Musical instruments described in the Kanz al-tuḥaf, a 14th-century Persian treatise: Concerning their relationship to the Uyghur ḡijäk, rawap, baliman and the qalun”

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Musical instruments described in the Kanz al-tuḥaf, a 14th-century Persian treatise: Concerning their relationship to the Uyghur ḡijäk, rawap, baliman and the qalun
Gen’ichi Tsuge
Resāle Kanz al-tuḥaf dar mūsīqī (hereafter “Kanz al-tuḥaf”) is a Persian treatise on music written probably in 1355. Ḥasan Kāšānī has been identified as its author, however, almost nothing is known about him (Binesh 1992: 57). The most valuable feature of this rather obscure treatise is its third lecture which is devoted to a description of nine musical instruments with their illustrations. In addition, it includes instructions how to make silk and gut strings.        Fig. 1

Therefore, the Kanz al-tuḥaf is, indeed, an important source concerning the 14th- century musical instruments of the Islamic world. The nine musical instruments described in detail are as follows: the ʽūd (a short necked lute), ḡešak (a spiked fiddle), robāb (a skin-belly lute), mizmār (a double-reed pipe), pīše (an end-blown flute), čang (an angular harp), nuzha (a rectangular psaltery), qānūn (a trapezoidal psaltery), and the muḡnī (a combination of the robāb, the qānūn and the nuzha).

1. Five MSS. of the Kanz al-Tuḥaf                     Fig.2
  The original manuscript has not survived, however, according to the RISM Catalogue of Persian manuscript (Massoudieh 1996: 280-82), there exist five copies of the Kanz al-Tuḥaf:

    (1) Suppl. Persan 1121, ff.147b-189b (Bibliothèque Nationale de France); hereafter referred to as “PC” (the Paris Copy)

(2) King’s, No. 211; ff.1-30 (Cambridge University Library); hereafter referred to as “CC” (the Cambridge Copy)

(3) Or.2361, ff.246b-268b (British Library); hereafter referred to as “BMC” (formerly the British Museum Copy)

(4) Ethé 2763; ff.1b-27b (British Library, I.O. Islamic 2067); hereafter referred to as “IOC” (formerly the India Office Copy)

(5) Cod.271, ff.70b-87b (Leiden University Library); hereafter referred to as “LC” (the Leiden Copy)

We are certainly curious about the dates on which these copies were made.

The earliest copy is the IOC (Ethé 2763), which was completed in AH 784/ AD 1383 (Ethé, Oxford 1903: 1491-92). This copy is currently held at the British Library (catalogued as “I. O. Islamic 2067”). The most recent copy is the BMC (Or.2361), which is dated as AH 1075/AD 1665 and also housed at the British Library. It is this mid-17th century copy that Henry George Farmer cited often, and from which he made partial translation of the Kanz al-Tuḥaf (Farmer 1931; 1939; 1964; 1966). However, for some reason, Farmer disregarded the earliest copy (IOC) which has been sitting in London for centuries.

The date of the CC (the King’s collection No.211) is unknown. E. H. Palmer’s “Catalogue of the Oriental Manuscripts in the Library of King’s College, Cambridge” (1868) gives us no information other than an extremely brief annotation: “The treatise ‘Treasury of Gifts’. On Moḥammedan Music. By Naṣír al dín Ṭúsí”. However, after a close examination, I am inclined to say that this manuscript might have been copied from the IOC.

The PC (Suppl. Persan 1121) was completed in AH 838/ AD 1435 (Massoudieh Op. cit.: 282); and the LC (Cod.271) was completed in AH 988/ AD 1580 (Witkam, 2007: 111).

  It is of vital importance to note that the BMC, which has been widely known mainly by Farmer’s works and Taghi Binesh’s typographic reprint (Binesh op. cit.), is a mid-17th century manuscript and that it is the youngest among the five extant copies. Therefore, I adopted the IOC, the oldest manuscript, as the text for my translation rather than the BMC.

