Introduction of Duduk

In this article we will talk about Armenian duduk. The duduk and its tune as it is known today have been invented over many centuries. Throughout history, the music of the duduk has come to contain the wisdom and emotions of the people who have created it. Traditionally inseparable from the cultural identity and social celebrations of all Armenians, its’ sound and physical shape have been refined over centuries, resulting in its current form.

The duduk is a double-reed woodwind with a cylindrical bore made from the wood of apricot trees. Other types of the duduk can also be found: in Iran and Azerbaijan it is called Balaban or Balaman, in Georgia, Duduki and in Turkey: mey. There are likenesses as well as differences between Armenian duduk and its analogs. The Armenian name of the instrument is duduk or tsiranapokh (“apricot tree pipe”). It is interesting to notice that apricot in Latin is “Armeniaca” meaning Armenian fruit.

Besides having different names, the sound of the duduk differs greatly when played by musicians from different countries. The main differences arise from the technical way of playing, especially lip control. Armenian musicians use a special approach to make duduk sound like a human voice. Thus, it promptly remembers the feelings of Armenians, the soul of the land, and Armenian history making it feel like this instrument has come forth and has evolved together with Armenians. And it is a very common saying that the duduk is “The most Armenian of all instruments”.

History of Duduk

The duduk and its music are entirely by Armenian folk songs and dances, ashugh (troubadour) music, and Armenian classical poetry and duduk music reflects the idioms of all Armenian regions. Like cultural treasures that comprise uniqueness of other nations such as Georgian polyphony, Persian or Turkish, Azerbaijani mugham, or Chinese ancient opera, the Duduk has very iconic values for Armenians.

The roots of the duduk date back to the times of the Armenian king Tigran the Great (95-55 BCE.). Some archaeologists have even dated examples back to 1000 B.C. The predecessor of the duduk is the ancient flute (aulos) made from reed. It is depicted in various ancient Armenian manuscripts. In Armenian medieval times, miniatures of the following flute family are encountered: the transverse shepherd’s pipes sring and blul. They were made out of bone, cane, or wood and were used by shepherds to communicate with their communities as well as to play tunes. During an archeological dig in Garni (Armenia) in 1962, a pipe made from a stork’s shin and dating from 1000 B.C. was found; in 1993, the archeologist F. Ter Martirosov found a double-barreled tube during a dig at Benjamin-this too dated from 1000B.C.

The form of the Duduk that is known in more contemporary times was formed in the first half of the 20th Century. From the 1920-30s, the duduk was enhanced by Vardan Bouni. Three more principal types of the instrument were created: in A (f#-b’), in Bb (gc’), in D/piccolo/ (h-e flat’). Each duduk has a range of an octave and a fourth or third. The first (in A) was named Bounifon after the name of the constructor.


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The duduk instrument

The length of the instrument varies from 28 to 40 cm. The most common tune of duduk is A key, which is 35.5 cm in length, with an external diameter of 2.2 cm. The internal diameter is constant: 1.2 cm, only slightly expanding at the end to adapt the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece is sliced from reed is 10.5 cm long, and flattened at the proximal end.

Today there are seven common types of duduk: G, A, B, H, C, D, Es and E. Each of these is the German name for the note that sounds when all the finger-holes are opened. A duduk can be made to play any pitch from F-sharp to the B-natural. The sound of each type has certain differences: for example (in A) is more appropriate for love songs, while (in D) for dances. World Music Instruments Store offers concert grade Armenian duduk in various keys.

Some duduk makers continue experimenting and creating other versions of duduk, however the sounds of the standard range are limited and only the above mentioned seven types have the real beauty and specificity of duduk’s sound.

Duduk melody

The sounds of the duduk often produce a strong emotional response. As the great Armenian composer, Aram Khachaturyan said, “duduk is the only instrument that can make me cry”. Or as the famous duduk player, Jivan Gasparyan said, “In its tiny holes (the duduk) bears the cry of Armenia’s bitter past”. At the same time, those are not the tears of sadness, but rather from encountering profound beauty.

The most common ensembles of duduk music are duduk duo which includes a principal duduk and dam (drone), and duduk trio which is used mostly for the dance music, which includes: principal duduk, dam keeping duduk and dhol (drum).

