.

4) Shahnaz, formed of the following pieces of music: 

Shahnaz, Dilkesh (Shahnaz-Khara), Kurdu, high-pitched tone Shahnaz, Azerbaijan.

5) Rahab, formed of the following pieces of music: 

Bardasht, Amiri, Rahab, Boyuk Masihi, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, Erag, Gerai, Kichik Masihi, Ayag.

6) Gatar, formed of the following pieces of music: 

Gatar, low-pitched tone Gatar, high-pitched tone Gatar, Ayag.

7) Orta Mahur, formed of the following pieces of music 

Bardasht (Rizan), Huseyni, low-pitched tone Maye, Mahur, Ayag for Ushshag, high-pitched tone Huseyni, Vilayeti, Shikasteyi-Fars, Mubarriga, Ashiran, Ayag.

[1]: The names of the seven dastgahs: Shur, Mahur, Homayun, Nava, Rast Panjgah, Chahargah and Segah. The names of five quasi-dastgahs (avaz): Bayat-e-Tork, Abu'ata, Dashti and Afshari (considered as sub-modes of Shur) and Bayat-e-Esfahan (Those who perform traditional Esfahan consider Esfahan as a sub-mode of Mokhalef of Segah, while some who perform modern Esfahan consider it as a sub-mode of Homayun). Finally some music scholars such as maestro Nasrollah Nasehpour consider Bayat-e-Kord as the sixth avaz in the system of Persian dastgah music. Bayat-e-Kord is a sub-mode of Shur. Shur is considered as the mother of all dastgahs.

 [2]: The list of the names of the twelve maghams in different manuscripts has altered during the history.