2. Translation of the Texts and Remarks

§1. Ḡešak (the spiked fiddle)                      Fig. 3

Chapter 2 “Making the ḡešak and its adjustment

A bronze bowl (ṭāsakī sefīdrū)1 must be made evenly in terms of thickness and precision in all parts of it. And it must be medium in size and circular in shape.Two holes are made on both sides of the bowl. One of the holes must be larger than the other for the neck to be inserted through them. The opening of the bowl is to be covered with a parchment-like skin (raqq).

A spike (sīḵče) is to be made of iron. Its length should be one bedast and a half (about 37.4cm), which extends [piercing through the bowl] to the lower end of the neck (daste). One half of the spike must be made more slender in comparison with the other half, and extreme accuracy is required there. Two small hooks are to be made of iron peels from the original spike. Strings are firmly tied to each of the hooks.

The neck (daste) must be made of extremely hard wood such as almond (bādām) or walnut (gerdū). If ebony (ābnūs) is available it would be the best.

Over the neck [and the resonator] two strings are stretched tight, one of which must be thicker. A bridge (zāmele) is placed on the middle of the resonator (ṭāsak).

For the tuning, the note of the third finger (binṣir) of the bam string should be identical with that of the open string (moṭlaq) of the other2.

The ḡešak should be played by means of a bow (kamānče), the stick of which is made of an extremely hard wood. The hairs made from the tail of a horse are bound tightly to the bow. The amount of hairs to be bound should be thirty pinches (ṭāq), or forty at most.                              

The ḡešak described here resembles the Dolan ḡijäk in appearance, excepting the number of the strings. The 14th-century ḡešak had only two main strings and no sympathetic strings, whereas the Dolan ḡijäk has only one main string (notwithstanding the two pegs) and 10 to 12 sympathetic strings3.                                Fig. 4

The first two words (ṭāsakī sefīdrū) of the opening paragraph of this chapter give us a puzzle to make out. Farmer considers that the hemispherical sound-chest is made of wood (Farmer 1964: 177). However, there is no word in the Persian text, which indicates that the sound-chest is to be made of wood. In his typographical reprint, Binesh adds arbitrarily an extra letter “d” to “sefīdrū,” and deciphers it as “sefīdrūd,” name of a river (Binesh op. cit.:112), whereas all the manuscripts are concordant in spelling of this word “sefīdrū.”

However, this word appears elsewhere in the text (Part Two of the First Lecture) side by side with fūlād (steel) and sofr (gold, brass) (Binesh op. cit.: 97). Therefore I assume the word “sefīdrū” would mean a kind of metal (most likely “sefīdrūḥ,” meaning “a mixture of copper and tin”) and thus the Persian words ṭāsakī sefīdrū would imply “ a bronze bowl.” An instrument maker in Urumchi told me that formerly the sound-chest of ḡijäk was often made of metal.

It is interesting to note that the name “kamānče” which usually denotes the spike-fiddle (Iran) as well as the short necked fiddle (Turkey), originally meant the bow as the term literally implies. Thus, the Uyghur usage of “ḡijäk” as the name of the instrument itself, and “kamançä” as the name of its bow is quite right in light of the 14th-century usage as the Kanz al-tuḥaf tells us. The Uyghur people have preserved an old tradition of West and Central Asia.      

Another point to notice is the name of strings on the ḡešak. The lower string is called “bam” in the text. However, we learn that the higher string was called “ḥādd” as indicated in the illustration of the ḡešak, an exception being that of the BMC, which indicates “zīr” instead of “ḥādd.” Fig.5

Further point to make in the illustration is the position of strings. In the IOC and the LC, the bam (lower) string is placed on the right- hand side of the instrument when held vertically, whereas in the PC and the BMC, the bam or zīr (lower) string is placed on the left-hand side, and the ḥādd (higher) string is on the right-hand side, just like the violin and violoncello.

