- Tales and Fables of the Chang (Harp) in Darvish Ali’s Risalei Musiqi
Virtually nothing is known about the life of Darvish Ali Changi, author of one of the most interesting works devoted to music to have been written in Central Asia approximately around the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. All we do know is that he was born c. 1547 and died after 1611. He lived during the period of the dynastic wars between the Shaybanids and Ashtarkhanids. On many occasions he was forced to flee, to take refuge and to journey from city to city. For 40 years he worked as master of music in Andijan, Kesh, Balkh, and Bukhara. His treatise was dedicated to Imam Ghuli Khan of the Ashtarkhanid dynasty, who ruled from 1611 to 1642, and with whose court in Bukhara Darvish Ali was associated.
There is no question that Darvish Ali was a musician and that he played on the harp, as his name tells us: Changi, that is, “harpist.” In Darvish Ali’s times, the harp probably still played an important role in performance practice, and memory of the heyday of this instrument was certainly still very vivid in the milieu of Transoxiana (Mawarannahr)1 musicians at the end of the 16th century and during the first 20 years of the 17th century. This is attested by the fifth chapter of Darvish Ali’s work, devoted to musical instruments, among which the harp holds a privileged place, probably due not solely to the author’s personal preferences and interests, but also to this instrument’s exceptional position in the cultures of Central Asia. The present article is devoted to the myths, legends, and tales of the harp contained in Darvish Ali’s treatise.
Risalei Musiqi: The Record of the Oral Tradition
The Risalei Musiqi2 by Darvish Ali Changi is a work of remarkable interest, because it constitutes a rare source of information concerning music theory and practice in Central Asia around the turn of the 17th century (Rashidova 1990, 57–65). This treatise constitutes above all an exceptional record of what is essentially an oral tradition, with its “nonacademic” way of thinking and organizing musical knowledge, free from philosophical-scientific discipline and mathematical speculation, wholly unsystematic, immersed in myth, legend, and [End Page 33] fable, most closely bound to poetry, and directly dependent on a poetical view of the world. It represents an attempt to fix in writing knowledge that existed only in the form of a nonformalized, free-ranging discourse, testified directly by the memory of living musicians and transported beyond its boundaries into the realm of myth. As the author states:
The reason for writing this work was the elevated idea of it. The author recorded here everything that he has learned about music. Your humble servant spent a great deal of time in the presence of master performers and melodists, and also experts in the theory of music. He acquired his knowledge under the guidance of the exceptional, unique and pre-eminent master of our times, Hoja Jafar Konuni,3 the inestimable master Ali Dusti Nai,4 the exceptional master, my favourite, the honourable Mir Masti, and also Maulana Hasan, known as Kaukabi, an expert on all the rudiments and categories of musical knowledge, and others. The author informed these masters of his work on the Risalei, and with their permission ordered and perfected his work. Its contents are based partly on reading and partly on what the author heard from his teachers.
About everything that belongs to tradition, I learned from Maulana Husain Ohun, who in turn was instructed by ustad Imam Kuli Udi,5 he by ustad Zaitun Gidjaki,6 who learned from the unparalleled and inimitable Abdula Marworid. Abdula Marworid heard everything from ustad Zainulab ad din Changi,7 he in turn from ustad Hasan Kutb Nayi, he from hoja Abdulkadir Nain, Abdulkadir from sultan Uvais Jelair, he from hoja Safi ad-din Abd al Mu’min, peace be with him. From them the steps of knowledge lead to the sage Pythagoras, who was a pupil of Lukman8(Darvish Ali 1996, 14–15).
Thus the teachings...