Music of Iran


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The material in this section is taken from the catalog of exhibition on the musical instruments of Iran, creator and curator architect Antonio Bianchini, held in Rome at the National Museum of Musical Instruments in the period from 5 to 20 April 2008 in collaboration between the aforementioned museum and that of Music in Tehran.



Anthony Bianchini

Iran in the broadest sense of the Iranian plateau occupies a barycentric geographical area between Europe, Africa, China and India and as such constitutes a hinge capable of joining East and West. A strong territorial identity has been formed in this pivot, testified from the beginning of civilization by its own cultural and artistic traditions of great refinement and sensitivity such as the Achaemenid, Sassanid and Safavid ones.
As evidenced by the archaeological finds of the city of Susa the very ancient bronzes of Lorestan, the rock reliefs of the Sassanid site of Taq-e Bostan up to the most recent paintings of the Qajar period, an autonomous cultural product is developed, also the result of the influences of neighboring civilizations, which under the Muslim push is then exported to the West where it is grafted into scientific disciplines and artistic experiences as well as in musical theory.
Precisely from the Safavid period are some of the most beautiful representations in the sparkling miniatures of signs and colors representing court scenes: here as evidence of the importance of music, ensembles of reclining musicians can be seen in a central position, between dignitaries, kings and elegant girls. often on a splendid one carpet, paradigm par excellence of the refined sensibility of this people.
Like poetry, music is a distinctive trait of Persian culture, a symbol of a civilization that has spread over vast territories for centuries and whose influence has gone beyond the territorial boundaries of the empires that flourished under it.
Even through the history of musical instruments proper to these territories it is possible to reconstruct the links and contacts that civilizations have established between them; the skill of craftsmen in the precious inlays and decorations, by the great master builders of instruments, it combines in an indissoluble whole, musical theories, philosophical thought and construction techniques from different geographical and cultural fields, modifying, refining and reworking influences that testify exchanges between cultures, mutual knowledge and individual evolutions.
The coexistence of populations of different ethnicity and religion, the presence of communities is not negligible Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Nestorian, Manichaean and Buddhist, rooted in the territory for more than a millennium, each with its own cultural traditions, contributed under mutual influences to form a complex and fascinating musical panorama that perhaps can be summarized in the tradition of "art music" Persian that boasts great interpreters and performers heritage of humanity.

History and musical traditions of Iran

Antonio Di Tommaso

Music in ancient Persia

There are numerous archaeological finds that inform us about the contexts and instruments of musical practice in ancient Persia and of Persian music, and that provide concrete confirmation to the literary testimonies that have come down to us through the writings of Greek authors such as Herodotus, Athenaeus and Xenophon, and from certain Muslim authors who lived in medieval times, such as the Persian poet Firdousi, who drew their knowledge on ancient Persian music from sources of oral tradition.

Persia, Music and Islamic Civilization

The history of Persian music in Islamic civilization was characterized by the presence of an urban court music which seems to have maintained, in a period ranging from the eighth to the sixteenth century, a certain homogeneity of language, such as to allow us to speak of a single music classic, sponsored from time to time by the courts of the Abbasids, the Jalairids, the Timurids, the Ottomans and the Safavids.

Music theory

The Abbasid Caliph al Màmun founded in Baghdad in 832 la Bayt al-hikma; o House of Wisdom, or a laboratory of Arab translators who for generations were involved in adapting texts in Greek and Aramaic into Arabic, perpetuating the work of translating Greek knowledge already undertaken in the centuries preceding the Hegira (622) by Syriacs and Nestorians.

Persian Classical Music The Safavid period

The advent of the Safavid kingdom marked a new period of splendor for the musical life of the court in the cities of Iran. Already with Shah Esrnà'il I (1502-1524) the city of Tabriz became a rich musical center: this sovereign held in high esteem the music of Ashiq, or Azerbaijani bards, and he delighted himself in writing verses on mystical love and on sci'a, and in playing the lute with the long handle SÀZ or QOPÙZ. It was also at this time that Persian musical practice definitely influenced the younger music of the Turkish-Ottoman courts, which housed numerous Persian musicians and singers in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Persian Classical Music The Qajar period

With the Afghan invasion and the fall of the Safavids in 1722, the rich musical tradition of Isfahan seems to disperse, with the displacement of many masters to the courts of Turkey, Central Asia and Kashmir. During the brief reigns of the Afsharide and Zand dynasties (from 1737 to 1794), classical Persian music decisively disappeared from the historical scene, only to reappear in the XNUMXth century at the Qajar court. It is in this transition phase between the Safavid and Qajar kingdoms that a clear separation occurs between the three great Turkish-Ottoman, Iraqi and Persian musical traditions: from the XNUMXth century onwards they will develop independently.

Persian Classical Music The radif

Despite being a set of musical units or Gushe-ha (plural of Gushe, which means “corner”) each with a title, the radif it turns out to be a decidedly more complex entity than a simple model-repertoire, or a simple modal system. Its function is not only to allow the conservation and learning of a corpus of compositions and to provide common models and bases for the performance (which is characterized by a high degree of extemporaneousness);

Performance and musical teaching

The execution of classical Persian music is, traditionally, reserved for private rooms strictly occupied by a very limited audience of connoisseurs: in houses, in gardens, once in the courts of sovereigns and music lovers. The performers are usually a singer accompanied by one, two or three instruments with a decidedly little voluminous tone; you sit on the floor in an environment decorated with showy carpets and the contact between musicians and listeners is practically colloquial.

The principle and the sense of melodic ornamentation in Persian music

As in most musical traditions belonging to the cultures of the East, Persian classical music is homophonic. Nevertheless it presents a high degree of sophistication, which is not given as much by the length and variety of the melodic lines and by the complexity of the rhythmic cycles, as it is for other rich oriental classical traditions, but from the principle of ornamentation, whose meaning is contained in the very simple "traditional" maxim referred to by Dariouche Safvate: "it is not important what you play, but like it is played ».

The traditions of poetry sung

The musical tradition of Iran, in both urban and rural contexts, is inextricably linked to poetry. Some medieval literary sources (Qutb al-Dìn Shirazi; Nezami) show us the importance that sung poetry already had in the Sassanid era: 360 were the "arias" called Dastan composed by Barbad, one for each day of the Zoroastrian year.

Persian Musical Instruments

The musical instrument is an object that faithfully records and reflects the evolution of the civilization of a territory. Describing in a few lines a subject so vast and complex as it involves a multitude of aspects, requires identifying which ones allow us to reconstruct the most evident traces in a journey made up of times and places. Just as the marks left by the performer and time on the body of an instrument allow us to reconstruct its history as well as on the body of this Persian music instrument which is the territory of Iran, the instruments are the signs of an ancient civilization capable of expanding in the neighboring territories its original characters by virtue of a poetic and refined cultural domination.

To make the subject of Persian music complex, is the presence, in the present Islamic Republic of Iran, of a great variety of ethnic groups and regions with very pronounced characteristics: the Persian official language, it is spoken by little more than half of the population and other languages ​​characterize strong cultural identities such as those of Azerbaijan, Baluchistan, the Turkmen Plateau (Iranian), the Kurdistan (Iranian), the regions of the Persian Gulf, all regions whose ethnic groups cross the territorial borders making the national belonging more uncertain. ...

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Traditional music in Iran



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