Finally, I would like to make a remark about the tuning of the ḡešak. As we have read in the Kanz al-tuḥaf, the ḡešak was tuned in fourths. However, the Uyghur ḡijäk is today tuned in fifths, just like that of the violin. It is no doubt an impact of the Western music and it has been long since the Uyghur people have adopted the violin tuning as well as the violin bow to play their traditional spike fiddle. This tendency is observed in Iran and Azerbaijan.         Fig. 6


§2. Robāb (the skin-bellied necked lute)

Chapter 3 “Making the robāb and its adjustment             Fig.7

The sound-chest of the robāb is mostly made of apricot wood (zardālū )4. Firstly, the wood should be boiled in milk or in hot water until greater flexibility is obtained when the sound-chest is carved out. The neck of that is also to be made of this wood. Otherwise, it may be made of walnut (gerdū or gerdukān).The sound-chest must be extremely thinly built5, and without any unevenness. Some people mix powdered glass (ābgīne) with heated glue (sarīšam) and pour it inside the sound-chest in order that the sound volume may be increased.

The robāb has two bellies (baṭn), namely, the sound-chest (kāse) and its neck (gardan-e kāse).The depth of each is about seven angošt monżamm [approx. 14.5cm]. The length of the sound-chest including the neck, is one bedast and four angošt monfaraj [approx. 33.2cm]. The width of each belly is one bedast and two angošt monfaraj [approx. 29.1cm].

The length of its neck (daste) is three bedast [approx. 74.7cm].

The belly which is joined to the neck should be covered with a thin plate (lowḥ). The other belly is to be covered with parchment (raqq). Some people, however, cover this belly with a wooden plate, in the center of which, however, an aperture is cut and covered with parchment.

The robāb is mounted with six silk strings, which are made of three kinds. The first kind is the zīr, which is a thick string. The second kind is the ḥād, which is a thinner string in comparison with the zīr. The third is the maṯnā, which a thinner string in comparison with the ḥād.

The very end of the second belly6 is pierced with holes to which the strings are bound.

The bridge (zāmele) is placed on the second belly at the four free fingers (angošt ) in measurement from the bottom [approx. 8.3cm]. This established method should be followed. Illustration of the robāb is as follows.

The robāb described here can be classified to the so-called “long-necked, barbed lutes” (according to the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments), and it must have been plucked with a small thin wooden plectrum as we can see in old Persian (Nizami’s Khamseh 1494-95. British Library Or.6810, f.2a) and Mughal miniatures (Robāb Player, c.1590. British Museum OA1974.6-17.15)                           Fig. 8

  It is striking that the shape of the robāb illustrated in the Kanz al-tuḥaf resembles the Dolan rawap (or the Pamir rubob and the Shugnan rubob), particularly in terms of the tapered neck, unfretted fingerboard, and very marked barbs on both sides of the second belly. Fig.9】【Fig. 10

In terms of its size, however, the 14th-century robāb was much shorter. For example, the length of its neck (daste) was three bedast [approx. 74.7cm], whereas the length of the daste of the Dolan rawap (the Markit version) is 82cm, and, if we add that of the pegbox, it will become as long as 97cm long.

The Dolan rawap (the Markit version) today has three main strings and eleven or twelve sympathetic strings, whereas the 14th-century robāb had only six silk strings which functioned as three courses of double strings. However, description of those strings surmounted on the robāb is not altogether clear. The treatise tells us that the three kinds of silk strings surmounted on the robāb are the zir, the ḥād, and the maṯnā, in order of decreasing thickness. However, if we examine the illustration of the robāb, the name of the strings are written first (rightmost) the ḥād, then the zīr , and leftmost the maṯnā. In other words, the description in the text and the illustration do not agree one another. Fig. 11

One possible interpretation is that the maṯnā, the thinnest, are drone or sympathetic strings, and surmounted above the zīr, or the leftmost as shown in the illustration. 

The nomenclature of the strings is obviously derived from that of the ʽūd; namely, al-ḥādd, al-zīr, al-maṯnā, al-maṯlaṯ, and al-bamm, in order of increasing thickness. Of these five names of the strings, the zīr and the bam are still used today among Iranian musicians as well as Uyghur musicians.      Fig. 12

Another point to be mentioned here is the instrument maker’s secret recipe to mix powdered glass (ābgīne) with glue (sarīšam ) and to apply the inside of the sound-chest in order that the sound volume may be increased. According to Mr. Abdsupur Rozi, an instrument maker in

Urumchi, this process is commonly done among the Uyghur instrument makers and the glue mixed with powdered porcelain ground very fine is called “yar ilim.7

Farmer mentions about a harp-maker of London, named J. F. Grosjean, took out a patent for improving the quality in the tone of stringed instruments, and makes a remark that [Grosjean’s ] “improvement” was “precisely what we have already seen in the Kanz al-ṭuhaf”(Farmer1939: 96).

