It all started when...
The History of oud
The history of Lute has been researched by many Arab and non-Arab historians and organologists. However, they never agreed on the definite origin of this musical instrument. The Lute is dated back to the ancient times in the human history. It varied in size, shape and sound. In the Arab culture, the lutenists were of a high rank in the kings and Sultans courts. The Lute moved to Europe with the Islamic expansion to Spain starting from Cecily. Also, the Crusades (11th – 13th Century AD) contributed in introducing this instrument to Europe. The lute has undergone many developments and evolved with the development of the Arab music. Arab Organologists such as Ibn Sina, AlFarabi, Safi Al-Deen, Alkindi and Mansoor Zilzal based their musical theories on the lute. Before that, the Acadian, Sumerians and Ashurrian civilizations knew the lute in different shapes and sizes. However, organologists agree on one fact: the lute is one of the most ancient musical instruments in history.
The Lute is a highly beloved instrument by Arabs. It has been always associated with pure, genuine music heard by people of high-taste. The lute has been labeled in Arabic as "The Sultan of all Musical Instruments".
The word "oud" is derived from the Arabic word "Oud" which means the wood that it is made of. It has five double-strings (i.e ten single fretted strings). The sound spectrum covers one and a half Octaphin (the vocal space between the beginning of the musical scale and its end). The lute comprises the following parts: the sound box, the back, the belly which includes holes that amplify the sound, the bridge, the scrolls and the strings. The lutenist uses a "feather", tool to strike the strings while playing. Usually, the lute has five strings. However, a sixth one has been added to provide a wider vocal range. In some cases, lutes have seven or even eight strings and then called "Musaba" (i.e Seven) or "Muthaman" (eight).
The Legends of the oud
As said before, the definite origin of oud has been a source of disagreement among Organologists. Many legends and stories were associated with the lute, some based on religion and others on magic. Some claim that the inventor of the lute is "Lamak bin Mitoshah bin Mahweel bin Iad bin Aknok bin Qaeen the son of Adam". The story says that ten years before his death, he had a child and was extremely happy. However, the child died five years later and the father was in grave sadness that he lifted the dead body of his son on a tree so that he stays within his sight until his death. The flesh started falling to the ground and only the bones remained. Then, the father took a piece of wood and thinned it out on a shape that looks like a chest, neck and a toe attached to strings seeming like veins to remind him of his son. He, then, started for the first time in history playing lute and mourning his son. On the other hand, some claim that Noah invented the lute during the great flood. Others disagree and say that Gashmeed – a Persian king – made the first lute and named it "the Barbat" or the door of escape. Another legend tells us about the Jin – fairy creatures – who made the first lute to entertain Suleiman. The lute was kept in his house until Bakhtanser – an Egyptian pharaoh – arrived after his death and destroyed the house. In general, the Arabic sources tend to agree that "Lamak"is the original inventor of the lute while the Jewish references call his son "Yubal bin Lamak" the father of all lutenists. A small group of organologists credit the invention of lute to Plato and claim that he could hyponsis the audience by playing a certain tone and awake them with another.
The oud in Musical Archeology
The oud is dated back to the pre-Islam era. Many discoveries indicate to the use of lute at that period of time in history in archeological sites in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, China and India. Also, many archeological scripts from all over the world described and analyzed the lute. In the Arab culture, it has been given several names such as: Almoter, Alkaran, AlMuzahir, Albarbat and Almiezaf. The name "Lute" was used in Europe to refer to this instrument. As the Islamic culture prospered and expanded to new areas, the use and make of lute evolved. It is worth noting that in the last decade, the lute has undergone many developments in parallel with the increasing interest in music and the appearance of famous and talented lutenists around the world.
The specialized researches in the development of musical instruments divided the development of lute to three main phases:
The first phase: from the 50s – 60s of the 20th century.
The second phase: In the 70s of the 20th century.
The third phase: from 90s until the end of the 20th century.
It must be noted here that there are margins for these phases in which the researches vary based on the lute-related archeological discoveries. These will be discussed in details later on.
The oud in Mesopotamia
Historical references indicate to the cultural prosperity in the Mesopotamia area. This was confirmed by the archeological findings and discoveries. Some of the clay portraits and stone drawings show the musical instruments used at that time. The oldest drawing of a lute is dated to the Acadian era around 2350 B.C. It resembles a human sitting and holding a musical instrument with a small sound box and long neck. It seems that he is a shepherd as a dog can be seen lying beside him. Three different portraits of a similar view has been excavated (currently available in the Iraqi Museum) are dated to 1784 – 1779 B.C.
A wooden lute has been found in Taibah, Egypt and dated back to around 1600 B.C. It consists of a small soundbox in the shape of a peach and a long neck (almost as long as the box itself).
From the above drawings, we can observe the distinguished shape of the long neck more like Tanboor than lute. Similarly, the same shape is demonstrated in the drawings from Mesopotamia which questions the accuracy of lute-related discoveries in this area and at that time (see general comments paragraph for further details).
Other Archeological discoveries
Excavations in areas such eastern boarders of the Mediterranean revealed other archeological discoveries related to the lute history. They vary in age but the Islamic historians summarize them as follows:
For 15 centuries (25th – 10th century B.C), most excavated materials indicate musical instruments with various small soundboxes and long necks. It seems that the appearance of the short-neck lute with four strings started in the middle Asia or Iran between 1st and 7th century AD. This was first known as "Albarbat".
The early lutes had small soundoxes and very long necks. People in Babilon (1950 – 1530 B.C) liked this instrument. This peach-shape continued until later times. The lute had at the beginning one string and then others were added to reach four. Ziriab – the famous Arab musician- added the fifth string in the Abbasids era.
The way that the lutenists held the lute with has changed also. It used to be held upwards but then changed to the position where it is lowered while playing. The lute moved to Europe with the Islamic expansion to Spain and got the name "lute".
The lute also dominated the courts of kings in Germany, Italy, France, England and Spain. They even developed it and added some modificationsto its shape. The first musical note for the lute to be recorded in Europe was in Italy in 1508 and then in England in 1974. Famous musicians like Bakh and Handle wrote some lute notes. Sadly, with the increasing popularity of the piano and guitar, the lute slowly faded and almost disappeared.
The lute strings were made in the past of intestines. Today, nylon and metal strings are attached to the lute body instead.
The lute has been an instrument for high-class society. It contributed to the musical development either in the Arab culture or even the Europeans. The golden era for the lute in Europe was during the renaissance years when it was widely used and appreciated by the public.