4. Karachay folk music

This chapter is the first analytic overview of Karachay folk music. An insight is afforded into the colourful realm of this music, the typical and the singular being differentiated, the tune families defined and musical connections illumined.

The systematization is based solely on musical criteria, so a dance tune, an old religious song, a present-day Islamic tune, the tunes of the Karchay-Balkars in the Caucasus and those in Turkey may get close to each other. Some Turkish and Kumyk tunes are also inserted.

I have transposed the tunes to a common closing note, independently of their key. The next criteria of classification was form. A separate group includes tunes built of motifs, another contains those retraceable to one or two short lines and yet another the four-lined tunes (for a detailed presentation of the classes see later). Within a class, the groups are arranged by the cadential notes, and within a group the tunes are listed by the heights of the first line.

It facilitates systematization that the majority of Karachay tunes have similar melodic progression, thus the sequence by cadences within a class brings similar tunes together. The typical melody pattern has descending or hill-shaped lines, the progression being conjunct rather than disjunct with great leaps, and there is rarely a step below the cadential note. The structural scheme is also descending, with each consecutive line moving a bit lower. Yet the jump upward from the key note or somewhere around it to lauch the first line is also frequent, and rotating motion may also occur here which circles round a note of the ridge section (e.g. 30, 33, 35).

Let us review the musical classes. The arrangement is not mechanical, but governed by deep-lying musical criteria (a more detailed table is given before the anthology of tunes):

Class Characteristics Age
1 № 1–8 Rotating or plagal motion Archaic
2 № 9–37 One or two short lines and variants with x(1)1 cadences old and new
3 № 38–53 Four short lines with (1) main cadence old and new
4 № 54–62 Four short lines in (pseudo)domed form with 1(x)y cadences archaic
5 № 63–70 Four short lines with 1(VII)x cadences old and new
6 № 71–105 Four short lines with (2) and (b3) main cadences
7 № 106–115 Four short low lines with (4/5) main cadences
8 № 116–138 Four short lines with (4/5) main cadences and a higher start
9 № 139–145 Four short lines with (7/8) main cadences
10 № 146–186 One- or two-lined tripodic (archaic) tunes
11 № 187–199 Four-lined tripodic tunes
12 № 200–278 Jir tunes Kabard ­origin
13 № 279–287 Four long lines in a recursive structure new

As the table reveals, I separated a special four-lined Karachay musical form, the jir tunes (Class 12), from the rest of the four-lined tunes. Unlike the rest of the four-lined Karachay tunes, which are basically isometric, they comprise lines of peculiar structure and this feature holds them together despite the diverse cadential sequences and melody progression. Yet there are several jir tunes that display similarities in their melody lines to four-lined isometric tunes. The order by cadences was a good criteria to arrange the jir tunes as well.

Before embarking in detail on the melody classes, let me say a few words about the tunes that are exceptional or rare in the musical realm of the Karachay-Balkars.