§3.Mizmār,” or “nāy-e siyāh”  Fig. 13 Chapter 4 “Making the mizmār and its adjustment.” 

Nāy-e siyāh consists of two parts; ney (the reed itself) and čūb (the wooden pipe). The wood is to be spun on a lathe and hollowed out, thus made into something like a pipe. Its length is one bedast and one angošt 8 [approx. 27cm]. Leaving two angošt monżamm [approx. 4.15cm]at the both ends of the pipe, divide the remainder into seven parts of equal length, and seven finger holes (of midway sizes between slender and wide) are bored successively in lengthwise direction on the [front] side of the pipe. On the other side, near the minfaḵ (embouchure), another hole is bored, which must be placed precisely between the first two holes. When the length of the pipe happens to be more than one bedast and one angošt, the longer the pipe, the wider the size of finger holes should be made.

The root of the mizmār is the blowing reed, which is inserted into the upper end of the pipe. Pitch depends on the blowing reed; intervals depend on the finger holes.

While a piece of reedpipe is still moist, one end of it is to be fastened tightly with silken threads, and the other end is to be placed between two pieces of wooden board and left for two days and nights so that it will be flattened out. However, it must be left joined so that the tip of the reed will open.

A small collar (towqī kūček) is to be made of a moist piece of wood, and put on the neck of the reed. It will adjust the pitch.

Two small pieces of reed cane are to be put together and both ends are fastened tightly with silken thread, but a slit is to be made midway between the two ends. Whenever the instrument is left out of use, the tip of the reed must be placed in the headgear.

Any fingerhole which is closer to the mouth piece will be high in pitch (naḡme-ye aḥadd). No instrument can be played inside a bathhouse (ḥammām).

That is all about the nāy-e siyāh. Illustration of the mizmār is as follows.
This detailed description confirms that the mizmār has a double-reed, and its bore is cylindrical throughout as the illustration shows. It is interesting to find in the drawing of the manuscript an oversized “collar” (or “headgear”) for the reed precisely delineated.    Fig. 14

Although Farmer evaluates highly the article of the mizmār in the Kanz al-tuḥaf saying that “more valuable is the explanation of the actual making of the beating reed with which the instrument was played,” he leaves out the latter half of the chapter entirely in his abridged translation, and actually he continues the description, diverting his attention from the original text, as follows:

“This [the blowing reed] consists of two scalloped out canes fastened together at their base with strands of silk (in precisely the same way as the modern oboe reed, but much larger, although it was inserted directly into the top of the instrument, and not into a brass ‘staple’ as in the European oboe). Yet the Iranian instrument was advance of that in Europe in one respect at least, in that it was a partially transposable instrument. At the blowing end of the mizmār there was affixed a turnable collar which, when required, shut off the highest finger hole, and thereby altered its pitch by a whole tone. This device is fully illustrated by Villoteau, showing its usage in Egypt in the early 19th century” (Farmer 1964: 179).
It must be pointed out here that Farmer’s interpretation of a “turnable collar” is utterly confused. In fact, he mistook the Persian term “ṭowq” (collar) for the šaʽīra (shaʽirat al-mizmār), a wooden forked cylinder fitted into the upper interior of the mizmār which has a conical bore. However, the ṭowq (or ṭowqī kūček, “a small collar”) is nothing to do with the šaʽīra. There is no such device on the nāy-e siyāh. Fig. 15

The ṭowq (“collar”) is rather a device to regulate and adjust the opening of the double-reed itself. We can find a similar “collar” on the bālābān of the northern part of Iran, the narme-nāy of the Kurdish people, the duduk of Armenia, the baliman of the Uyghur people, the pey prabauh of Cambodia, and on the hichiriki of Japan. It is called “seme” (to torture, press, or control) in Japanese. Incidentally, the headgear of the reed is known in Japanese “eboshi” (headgear worn by nobles in the ancient court dress).