The role of dam is particularly important particularly when a melody is played on duduk with the dam without dhol (drum). In such music, the sound of dam (continuous drone) creates a specific feeling of timelessness. This is a special kind of meditative music that makes listeners come very tight to the sense of immortality.

Global gratitude of duduk

It is not by chance that Armenian duduk has become so popular throughout the world. It is the voice of Armenian temperament and it speaks with the souls of other people and touches their hearts as a memory of “common ancestors”.

Composer Peter Gabriele used the soundtrack of great Armenian duduk performer Vache Hovsepian for the movie “The last temptation of Christ” (1988). Later many other composers, especially movie composers and producers used the sound of Armenian duduk. The list of films where duduk is used has grown especially in the last few years with such movies as “Gladiator”, “Troy”, “Yevgeny Onegin”, “Ararat” and many others. 

Duduk’s sound was also used in the movies of one of the greatest moviemakers of 20th century Sergey Paradjanov; “The Color of Pomegranates”.

The first professional shot of using duduk in classical modern music was in 1975 by Armenian composer Avet Terteryan (1929-1995) in his 3rd Symphony together with the zurna, and a symphonic orchestra. This arrangement is very popular also in our days and is frequently performed by many orchestras (publisher Sikorsky). Later, Terteryan used another folk instrument kyamancha in his 5th Symphony.

Duduk was also chosen by the great cellist of our days Yo-Yo Ma and Silk Road Project to convey the sound of Armenia. Duduk player Gevorg Dabaghyan and songwriter Vache Sharafyan were selected by him to be official ambassadors from Armenia to present the sound and the spirit of Armenian duduk throughout the globe. Since 2001 several compositions by Vache Sharafyan, such as ”The Sun, the Wine and the Wind of Time” for duduk, violin, cello and piano, “The Morning Scent of the Acacia’s Song” for duduk and string quartet, also the version for duduk, soprano and string orchestra (published by G. Schirmer), and “Ascending Kyamancha” for duduk (zurna), cello and piano were performed by duduk player Gevorg Dabaghyan, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble in Cologne philharmonic, Brussels philharmonic, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, in the USA: Carnegie Hall, Berkeley University, Stanford University, Seattle Benaroya Hall, Washington National Mall, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Hall, in Italy: Rome, Florence, Milan., and other venues in USA and Europe were received with great success.

Music review, The Silk Road Ensemble at Chicago Orchestra Hall Wednesday, December 18, 2002, by John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

“… But the most wonderful piece on the program was The Sun, the Wine, and the Wind of Time (1998) by the Armenian composer Vache Sharafyan. The score emanated much of its indescribable sorrow from the duduk, an oboe-like instrument whose quivery, throaty sounds were framed by piano (Joel Fan), violin (Colin Jacobsen) and cello (Ma). The seamless evolution of moods and textures from soft, somber lines made up of pained intervals, to more violent outbursts, back to mournful lines made it entirely absorbing to the ear and mind…”

Sharafyan has also written “14 arrangements and transcriptions by Komitas” for duduk and string orchestra, as well as Viola Concerto “Surgite Gloriae” where the duduk was used (premiered by Yuri Bashmet and “Moscow Soloists” in 2007). In these compositions Sharafyan has introduced a new conception of synthesis of the traditional Armenian sound with western inheritance.

The shot of getting together eastern and western instruments and cultures delivers a musical model of our world where various civilizations, cultures and thoughts coexist in search of mutual understanding, communication and collaboration. It isn’t an aesthetics of the merging of different traits, but comportment of joint affection, each culture maintaining its specificity and resonating with others in the harmony of compilation.

Certain other Armenian and non-Armenian composers have used the duduk in their compositions. This tendency has widely spread out during the last few years: S. Rostomyan in his third symphony, T. Tagmizyan in a piece for the duduk with string quartet, E. Hayrapetyan and R. Altunyan in pieces with chamber orchestra, Joel Bons from Holland in the composition for eastern and western instruments.

Compositions with the sound of the duduk were performed by such important orchestras and ensembles as London Sinfonietta, Kronos Quartet and others.

Gevorg Dabaghyan is frequently invited to play the duduk with Atlas Ensemble in Holland in the experimental compositions of Chinese, Italian, Korean, Azerbaijani, Dutch, and German composers. In 2007, he successfully premiered with Atlas ensemble Vache Sharafyan’s «My Lofty Moon» for Armenian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and western instruments in Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam.

Usefull links about duduk

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