The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
By: Jean During
Plate 1. Dotâr from Iran Proper
DOTÂR, long-necked lute of the tanbûr family, usually with two strings (do târ). Several different types are current in the area between Turkey and Central Asia, sometimes with other names (generally derived from the word tanbûr). The principal feature is the pear-shaped sound box attached to a neck that is longer than the box and faced with a wooden soundboard. Dotârs can be classified in several different types.
The Central Asian dotâr is the largest (total length ca. 125 cm) and is equipped with two silken strings; the box is made of wooden strips glued together (Plate 2). It is tuned in fifths, in fourths, and sometimes in unison. Its sonority is grave and noble, and it is as suitable for accompanying popular songs as for solos and interpretation of the classical repertoire (e.g., Šaš maqâm, Oniki muqam).
Plate 2. Dotâr from Bukhara
The dotâr of Khorasan (in the broad sense) is narrower and shorter (total length ca. 100-10 cm); it was formerly strung with silk or gut, materials that in the 20th century have been supplanted by steel. It is tuned in fifths or fourths. The box is carved from a single mulberry log, and the neck is often fitted with metallic frets, sometimes of silver. This dotâr is played by the Turkman, Karakalpaks, Turks, Kurds, and Persians, as well as the Afghans, of Khorasan (Plate 3). It is the favored instrument of the troubadours (bakhšî, q.v.) and is also played as a solo instrument. It has a very light, brilliant timbre, and the technique of playing it is based on ornamentation, basically a very rapid tremolo. Several subcategories can be distinguished, corresponding to the various ethnic traditions in the region (Baily and During). A close variation is the Kurdish and Lorî tanbûr, the sharp cord of which has recently been doubled (Plate 3).
Plate 3. (Top) Dotâr from Afghanistan
(Bottom): Kurdish tan
The sound box and neck of the dotâr (or dombra) used in the popular music of Tajikistan are carved from a single piece of apricot wood. There are no frets, and the gut (or nylon) strings are no more than 60 cm long, the total length of the instrument being 75 cm (Sakata, p. 72). In contrast to the other types, its sounding board is of poplar wood, rather than mulberry.
The dotâr of Herat has undergone certain recent modifications. The gut strings have often been replaced by metal ones, and a third string has been added. In the 1960s, under the influence of Indian instruments, strings for resonance and a drone bass were added, which led to a change in the technique of playing (with a metal pick) and to a change in proportions (Baily, pp. 31-33).
The musical function of the dotâr determines its status. In the province of Herat it has been relegated to the array of rustic instruments, but in Persian Khorasan it retains its former nobility, especially in Torbat-e Jâm, one of the great musical centers of the region. It is often richly decorated with inlays, marquetry of bone and horn, and silver niello.
Despite differences in proportions, sonority, and manufacture, all the dotârs (except the modern Afghan instrument) and many other tanbûrs and dombras share one common feature: When played the two strings are plucked simultaneously in a single movement of the entire hand, including the index finger and one or several other fingers, without a plectrum or metal sheath, in such a way that the accented notes are sounded from high to low. This basic technique has been refined to varying degrees, incorporating different kinetic-rhythmic patterns and fingerings and reaching a consummation in the Tajik-Uzbek tradition.
The term dotâr does not appear in early texts, but it is probable that this same instrument was described under the term tanbûr. In the 14th century Marâghî (1367 Š./1988, pp. 200-01) described a two-string tanbûr that was tuned in fourths and equipped with ten frets (dasâtîn, q.v.), producing the Pythagorean scale based on limma and comma; he doubtless drew his description from Safî-al-Dîn Ormavî. Marâghî also described two other two-string tanbûrs (the torkî and the š).
It may be supposed that the original tanbûr, which, with the ´ûd, occupied the central position in early musicological writings (especially those of Farâbî, q.v.), gave rise to variations with three or more strings, called tanbûr, setâr, chahârtâr, and so on and that the two-string type was then distinguished by the more popular term dotâr (or dombra).
This type of instrument is rarely represented in pre-Islamic art, though there are innumerable representations of the barbatÂ (q.v.; Karomatov, Meskeris, and Vyzgo, pp. 92-93) and later of the ´ûd. To judge from medieval miniature paintings, the dotâr or two-stringed tanbûr lost its place among the classical instruments of Persia for a considerable period, doubtless supplanted by the setâr, which is represented frequently.
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