After all, the mizmār described in the Kanz al-tuḥaf is almost identical with the Iranian bālābān, the Uyghur baliman, the Turkish mey, or the Armenian duduk of today. In fact, it is closely related to the hichiriki of Japan, the guăn of the Han Chinese, the p’iri of Korea and the pey prabauh of Cambodia. There is no doubt that the mizmār shares the same ancestor with those counterparts in West and East Asia.

I should make an additional remark concerning the Uyghur baliman. The entry “baliman” in Schwarz’ Uyghur-English Dictionary (Schwarz 1992: 66) gives the following description:

“A single-reed wind instrument, ca.30cm. in length, with 8 holes of 1.8cm diameter. Similar to the näy.”

                                 Fig. 16                     Obviously this description is confused and misleading. The baliman is not a single-reed instrument (of the clarinet type), but definitely a double-reed (an oboe) if we examine its sample in Khotan today. The Uyghur baliman is no doubt a descendant of the mizmār (or nāy-e siyāh) described in the Kanz al-tuḥaf.                       Fig. 17
§4. The qānūn                              

“The qānūn is a half of the nuzha, which therefore consists of two qānūns. The shape of the qānūn is also quadrangular, but it is not equilateral. It is made of apricot wood9. The length of one of the four sides is three bedast tamām [approx. 74.7cm], and its opposite side is one and a half bedast [37.35cm]. The width of the side of pegs (malvī) is two bedast and three angošt gošāde [approx.56cm], and the width of the other side to which strings are fastened is two bedast tamām [49.8cm].

A bridge (zāmele-ye tavīl) is fixed on the side of pegs. The depth [of the sound box] is nearly three angošt gošāde [approx. 6.23cm], and sixty-four strings are mounted.

The strings are of three kinds: bam, maṯlaṯ, and maṯnā. When tuning is made, every three strings must be tuned at the same pitch (trichordally), in such a manner that between the two maṯnā strings a bam string is inserted. Other people may use five brass (šabahī) strings instead of the bam. For the octaves of these “bam” strings, they string the maṯlaṯ. If five further bam strings are to be replaced by brass strings, their octaves should be also the maṯlaṯ. And the rest of the strings should be bam and maṯnā. The shape of the qānūn is as follows.”

The most striking depictions of the qānūn are found in the wall paintings at the Chehel Sotūn,

Isfahan, a Safavid royal palace used for coronations and the reception of foreign embassies. The palace was completed by Shah ʽAbbās II in 1647. There are two images of trapezial zithers on the inside walls of the banquet hall. These images are often mentioned in books dealing with Persian music, but usually identified simply as “qānūn” or “santūr,erroneously.

One is on the picture depicting a reception of Humāyūn of India by Shāh Ṭahmāsb (r.1524-76), which is located on the left side of the far (East) wall. On the bottom of painting, a group of musicians are depicted at the left corner. We can see a qānūn at the far left, together with a lute, panpipes, and tambourine . Fig. 18

The other is on the picture depicting a banquet scene with Shāh ʽAbbās II (r. 1642-66) and Nadr Muhammad Khān, Ambassador of Turkestan (artist unknown, 1647). This wall painting is located on the left side of the (West) wall with the door. We can see again a group of musicians on the bottom of the painting. We can see a qānūn at the far left corner.

In the article entitled “The Mediaeval Psaltery in the Orient” (Studies in Oriental Music, First Series), Farmer pointed out that the illustration of the qānūn in the Kanz al-Tuḥaf differed in construction from the modern specimens (Farmer 1931: 13).
First the bridge (zāmila) is shown in conformity with the text, on the side of the pegs, i.e. on the oblique side. Nowadays, this bridge is at the opposite side, and stands on that part of the belly (wajh=surface), which is covered with parchment, a feature not mentioned in the above treatise. Further, the shape does not agree with other figures of the instrument found in MSS. nor with modern specimens. In the latter, if the bass end is at the bottom, then the oblique side and the pegs are on the left.
It is important to note that the “design from the Kanz al-Tuḥaf” which Farmer refers to, is the British Museum MS., Or.2361, folio 264v. As Farmer himself states, “the shape does not agree with other figures of the instrument found in MSS.” Therefore, Farmer did recognize that the qānūn figure in the “British Museum” manuscript (Or.2361, folio 264v) was different from those in other MSS.

