Music of Iran


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The gosan are mysterious figures: of them we know in practice only that they were the heirs of the Persian epic tradition, which in the time of the Arsacids (Parts: see History) declaimed verses of heroic deeds accompanying them with music.

When the Sassanids succeeded the parties, the Persian musical production did not show any sign of declining, rather it perfected itself further in the splendid courts of the monarchs, where the musicians formed a caste in its own right in the imperial hierarchy.

The musical instrument par excellence of that era was certainly the harp (chang), whose sweet sound created the most suitable atmosphere for the declamations of the court poets.

After the start of the Islamic Era the harp gave way to the qanun, another type of oriental harp to 27 chords probably dating back to the Assyrian-Babylonian period.
But after a hundred years the qanun disappeared in turn: it would have been re-launched about 70 years ago thanks to the teacher Rahim Qanooni and his sons, who brought him back to Iran from Baghdad.

Over the course of time, however, other instruments have gained lasting importance.
Some strictly Persian, others similar to those of Arab music.
The most typical is the santur, a trapezoidal psaltery to 72 strings beaten with wooden hammers; one of the most important is the tar, a short-handled lute with an "eight" shape, rigorously made using a single piece of wood, with five or six strings vibrated by a metal plectrum.

Also similar to the lute is the setar (tar means "rope", and se-tar "three strings"), which despite the name is a four stringed instrument stretched on a pear-shaped case: it is built by gluing strips of wood, and wood is also its soundboard.

One of the oldest Persian instruments is the kamantcheh, a wooden viella with a long handle on which four strings are fixed to be grazed with the bow.

On the other hand, five strings have the 'ud, a mandola whose prototypes probably date back to the third millennium BC
Among the percussion instruments, the most "modern" and popular is the daf, the rattle tambourine; while the tonbak (or zarb), a medium-small calyx drum supported by a pedestal, is much more ancient and ductile: its calf-skin membrane is struck with the hands.

In the early centuries of the Vulgar Era, therefore, those formal characteristics that would have made Persian music original and different from any other oriental music, even from the Arab world, had been codified.

To present the typical form in a simple and succinct way, one could start from the concept of radif, which indicates the art and the Persian musical science as a whole.
The radif ("sequence", but also "system") consists of several dastgahs, specific structures codified over the centuries, modal scales identified in various repertoires of melodies, each of which is called gusheh.
The dastgahs are twelve, seven "fundamental" and five "derivatives", some of which are mahur and isfahan, or rather
still the homayoun, they approach the major and minor western intervals; the octave is divided into several sounds; there are intervals equivalent to one quarter, three quarters and five quarters of a tone.
The dastgah to which Persian music recurs most frequently is shour.

With the arrival of Islam, Persian music did not disappear; indeed, do you play? a not negligible role in the evolution of Arab music.
Just in the 7th century Zalzal lived, a Persian blood musician, from whom he took the name an "interval" typical of oriental music, the median between the minor and the major.
The Iranian mastery in the field of music remained uncontested until the tenth century, for as long as the Abbasid caliphs, despite being Arabs, protected artists such as Ibrahim al-Mawsili or Ziryab (the latter founded the School of Cordoba).

The Turkish and Mongol invasions determined for? a phase of arrest in the evolution of Persian musical art, which for several centuries failed? to return to the ancient splendor, while keeping intact its traditions in the private dimension, thanks to restricted élites.

Only in the last century did it witness its re-flowering: musicians and scholars of great value, such as Abdollah Mirza (1845-1918), undertook to reorganize and codify the musical languages ​​and repertoires of tradition, classifying them with scientific methods and fixing them in canons precise.
At the same time, however, does the new production begin? to be affected by the influence of European musical culture; and we know how in the twentieth century, especially since the fifties, even in Iran a process of accentuated "contamination" of styles began, above all because of the will of the monarchy Pahlavi to impose at all costs the superstructural aspects of culture Iranian process of rapid and indiscriminate westernization.

