Armenia’s greatest living musician and the acknowledged master of the duduk, Djivan Gasparyan has
toured throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the United States for over fifty years. His work can be heard on numerous film soundtracks, including The Crow, Russia House and Gladiator. The duduk is a traditional woodwind instrument from the greater Armenia region. A double-reed instrument of ancient origin and noted for its unique, mournful sound.
Djivan Gasparyan was born in 1928 in the village of Solag, near to the Armenian capital of Yerevan. This was when Armenia was still a member of the USSR. His father was also an accomplished duduk player and Djivan became his apprentice at an early age. However his biggest inspiration came from the cinema. “I was fascinated by the duduk players accompanying the film,” he once told an interviewer. “Their ability to play a suitable melody for a sad or romantic scene, and also to burst in with vivacious folk dances when the film demanded more dynamism. The film didn’t interest me much, but I was riveted by its extraordinary ability to express the right feelings through the duduk.”
A fuller description of the duduk is that it has eight holes plus a thumb hole, and is made out of Apricot wood with a cane reed. It’s hand crafted in three sizes (approx. 11, 13, and 16 inches long) with a split-tube mouthpiece that enables its subtle intonation. It’s only limited to one octave, but is capable of amazing expression despite this. Its history dates back to at least the fifth century, although some scholars believe it’s 1,500 years old.
By going to the cinema each day Djivan befriended the older musicians who taught him the process of circular breathing essential for the accompanying drone part (also known as “dam”). Eventually he joined them as a damkash (drone player). At the age of twenty he joined the Tatoul Altounian National Song and Dance Ensemble and studied at the Conservatoire, after which he became a soloist for the Yerevan Philharmonic Orchestra. He began touring internationally in the late fifties, travelling to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and America.
Djivan eventually became a professor at the Yerevan Conservatoire and has now taught there for more than four decades. He won gold medals in world music competitions sponsored by UNESCO in 1959, 1962, 1973, and 1980 and holds the title of ‘People’s Artist of Armenia’. He’s also noted for composing songs based around the love poetry of Vahan Derian – a famed Armenian poet (1885-1920), lyricist, and public activist known for his sorrowful romanticisms.