Let us examine how the qānūn figure was illustrated in each maqnuscript: [Fig 19]

Firstly we can compare the oldest MS. IOC (1383) with the most recent MS.BMC (1665). The two figures are radically different. In the latter (BMC), the oblique side or the side of the pegs (“jāneb al-zāmele va al-malvī”) is on the right-hand side, and the treble end (jāneb al-ḥādd) is at the top. However, in the former (IOC) the side of the pegs (“jāneb al-zāmele va al-malvī”) is on the left-hand side (originally it was at the top, however, for the sake of comparison, it has been turned 90 degrees counterclockwise), and the treble end (jāneb al-ḥādd) is at the top. In fact, the shape of the qānūn in the IOC (of the 14th century) does agree with modern specimens.

Now let us examine other two MSS: PC and CC: [Fig.20]

Unfortunately MS.LC lacks the figure of the qānūn. MS.PC (1435), the second oldest, does agree with the IOC in terms of the side of pegs and the treble end . However, MS.CC (n. d.) which resembles the IOC in many respects, does not agree the IOC in an important point; namely the right and left sides are reversed. In other words, the CC agrees the BMC.

Thus, the BMC of the 17th century is different in many respects from the oldest two MSS of the Kanz al-tuḥaf, and it can hardly represent the 14th-century treatise. Nevertheless, for some reason, Farmer quoted solely the BMC, when he presented the Kanz al-tuḥaf in his publications. And this peculiar habit has been repeated by his followers over and over again10. In my opinion, however, the best MS of the Kanz al-tuḥaf is the IOC, the oldest copy.

The qānūn must be a possible ancestor of the Uyghur qalun. And in terms of overall size, the qānūn described in the14th century closely resembles the modern qalun (although it may be slightly smaller than the Markit version). [Fig. 21]

The description of the qānūn in the Kanz al-tuḥaf is relatively short if compared with that of the čang and nuzha, and it does not extend to information about the manner in which the instrument is played. Therefore, we cannot tell how it was actually performed: whether the zäxmäk (wooden) pick held by the right hand) and the guştap (a kind of slide held by the left hand) were used or not; whether the instrument was placed horizontally on the player’s lap or not; if it was held vertically on the player’s lap, or with its base against the player’s midriff, supported along the left forearm and held away from the player; or if the oblique side (with pegs) was on the player’s right or left.

The article “Qānūn” in the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments states as follows:

An anonymous Persian treatise (Kanz al-tuḥaf) is one of the few in which it [the qānūn] is described but the description bears little resemblance to present-day models (Poché 1984: II-169).

And the article mentions about the technique and playing style of the qānūn as follows:

Contemporary [in the classical epoch when the term qānūn is first mentioned in the story of A Thousand and One Night] iconography confirms that the instrument was almost certainly held vertically. An example of a Byzantine fresco from the 16th century shows a trapezoidal instrument with a right angle; the diagonal was held against the player’s chest while the crook of the left arm supported the lower right-hand corner of the box. The right hand, it seems, was thus free to produce a continuum of sound (an effect still preserved on the Indian surmaṇḍal). (Ibid.: 170)

Although the “Byzantine fresco from the 16th century” is not clearly identified, I suspect that it could be the “Wall-painting: Praise ye the Lord” at the Philanthropinon Monastery, Ioannina (Anoyanakis 1991: Pl.2). [Fig. 22]

In the same literature, we find two more images of the psaltery. One is a miniature entitled “Triangular psaltery (kanonaki, 12th cent. Codex 911, f. 2v. Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos). The other is the Wall-painting entitled “The Ark carried to Jerusalem,” 16th cent. Varlaam Monastery, Sanctuary of the Katholikon, Meteora) (Anoyanakis 1991: Pl. 1 & Pl.56). [Fig. 23]

On examination of these images, however, I challenge Poché’s statement quoted earlier that the instrument was almost certainly held vertically. There are many ways to hold the psaltery “vertically.” The Byzantine fresco from the 16th century” shows only one possible way among many. The sanṭīr of the14th century Egypt depicted in the Kašf al-humūm, and the “qānūn” depicted on the 14th-century Aragonese reliquary triptych (from the site of Monasterio de Pieda) , for examples, are also held vertically, but in different ways (Farmer 1966: 108-109). [Fig. 24]

