Jivan Gasparyan, now in his late 80s is widely regarded as the most influential player of the duduk. During his 70 year career he has brought what was a regional folk to instrument of Armenia to a global audience, featuring on Hollywood soundtracks and appearing with concert orchestras worldwide.
Born in Solak, in central Armenia in 1928, Gasparyan began playing duduk at the age of 6. Entirely self-taught, he has almost single-handedly elevated the humble duduk to an unprecedented standing. Gasparyan has impressively balanced a devotion to the traditions of Armenian music whilst working with a range of global artists. Amongst many others he has collaborated with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Kronos Quartet and Queen’s Brian May. However, it is within the world of film soundtracks that Gasparyan’s duduk has reached the broadest audience. His contributions to Hollywood soundtracks including Gladiator (2000), Syriana (2005) and Blood Diamond (2006) secured his position as a global artist.
The Armenian Duduk
Aside from the oud, the duduk is probably the most well-known folk instrument in Armenia. Typically made of apricot wood, the duduk is a double-reed instrument. The duduk was traditionally played by shepherds and is associated with its use at dances, celebrations and particularly funerals due to its melancholic tone. It is believed to date back to the reign of King Tigran (95-55 BC) but may well have existed much earlier. In 2008 UNESCO declared the duduk a ‘Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity‘.
During the twentieth century the duduk was standardised and generally covers a single of octave in a diatonic scale. Typically performed in pairs, a circular breathing method enables one player to continually hold a single note while their partner completes the melody. The reed is considerably wider than that of most double-reed instruments. This produces a particularly mournful sound as well as presenting additional breathing challenges for the player.