According to professor Alber Lavinak, we should trace back the origin of the violin and all its related instruments in India and at the time of Ravana, the king of Sri Lanka who ruled around 5000 B.C. In that time, an instrument called the ravananastron was invented. Probably, the ravananastron is the oldest bowed instrument in the world. This instrument was played by the Buddhist monks and owned all parts of the violin including the sound box, neck, and the screw adjuster for tightening or loosening the hair of the bow. The first advanced form of the ravananastron was called emerti which later on came to be known as the kaman aguz. The kaman aguz was a common instrument among the Arabs and Persians. There are many instruments which are in the same family of the kaman aguz, such as the robob, robel, robak, and robakishin. Probably, these instruments are the different names of the famous Persian rūbāb which was a dominant instrument in Persia. Later, the kaman aguz became known as the kamānche ajuz among the Persians. It should be mentioned here that today in most Arab countries the violin is called "kamanjeh" .According to Lavinak, during the Middle Ages, the kaman aguz (kamānche), rib,robel, and robak were brought to Europe by the Muslims. Later on, this instrument was the source of imitation for the Europeans who invented the viol and viola. Eventually, the violin evolved from these instruments.
Although many great Iranian musicians like Tajvidi and Khaleqi believe that the kamānche is an old Iranian instrument which has evolved from the rūbāb, there is no evidence that the kamānche existed in the pre-Islamic Iran.
In the Sistan and Baluchistan province of Iran there is an instrument called sorud which is similar to the kamānche. But, the sorud that is also called qajak or qichak has more strings than the kamānche.
The oldest traces of the kamanche can be found in Farabi’s book, Musiqi al-Kabir. In this book, Farabi calls this instrument the rubab which has two strings. But, he does not deny the existence of a rubab with just one string as well. The rubab in fact is an Arabic name for the kamānche. The rubab which Farabi talks about it in his book is still played by many Arab musicians. Moreover, the kamānche is played from Turkey to the Central and East Asia. The Turks call it iklig. In Turkmenistan it is called gajak or qichak , and in China it is called erhu.
During the Safavids, the kamānche was one of the most common urban instruments in Iran. A picture from the Chehelsotun building which is a painting shows the kamānche’s player seating among other musicians who play the ney, daf, and a kind of instrument looks like the tar.
The kamānche’ was also one of the main instruments of the Qājār period. Also, from the ancient time the various kinds of this instrument existed in the different regions of Iran and their folkloric cultures. Some of these provinces are Lorestan, Azerbaijan, Mazandaran, Khorasan, and Bakhtiyari. The first recording of the kamānche was done in the beginning of the twentieth century. Among theses recordings, the kamānche’s sound of Safdarkhan, Baqer Khan Rameshgar, and Hussein Khan Esmailzadeh are the most outstanding ones.
Figure 1: Two perspectives of the kamānche
Figure 2: the Sorud of Baluchistan
Figure 3: The kamānche’s picture from Farabi’s Musiqi al-Kabir
Figure 4: The kamānche’s player in the Shah Abbas Safavid’s banquette (17th century)
The today kamānche is a bowed instrument whit four strings. Up to the beginning of the twentieth century, the kamānche had three strings. Under the influence of the violin which came to Iran around that time, the fourth string was added to the kamānche. However, the kamānche with six strings existed in Iran before the arrival of the violin .Even today, the six-stringed kamānche can be seen in the northern part of the country.
The kamancheh’s sound box is a spheroid chamber which is made from gourd or wood. In the older version, the spheroid chamber was heavier because it was carved from a single block of a wood. As a result, the sound quality was not as good as the ones made in the new method. Also the player could not turn the instrument easily because of its heavy weight. In the different cultures such as southeastern Asian ones, the spheroid chambers are made from metal, coconut and squash.
But, in the new method, the sound box is made by assembling the small bended pieces of wood. The used wood is usually mulberry, walnut, and pine. The kamānches which are made in this method have lighter sound boxes; therefore, they are easier to play and have better sound quality than those made in the older versions.
Another kind of the kamānche is the Lori kamānche which can be seen in different parts of Iran. The sound box of this kind of kamānche is open from the back side. As a result, the instrument has very strong sound. Also, because of its lightness in weight, it is easer for the player to turn the instrument as desired. The kamānche of Lorestan had three strings up to the beginning of the twentieth century, but gradually the fourth string was added to it.
The diameter of the sound box in the common urban kamānche is almost 20 cm. But, the different kamānches in different parts of Iran have different sizes. The smallest one is the Turkmen kamānche.
The kamancheh body has a long upper neck with the length of 31 cm and the wide of 30 mm at the lower end and 35 mm at the upper end (the conjunction of the neck and the peg box). The lower spheroid chamber or the sound box is usually covered on the playing side with skin from a cow's heart, goat, fish, deer, and other animals. In the Turkmen Sahara, a skin of kind of fish is used to attract the humidity of the environment so that fewer changes occur in the generated sound. But, in dry areas the skin of a camel's heart is used which attract less humidity.
The bridge is made of wood and holds the strings. It directs the sound which is produced by the strings to the sound box. As a result, the sound will be intensified there. At the bottom of the instrument protrudes a sort of spike to support the kamancheh while it is being played. Hence in English the instrument is sometimes called the spiked fiddle. The kamānche is played while sitting down and it is held like a cello, though it is about the length of a viola. The end-pin can rest on the knee or thigh while seated in a chair.