A 15th-century Persian miniature entitled “Nūshābeh recognizing Iskandar by his portrait” from the Iskandarnāmeh (British Library , Add.27261, f.225b. 1410) shows a psaltery held vertically in the lower left-hand corner of the page. [Fig. 25]

The svaramandala depicted in a 16th century Mughal miniature (Abū Ṭāhir Ṭarasūsī’s Dārābnāmeh, f.129a. c.1580-85) is also held vertically but in another way.

We also find at the British Library a couple of Kashmiri miniatures of the 18th century, which depict the psaltery held vertically: “Ḥāfiẓ and his Companions Listening to Music” Diwān of Ḥāfiẓ, Add.7763, f.43b; [Fig. 26]

and “ Khusrau listening to Bārbad playing the lute [sic]” Nizami’s Khusrau u Shirin. Or.2933, f.7b (1726 ) , and also “Khusrau Parviz enthroned listening to music” from the Shāhnāma. Add.18804, f.325b (1719) [Fig. 27] .

At the same time, there exist many Persian miniatures of the 16th century which depict the similar psalteries held horizontally. To show but few examples:

“Khusraw’s Feast” from the Nizami’s Khamsa, India Office Library (presently the British Library. I.O.Islamic.141), f.105 b (1567) ; and “Zāl Wooing Rūdāba” from the Shāhnāma. Chester Beatty Library, Per 295, f.36b (c.1575) ; [Fig. 28]

“Concert Champêtre” from the Jami’s Diwan, India Office Library (presently the British Library. RSPA48), f.1a (1576); and “A Young Prince Entertained in a Harem” from the Baki’s Diwan, British Library, Or.7084, f.101b (Second half of the 16th century) ; [Fig.29]

and also “Timur Feasts at the Occasion of the Marriage of his Grandsons” from the Habib al-Siyar, vol.3. Safavid 1579-80, Qazvin. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian. S1986.47, f.153a. Fig. 30

Therefore I would argue that, at least in Iran and Central Asia, the qānūn was generally held horizontally on the player’s lap.

However, we are curious about which side of the qānūn is kept on the right-side of the player. There is no information in the Kanz al-Tuḥaf. Fortunately, however, the author does clearly state about the right and left sides of the nuzha, which is a quadrangular psaltery (allegedly invented by Ṣafīuddīn Abdul al-Mu’min).
“When the nuzha is engaged in performance, the side of pegs must be kept on the left and the side of the bridge on the right.”
Since the nuzha and qānūn are often cited together, as the author of the Kanz al-Tuḥaf describes the qānūn as “a half of the nuzha” (nīme-ye nuzha), we assume that this playing manner might also be applied to the qānūn. [Fig. 31]

Then, we find that the qānūn in the 14th through 16th century bears a strong resemblance to the present-day qānūn or qalun.

As an aside, I would like to make an additional comment about the expression “a half of the nuzha” (nīme-ye nuzha). I suspect that this expression/wording might have been related to the nomenclatures of the Medieval European psalteries such as “mezzocanone”(It.), “medio ca᷉no”(Sp.), or “Metzkanon” (Ger), which mean “half-shaped” or smaller versions of the psaltery. However, it does not necessarily mean “half the size of the nuzha”, as Farmer says (Farmer 1964:180; 1966:100), and as he says elsewhere “[the nuzha] was twice the size of the qānūn” (Farmer 1931:13; 1980:488). The qānūn is never smaller than the latter, because its longer base end (three bedast= about 75cm) is much larger than that of the nuzha (two bedast and three angošt = about 56cm).

Speaking of the “mezzocanone, I would like to show you how it was held . [Fig. 32]

“Woman playing a mezzocanone,” detail from Trionfo della Morte [“The Triumph of Death],” fresco, mid-1330s. Pisa, Camposanto). This image is a good example of the 14th-century psaltery which was held vertically in yet another way (“Woman playing a mezzocanone,” detail from Trionfo della Morte [“The Triumph of Death],” fresco, mid-1330s. Pisa, Camposanto). The oblique side (where the tuning pegs are fixed) is kept on the left-hand side of the player, and the side of bridge is kept on the right-hand side.