Fortunately, the classical tradition has been protected and preserved by musicians such as Hossein Gholi, Ali Vasiri, Moussa Ma'aroufi, and more recently by Faramarz Payvar (the founder of the modern school of santur), Abolhassan Saba or Mohammad Reza Shajarian.
Some of these masters have curated, and still continue to treat, even specific musical genres, which fully belong to the Persian tradition, although they have developed only in the more recent centuries: the avaz, in the first place, the "song", term with which we mean the execution, or the declamation, of classical poetic compositions, such as ghazal; but also the tasnif, very popular and widespread, a sort of "ballad" in which the metric structure responds to a rhythmic "counterpoint"; the pish-daramad (literally "introduction"), which already in the name clarifies its function of "opening" of more extensive concertations; and the reng ("rhythm") the "dance" used above all as a conclusion of the musical performance.

Persian "epic music" is also important, to which a special Festival is dedicated in May each year Tehran.
One of the most prestigious experts in the field, who has been dealing with Iranian regional music for twenty years, Mohammad Reza Darvishi, has concluded in the 1997 a two-year research tour conducted throughout the country on the traces of ancient epic music, in part now lost, partly preserved only in the memory of a few individuals or played only on special occasions such as the Ashura ceremonies, and has obtained (over three thousand interesting photographs) a wide and scientific classification organized for "rhythms", "texts "And" socio-historical factors ".
In general, epic music accompanies the stories of popular struggles against the Khans and the cruel local lords.
Kambiz Rowshanravan, a famous composer still in business, calls it "music that emphasizes the courage and devotion of the people".

Currently, the interest in music is very high, on the part of Iranians, especially the younger generations: in recent years, there has been a real boom in requests for enrollment in music schools and conservatories.
Naturally young people are sensitive to Anglo-Saxon music; but can you? to say with good reason that the attention to the classical national tradition is much more alive and widespread than in the West, and at the same time the regional or "bell tower" music is slowly regaining its strength.

Each of the many ethnic groups that populate Iran possesses and jealously guards its musical traditions.

To cite one example among many, the Kurds pay special attention to their own centuries-old heritage; their music has managed to preserve original characters dating back to very ancient times.
For example, in the Kurdish city of Mahabad (Western Azarbaydjan) the Heyran music is still performed, born at the time of Mithraism, which accompanies lyrics and epics always alive in the local oral tradition.
Among these, it is important to remember the romantic legend of Leili and Majnoun, which in Persia has been immortalized in written culture (as for example in the Divine Book of Attar), while among the Kurds it remains entrusted to the song.

The Kurds also protect the preservation of Khanegahi (ie "monastery") music, a special repertoire of mystical music that accompanies the verses of Mowlana Rumi and Hafez extolling the implications of gnostic "prayer" - in Mahabad there is even organized a special festival, called Zekr-o Zakerin.
Kurdish folk music, and the song that accompanies it, speak instead of social problems or sorrows of earthly love.
But there is also a majlisi ("court") music, very linked to forms codified over the centuries, privileged by the most famous Kurdish poets in history.
Currently, the Kurdish regional authorities are pressing on the central offices to issue more licenses for the establishment of local music institutes, of which only a couple are currently operating (most of the enthusiasts are studying privately).
In reality, in all of Iran public initiatives in favor of music can not be defined as non-existent.
Every year, in October, the Festival of Youth Music takes place, which has the task of discovering new talents.

Every February the 13th Fajr Music Festival takes place in Teheran, organized in the "Islamic countries", "Youth" and "Competition" sectors, plus an area dedicated to popular, regional and folk music.
One of the most active among the musical ensembles constituted by private individuals is today the Sarv group (the term is the Farsi name of the cypress, one of the most beloved symbols of the Persian nation by the population), whose most striking feature is that it is the only band in the country where young people of both sexes (21 girls and four boys) perform together: the musicians usually accompany with the daf their partners, who play the tar, the setar, the piano and the violin .
The Sarv was formed in the 1959: a group called "The Teens of South Tehran", active in the local House of Culture, among other things taught classical music to teenagers in the southern quarters of the capital; gradually, the most able students gave life to new small bands. In this way, the Sarv was born, which in the last years has carried out the task of musically accompanying the opening and closing ceremonies of the Women's Olympics in Tehran, participated in the inauguration ceremony of President Khatami after the May elections 97 , and is often called to perform in government buildings to greet the arrival of foreign guests.

Traditional music in Iran

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