The music of Mongolia is strongly influenced by nature, nomadism, shamanism, and also Tibetan Buddhism. The traditional music includes a variety of instruments, famously the morin khuur, and also the singing styles like the urtyn duu ("long song"), and throat-singing (khoomei). The "tsam" is danced to keep away evil spirits and it was seen the reminiscences of shamaning.
Morin khuur (string instrument - horse-head-violin)
The morin khuur is a typical Mongolian two-stringed instrument. The body and the neck are carved from wood. The end of the neck has the form of a horse-head and the sound is similar to that of a violin or a cello. The strings are made of dried deer or mountain sheep sinews. It is played with a bow made of willow, stringed with horsetail hair and coated with larch or cedar wood resin.
This instrument is used to play polyphonic melodies, because with one stroke of the bow the melody and drone-strings can be played at the same time. The morin khuur is the most widespread instrument in Mongolia, and is played during celebrations, rituals and many other occasions, as well as an accompaniment for dances or songs. Even the sound and noises of a horse herd are imitated on the morin khuur.
People say that it is connected with a handsome man. It is also played when a ewe doesn't want to suckle her lamb. It is believed that the ewe, hearing this music, will feel better and accept her lamb.
There is a legend about the origin of this instrument. A Mongol missed his dead horse so much that he used its head, its bones and its hair to build an instrument on which he started to play the familiar noises of his beloved horse.
The history of this instrument is based on two other legends:
- A shepherd received as a gift from his beloved woman a magical horse that could fly. He used it at night to fly to meet his beloved. His jealous wife cut the horse's wings off, so that the horse fell from the sky and died. The grieving shepherd made a horse-head fiddle from his beloved horse.
- A boy named Sükhe (or Suho). After a wicked Lord (Pagan God) had slaughtered the boy's prized white horse, the horse's spirit came back to Sükhe in a dream and instructed him to make an instrument from the horse's body, so that the two could still be together and neither of them would have to be alone.
URTIIN DUU /LONG SONG/
The Urtiin duu or “long song” is one of two major forms of Mongolian songs, other are “short song” (Bogino duu). As a grand ritual form of expression associated with important celebrations and festivities, Urtiin duu plays a distinct and honoured role within Mongolian society. It is performed at weddings, the inauguration of a new home, the birth of a child, the branding of foals or other social and religious festivities celebrated by Mongolia’s nomadic communities. Urtiin duu can also be heard at the naadam, a festivity celebrating sports competitions in wrestling, archery and horseracing.
Urtiin duu is a lyrical chant made of 32 verses with a highly ornamented melody praising the beauty of the steppe, mountains and rivers, the love for parents or close friends, expressing reflections on human destiny. It is characterized by an abundance of ornamentation, falsetto, a long and continuously flowing melody with rich rhythmical variation, an extremely wide vocal range and a free compositional form. The rising melody is slow and steady while the falling melody is often intercepted with a lively triple continuant, imitating the pace of life in the grasslands. Performances and compositions of Urtiin duu are closely linked to the nomadic pastoral way of life, which is still widely practised in Mongolia.
Urtiin duu are believed to date back 2,000 years and have been recorded in literary works since the thirteenth century. A rich variety of regional styles has been preserved until today, and performances as well as contemporary compositions still play a major role in the social and cultural life of nomads living in Mongolia and in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Republic, which is located in the northern part of the People’s Republic of China.
MONGOLIAN KHUUMII /THROAT SINGING/
This form of expression involves the whistling of a finely ornamented melody with the tip of the tongue and the front teeth, accompanied simultaneously by a lower, rumbling base tone produced in the throat, which harmonizes with the higher melody. Mongol Khuumii or throat singing involves producing two simultaneous tones with the human voice. It is a difficult skill requiring special ways of breathing. One tone comes out as a whistle-like sound, the result of locked breath in the chest being forced out through the throat in a specific way, while a lower tone sounds as a base. Khuumii is considered musical art, not exactly singing but using one's throat as an instrument.
Depending on the way air is exhaled from the lungs, there are various ways of classifying hoomii, including Bagalzuuryn (laryngeal) khuumii, Tagnainy (palatine) hoomii, Hooloin (guttural) khuumii, Hamryn (nasal) khuumii, and Harhiraa hoomi: under strong-pressure in the throat, air is exhaled while a lower tone is kept as the main sound. Professional khuumi performers are found in only a few areas with certain traditions. The Chandman district of Hovd aimag (province) is one home of khuumii. Tuva, a part of Russia to the north of Mongolia, is also a center of Khuumii.
MONGOLIAN TRADITIONAL DANCING
The Mongol Biyelgee – Mongolian Traditional Folk Dance is performed by dancers from different ethnic groups in the Khovd and Uvs provinces of Mongolia. Regarded as the original forebear of Mongolian national dances, Biyelgee dances embody and originate from the nomadic way of life. Biyelgee dances are typically confined to the small space inside the ger (nomadic dwelling) and are performed while half sitting or cross-legged. Hand, shoulder and leg movements express aspects of Mongol lifestyle including household labour, customs and traditions, as well as spiritual characteristics tied to different ethnic groups. Biyelgee dancers wear clothing and accessories featuring colour combinations, artistic patterns, embroidery, knitting, quilting and leather techniques, and gold and silver jewelry specific to their ethnic group and community. The dances play a significant role in family and community events such as feasts, celebrations, weddings and labour-related practices, simultaneously expressing distinct ethnic identities and promoting family unity and mutual understanding among different Mongolian ethnic groups. Traditionally, Mongol Biyelgee is transmitted to younger generations through apprenticeships or home-tutoring within the family, clan or neighbourhood. Today, the majority of transmitters of Biyelgee dance are elderly, and their numbers are decreasing. The inherent diversity of Mongol Biyelgee is also under threat as there remain very few representatives of the distinct forms of Biyelgee from different ethnic groups.
MONGOLIAN FINE ART
Before the 20th century, most works of the fine arts in Mongolia had a religious function, and therefore Mongolian fine arts were heavily influenced by religious texts. Thangkas were usually painted or made in applique technique. Bronze sculptures usually showed Buddhist deities. A number of great works are attributed to the first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, Zanabazar.
In the late 19th century, painters like "Marzan" Sharav turned to more realistic painting styles. Under the Mongolian People's Republic, socialist realism was the dominant painting style, however traditional thangka-like paintings dealing with secular, nationalist themes were also popular, a genre known as "Mongol zurag".
Among the first attempts to introduce modernism into the fine arts of Mongolia was the painting Ehiin setgel (Mother's love) created by Tsevegjav in the 1960s. The artist was purged as his work was censored.