In fact, this is concordant, in principle, with the way how the qalun is played today, although the psaltery is held horizontally. Namely, the oblique side (gracefully curved) is kept on the player’s left-hand side, and the side of the bridge is kept on the player’s right-hand side.

After a close examination of the description of four musical instruments (the ḡešak, robāb, mizmār and the qānūn) and their illustrations in the Kanz al-Tuḥaf, we are certain that the Uyghur (Dolan) ḡijäk, rawap, baliman and qalun are offsprings of the instruments described in the 14th- century treatise. The Uyghur versions have rather well preserved some of their ancestors’ features.

(A List of the Musical instruments illustrated in the Kanz al-Tuḥaf)
























Part of this paper is based on a presentation at the Middle East and Central Asia Music Forum (London) on April 28th, 2009. It is entitled “The Qalun ---An Uyghur Psaltery.” However, this is an extensively revised version, since I have had a few opportunities to examine new materials, which urged me to rewrite completely the previous paper.


My thanks to Department of Music, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London which offered me academic hospitality from July 2008 through July 2009. I also acknowledge a favor of the British Library, Cambridge University Library, Leiden University Library, and Bodleian Library of Oxford University for providing me with an opportunity to examine their manuscripts.

References Cited

Anoyanakis, Fivos.Greek Popular Musical Instruments (2nd ed.). Athens: “Melissa” Publishing House, 1991

Binesh, Taghi. Se resāle-ye fārsī dar musīqī [Three Persian Treatises on Music], Tehran: Iran University Press, 1371 [1992], pp.55-128

Dick, Alister et al. “Rabāb” in the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, London: Macmillan 1984

Farmer, Henry George. “Iranian Musical Instruments in the Ninth/Fifteenth Century,” Islamic Culture 38: 1964

_____. Studies in Oriental Musical Instruments. First Series. London: Harold Reeves, 1931

_____. Studies in Oriental Musical Instruments. Second Series. Glasgow: The Civic Press, 1939

_____. Islam (Musikgeschichte in Bildern, III/2), Leipzig: Deutcher Verlag für Musik, 1966

Massoudieh, Mohammad Taghi. Manuscrits persans concernant la musique, München: G. Henle, 1996

Poché, Christian. “Qānūn” in the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. London: Macmillan, 1984

Schwarz, Henry G. An Uyghur-English Dictionary. Bellingham, Washington: Center for East Asian Studies, Western Washington University, 1992



Dr.Gen'ichi Tsuge, Professor Emeritus, Tokyo University of the Arts

Currently Visiting Professor, Tainan National University of the Arts

Graduate Institute of Ethnomusicology
Kuantien, 720 Tainan, Taiwan R.O.C.


Permanent Address: 27-1 Kakinokizaka 2, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-0022, Japan

1 Farmer considers the hemispherical sound-chest is made “of wood, which originally would have been of coconut probably.” (Farmer 1964: 177-78).

2 It is tuned in fourths.

3 A picture of Mr. Quwan Turdi, 90 years old, of Tümäntal, Yarqand, playing the qil-ḡijäk on May 15, 2005. The qil-ḡijäk has a single main string and twelve sympathetic strings.

4 Farmer translates it as “vine (raz) wood and plum (ālū) wood” (Farmer 1964:178). However, it is due to a questionable reading of the Persian word “zardālū.”

5 Farmer deciphers the word as “tang” and translates it “tightly” (Farmer 1964: 178). However, it could be deciphered as “tonok” which means “thinly.”

6 This should be a miscopy of the “first” belly.

7 Personal communication on June 11, 2010, interpreted by Dr. Abdusaimi Abrdulrahman.

8 1 bedast=24.9cm; 1 angošt=2.075cm

9 Farmer translates here again “It was usually made of vine or plum wood.”(Farmer 1964: 180)

10 For example, Farmer 1931, 1939, 1964, 1966. And this attitude has lingered even in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980), and in the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (1984).

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