Geographic Region: West Asia
Country of origin: Iran
SvH No.: 321.321
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The ud is a short-necked fretless lute with four to six courses of paired strings (although often there are five courses and an additional single low-pitched string). Its pear-shaped body is fashioned out of a series of thin, light ribs of wood. The sound table has a large round soundhole cut into it, and sometimes two additional smaller soundholes. Between the soundhole and the bridge is a piece of membrane, wood, or shell, which protects the soundtable from potential scratches from the plectrum. The upper strings are made of nylon (formerly gut), while the lower strings are made of metal wound around silk. The peg box extends back from the neck at a noticeably sharp angle. Uds are often adorned with detailed inlay, although generally Turkish uds are plainer than Arabic ones. The ud pictured above is from Syria, and features elaborate pearl inlay on the fingerboard and richly ornamented soundholes. The word ‘ud’ literally means ‘wood’ or ‘twig’ in Arabic, and was originally associated with the barbat, a similar Persian instrument (see Poché 2009: 1, who contradicts Henry George Farmer’s hypothesis that this name referred to the ud’s wooden soundtable, as opposed to the barbat’s skin resonator). At least one scholar has additionally pointed out that in some early Arabic lexicons, the word ‘ud’ also refers to a tortoise shell, which is significant as some lutes are made from tortoise shells, and in Greek legend, Apollo is said to have made the first lyre out of a tortoise (Grame 1972: 25). Both the European instrument known as ‘lute’ and its name derive from the ‘ud,’ or ‘al-‘ud,’ which spread to Europe via Andalusia (Touma 1996: 111).
In the distant past, most uds had four courses of paired strings tuned in fourths, and up until the fifteenth century, the four-course ud was referred to as the ud qadim, or “ancient ud,” to distinguish it from the five-course kamil ud (“perfect ud”), which had emerged in the ninth century (Touma 1996: 111). Nowadays, the five-course ud is most common; a version of the four-course ud survives only in Morocco (Poché 2009: 4) and Tunisia (Touma 1996: 114), although this ud is tuned differently from the ud qadim. Additionally, some virtuoso performers play uds with a sixth string placed above the first, highest-pitched course; the tuning of this string can vary. Some uds have a sixth course or string placed below the fifth course; this string is often tuned only a major second below the fifth course, rather than a fourth below.
The ud player plucks the strings with a plectrum held between the thumb and index finger. This plectrum is traditionally made from a quill from an eagle’s feather, although nowadays plastic plectrums are often used instead. The strings may be plucked in repeated downward motions, or alternating down and up, or in irregular patterns combining multiple up and down strokes (see Touma 1996: 112). Because the ud is fretless, the strings must be stopped precisely to achieve accurate intonation; however, there is also freedom for interpretation when it comes to pitch placement, especially when ornamenting through glissandi and vibrato. In the Ottoman style of performance, which has spread from Turkey to Aleppo and Baghdad, the emphasis is on ornamentation with through vibratos and glissandi; subtler plucking is required for this intimate approach. Adherents to the Egyptian school of ud performance pluck more firmly and focus on virtuosity and volume (see Poché 2009: 5). Occasionally the player may not pluck the strings with the plucking hand, but instead hammer the strings with the fingers of the hand stopping the strings; this technique is especially prevalent among Egyptian-style performers (see Touma 1996: 113).
Ud music is traditionally orally transmitted, but since the latter half of the 19th century, musicians have adapted Western-style notation to transcribe or compose music for the ud and other Near Eastern instruments. However, because music for the ud is usually not even-tempered, as Western music is, the transcribed pitches do not necessarily match the corresponding Western pitches exactly. Furthermore, to indicate the lowering or raising of a pitch by a quarter-tone or three-quarter-tone, additional accidental signs have been devised (see Touma 1996: 18-24).
History and context
The ud is central to music of the Arab world, but of secondary importance in Turkey, Iran, Armenia, and Azerbaijan; it plays a lesser role in Greece, and more recently has spread to Mauritania and Tajikistan (Poché 2009). The instrument has had a long history since its origins in Persia, and predates Islam among Persians and Arabs (Feldman 1996: 114). During the 17th century, the use of the ud declined in Persia and among Ottoman court musicians, who began to favor the tanbur; the ud has re-emerged more recently in Turkish classical music since the end of the 19th century (Feldman 1996: 133-6, 143).
Farmer, Henry George. 1994 . A History of Arabian Music to the XIIIth Century. London: Luzac Oriental.
Bachir, Mounir. 1988. Recital: Solos de Luth-Oud. SACEM/SDRM, AAA 003.
Last Modified: 12-Mar-2009TOP