By Karim Othman Hassan
We know nothing of Mustafa, the maker of this oud, apart from the fact that he was studying carpentry or instrument making. So Stockholm’s Swedish Museum of Performing Arts (Scenkonstmuseet) is home to the instrument of an intermediate-level student.
Why might the instrument be significant?
Part of the answer lies in the instrument’s provenance. It was made in Adana, the third largest city in Turkey today, the population of which under the Ottomans, just as now, included a significant proportion of Arabic-speaking people. This is unsurprising: Adana was once on a very important trade route into neighbouring Syria.
The body comprises 19 ribs alternating walnut and maple, placed alongside one another without extra strips between them. Their join on the block at the base was cut out in a circular shape, over which a walnut veneer was attached.
The construction of the oud in no way suggests a prototype of instruments made in this period in Istanbul by Greek and Armenian luthiers. Rather, it resembles examples made in Aleppo.
Unlike most Istanbul ouds, the well-preserved face has only one sound hole, which is fitted with a relatively simple, and not very well carved rosette. This was glued from inside, and did not fill in the space exactly. The absence of a border or inset lining the sound hole is typical for the Aleppian luthier George Hayek.
The naive palm motive and floral tendrils of the pickguard are also similar to those of some early Aleppian instruments. This somewhat elementary floral inlay is also on the fingerboard.
It is difficult at this stage to be more precise. One might suspect that Mustafa took an oud by the Aleppian Hayek as a model, even that his teacher had set him the task of making a copy. But the bridge is a type that is typical of Cairene and Damascene ouds rather than any made in Aleppo. Moreover, the 12 spoon-shaped pegs and the absence of the ‘almond’ – a decoration marking the end of the neck where it joins the body – would not support that notion either.
Why did Mustafa not copy the famous oud makers of Istanbul? Could there have been nationalistic inclinations at play? Did players from Greek communities play ouds made by Greek makers? Did Armenians have Armenian ouds in their hands? If Mustafa and / or his teacher were Arabs, did they take an Arab instrument as a model for this reason? These questions are difficult to answer.
Possibly Mustafa’s school relied on locally-made ouds that could be found more easily and more cheaply in Adana than more costly models made in Istanbul.
The text was translated from German by Rachel Beckles Willson.