Azerbaijani mugham, a unique musical and poetic phenomenon, was created on the basis of the historical and cultural traditions that have existed for centuries. It is one of the most valuable monuments of the material and spiritual culture of Azerbaijan and the greatest achievement of the musical and poetic art of the Azerbaijani people.
The multi-faceted and emotional shape, profound content and spiritual essence are closely linked to the perception of life and worldview of the people who created this genre of music. The elegance of the melodic and rhythmic mugham reminds of the rich patterns of Azerbaijani carpets, mosques with colored ornaments, national jewellery decorated to the minute detail as well as metaphoric Oriental poetry.
It is beyond the shadow of a doubt that mugham is more than just art for Azerbaijanis, it is a monumental temple of music and a national idea. This is evidenced by the fact that the secrets of mugham skills have carefully passed on verbally from generation to generation for centuries. Over the course of time, mugam has changed depending on the overall changes in the spiritual culture of the people, but has kept its true gist. This is another feature of mugham: this music genre is constantly renewed.
It is possible to improvise within a certain tradition and within a particular theory. Each mugham has a well-defined mode (“mugamin perdeleri”), its single tone (“mugamin yeri”) and one of the most crucial factors in the art of mugham is a certain cadence, which is based on the canonized frets (“ayag”).
The main musical forms that represent the genre of mugham include dastgah (vocal-instrumental or purely instrumental form), mugham (the vocal-instrumental, solo instrumental and vocal solo form), zerbi-mugham and shikeste. Mughams are usually performed by a trio, which consists of the parts of tar (long-necked, waisted instrument), kamancha (bowed string instrument) and a khananda (singer) with a daf (frame drum). Instrumental mughams are played solo on Azerbaijani folk musical instruments.
Twelve classical mugams, namely, “Ushshag”, “Nava”, “Buselik”, “Rast”, “Echak”, “Isfahan”, “Zirefkend”, “Buzurk”, “Zengule”, “Rahavi”, “Useyni”, and “Hijaz”, are used in Azerbaijani professional music to this day.
Appearing around the 10th century in the era of the so-called Islamic Renaissance, mugham finally shaped in the 17th century and reached its peak in the 19th century.
At the end of the 18th century Azerbaijani musicians among the first in the Muslim world began to perform for a broad audience, which is non-traditional for mugham, touring Europe and recording discs. Great Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibayli was the founder of the theory of the Azerbaijani national modal music of the 20th century. A new page in the history of Azerbaijani music was opened with the publication of his fundamental scientific work “The basics of Azerbaijani folk music”.
The art of mugham is an endless source of musical richness, aesthetic and stylistic basis of the composers school in Azerbaijan. Hajibayli’s “Leyli and Majnun”, the first opera in the Muslim world, which was composed and performed in 1908, revolutionized Azerbaijani music.
Such new styles as mugham opera (Uzeyir and Jeyhun Hajibayli, Muslim Magomayev, Zulfugar Hajibayli, Meshadi Jamil Amirov, Shafiga Akhundova and Jahangir Jahangirov), choral and symphonic mugham (Fikret Amirov, Niyazi, Suleyman Alasgarov, Tofig Bakikhanov, Vasif Adigezalova and Nazim Aliverdibayov), sonata-mugham (Agshin Alizade and Nariman Mammadov), jazz-mugham (Vagif Mustafazade, Rafig Babayev and Aziza Mustafazade), etc. appeared.
At the turn of the 60s and 70s a new trend based on the classical mugham music appeared in Azerbaijan. Among the key figures of this trend was Firangiz Alizade, who imitated brilliant mugham master Habil Aliyev in her play “Habilsayagi” (“In the style of Habil”), using the modern writing style. This song became a declaration of a creative credo which continues to define the search for the generation of creative ideas to this day.
It is significant that one of the last discs of Alizade, which was released with the famous American Kronos Quartet, is called “Mughamsayagi” (“In the style of mugham”). Her composition “Dervish”, released with contribution from prominent Azerbaijani musician Alim Gasimov, was part of the program of the Silk Road festival.
Currently Azerbaijan has favorable conditions for the development of mugham culture. It is part of the national program whose main objective is to preserve and study the art of Azerbaijani mugham. The International Mugham Center, Azerbaijan State Mugham Theater and a number of mugham ensembles have been created in Azerbaijan; television and philharmonic mugham contests are being held and original recordings of mugham are being restored.
The artistic value of Azerbaijani mugham and its high importance both for the national culture and to the world community have been universally recognized at the international level: in 2003 UNESCO recognized the Azerbaijani mugham as Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Surprisingly, with people’s aging the magic of mugham becomes more and more fascinating. Probably all the answers to the mystery of the phenomenon and the art of mugham are hidden here.