Sunday, December 2, 2007

Duduk (The Armenian Oboe)

I came across the name "duduk" in a thread on the Oboe BBoard and I had never heard of the instrument before, so I looked it up in Wikipedia. I have to say that I was expecting it to sound very raucous and nasal, like many of the other non-western double reed instruments. It is completely different. I'm not sure how to describe it; one of my friends said that it sounded like the human voice- that perfect mixture of woodwind and brass sound. It's very dark and wide sounding, and very old. Perhaps like a wooden flute in tone. Wikipedia informs me that the instrument has been used on the soundtracks of Alexander, The Passion of the Christ, Gladiator, and The Chronicles of Narnia, where it's played in the "Narnian Lullaby."

(On a side note, it's especially cool that I found this out because of the Bax Quintet which I will be playing this spring. I worked with my adviser last week on the first movement, going through the score with a recording, and I was struck by how clearly British the piece sounded. You could tell that it was written for a British oboist (Leon Goosens, actually), because of the wild quality that the music evoked. It's very low and intense and "coarsely blown," as one marking says, and starts with a rhapsodic solo oboe line that is very Eastern in feel (Orientalism and all that), but still seems so British to me. There's an intriguing duality in British pastoralism, between the happy, simple pastoral (whether gentle or rustic) and the wild, intense, dark pastoral. Perhaps the latter has something to do with the country's Celtic roots, fairies and such? I'm not sure. Anyways, the first movement of the Bax works within that second kind of pastoralism, though the third movement, in which Bax bangs the listener over the head with folk songs, is a reassertion of nationalist rustic peasant pastoral. One of the key things which that first movement reminded me of, and something that really anchored it in Britain for me, was the Narnian Lullaby.)

Some online recordings of the duduk. I highly recommend you go and listen, because I think this is the coolest instrument I've ever heard, and these songs are stunningly beautiful.
Jivan Gasparian, Hovvakan
Jivan Gasparian, Mayr Araksi Aperov
Vatche Hovsepian, Hovern Engan

5 comments:

Rema said...

It's surprising it's still used although it's so little known. Is it more of a period type instrument, or have they made it more modern with time?

racheloboes said...

Rema,

I actually know very little about the instrument. However, judging from pictures online, it appears to still be fairly "rustic".

I was very surprised at how many things I knew about used this instrument I'd never heard the name of.

T. said...

Thanks fo much for clueing us into this gorgeous instrument! What a wonderful post!

Michael Andrew Doherty said...

Just peaking in here and saw the discussion about the duduk. The duduk has a long continuous history in Armenia and the region (Iranian balaban, Turkish mey)(with related instruments in the far east, guanzi, hichiriki and piri). It has undergone many changes during the 20th Century in regards to tuning and different keys, though, you are correct that it is still very "rustic". It is a folk instrument of organic materials, and standards are set more by individual players and makers than by any universal criteria. The tuning is close to equal temperament, and indeed one can play in equal temperament with adjustments with the lips and fingers (playing IS tuning on the duduk). Armenian folk music is subtly different from the European tuning, and has a close relation ship to maqam, particularly in piece from the "middle ages".

Feel free to email me for more info: michael@intduduksoc.org

racheloboes said...

Michael,

Thanks for the information! I'm quite interested in double reed instruments from different cultures and musical traditions, but it can be hard to find specific or detailed information because of language barriers, so I appreciate your comment.