Today, all urban kamānches have four strings; therefore, there are four pegs at the end of the neck. The strings are tuned by these pegs. The most common tuning system of the kamānche can be seen in the figures 19, 20, and 21.
The kamānche is played by a bow. The length of the bow is around 60 cm. The bow consists of a stick with a ribbon of horsehair strung between the tip and frog (or nut, or heel) at the opposite ends. Unlike the Western bowed instrument, the hair of the bow in the kamānche is not always tied up very tidily; rather, the kamānche player loosen or tighten the hair of the bow to insert the desired pressure on the strings. The effective factors in the sound quality of the kamānche depend on the quality of the wood, the shape and size of the lower spheroid chamber or the sound box, the size of the bridge, the quality of the skin and the strings.
Figure 1: The three-stringed kamānche
Figure 2: A kamānche made of a big piece of wood
Figure 3: The collection of small sticks makes the kamānche’s sound box
Figure 4: The front perspective of the stick sound box
Figure 5: The side perspective of the stick sound box
Figure 6: The conjunction of the sound box and the neck
Figure 7: The side perspective of the whole kamānche
Figure 8: The front perspective of the whole kamānche
Figure 9: The back perspective of the whole kamānche
Figure 10: The Lori kamānche
Figure 11: Different kinds of the kamānches
Figure 12: The Turkmen kamānche has a small sound box
Figure 13: The peg box
Figure 14: The close perspective of the kamānche
Figure 15: The strings are tuned a fourth interval apart
Figure 16: The strings are tuned a fifth interval apart
Figure 17: The most common tuning
The first kamānche player whose name exists in history is Khoshnavaz. Gobino, a French Orientalist, met Khoshnavaz’s playing kamānche while the later was accompanying Aqa Ali Akbar Farahani, the great master of the tar and Persian music, in 1856. After Khoshnavaz we can name Hussein Khan and Mosa Kashi. But, the only sound recordings of the kamānche remained from the Qajar period belongs to Baqer Khan Rameshgar, Hussein Khan Esmail Zadeh and Safdar Khan.
By the arrival of the violin in the beginning of the twentieth century, the kamānche was put a side by some modernist musicians and became absent from the Persian art music for a while. But, it continued to play its very effective role in the light music and the regional music of Iran. Later, in 1940 when the Iranian State Radio was established the kamānche was brought back to the scene of the Persian art music. In fact, Master Ali Asqar Bahari was the only person in that time who played the kamānche in its traditional style. He taught many students who later became the connecting chain between the old and new generations of the kamānche players in Iran.
In the time when the importance of the kamānche was shadowed by the power of the violin, beside master Bahari, Rahmatollah Bad’i also played the kamānche. He was initially a violinist, but he began to play the kamānche since there was not any kamānche player in the traditional ensemble to which he was invited by Faramarz Payvar. For the first time, Bad'i used the third fingering position and different techniques in playing the kamānche and could produce various sounds from this instrument.
Today’s major kamānche players are directly or indirectly the students of master Bahari. Davood Ganje’i, Ali Akbar Shekarchi, Mehdi Azarsina, Darvish Reza Monazami, Hadi Montazeri, Saeed Farajpuri, Ardeshir Kamkar, and Kayhan Kalhor are today’s major kamānche players. Moreover, some of the Iranian violinists mostly from the 1942 to 1972 period of time played the kamānche as their second instrument. Rahmatollah Bad’i, Kamran Daruqeh, and Mojtaba Mirzadeh are some of them.
The most accompanying percussion with the kamānche in the Persian art music is tonbak. However, recently, the kamānche is also accompanied by the daf and qaval. In the Azerbaijan province the kamānche is accompanied by the qaval and qusha nagareh.
Figure 1: Baqer Khan Rameshgar
Figure 3: Hussein Khan Esmaiel Zadeh
Figure 5: Hussein Yahaqi
Figure 8: Rahmatollah Badi'ee
Figure 10: Davood Ganje'ee
Figure 12: Mohammad Moqadasi
Figure 14: Mehdi Azarsina
Figure 16: Ali Akbar Shekarchi
Figure 18: The old and recent styles of holding the kamānche
Figure 19: Darvish Reza Monazami
Figure 22: Saeed Farajpuri
Figure 24: Ardeshir Kamkar
Figure 26: Kayhan Kalhor
Figure 6: Ali Asqar Bahari
In the recent years, many Persian instruments have been under the influence of western instruments. For example, the bass kamānche and the alto kamānche are now used in many ensembles. The alto kamānche is two and half tones lower than the regular kamānche.
The bass kamānche is one octave lower than the regular kamānche and is played either like the cello or the regular kamānche.
Figure 1: The alto kamānche
Figure 3: Ebrahim Qanbari Mehr with the bass kamānche
Figure 5: Jaleh (the innovator of a particular alto kamānche known as alto jaleh)
Figure 6: The alto jaleh invented by Reza Jaleh
Figure 7: The Delroba, another invention of Reza Jaleh
In the past four decades, the kamānche players have created various techniques to produce different sounds from this instrument. Some of these techniques were for the violin, such as the use of very fast passage, Arcata, Arrache, Tremolo, Trill, and Staccato. In fact, the sound of kamānche in the traditional style is not very clear as it is in the new style. Moreover, some kamānche players, such as Kayhan Kalhor and Saeed Farajpuri adopted some elements of the folkloric styles as well.
Figure 1: Mohammad Ali Kiyani Nejad, composer
Figure 4: Ardeshir Kamkar