The qānūn is originally an Iranian instrument. By the advance of the Islam and the coming of the Arabs, this instrument was adopted by the Arabs and became a dominant instrument in the Arab world. The qānūn was also a common instrument in Iran up to the Safavids era (1502-1736). But, by the invasion of Iran by the Afghans in 1736, many aspects of Iranian music were destroyed and faded away including the qānūn. The oldest record of the qānūn in the history of Persian music can be found in Farabi’s book, the Musiqi al-Kabir. Farabi (870-950 A.D.) was a great Iranian philosopher and musician who wrote extensively about music.
Figure 1: The picture of the qānūn from the Musiqi al-Kabir
The qānūn is a flat trapezoidal wooden box with twenty-four or twenty-six triple courses of strings made from nylon or metal. The strings are stretched over a single bridge poised on the animal-skins on one end, attached to tuning pegs at the other end. The vibration of the strings will be transfer to the bridge. As a result, the skin will be shaken and produce the sound. On the top surface, there are big wholes called “gols” meaning flowers. These gols play important roles in the sound quality of the instrument.
Figure 1: The whole view of the qānūn
Figure 2: A close view from the tip
Figure 3: A gol
Figure 4: The tuning pegs
Figure 5: The bridge fixed on the skin
Figure 6: The bridge and the strings passing over it
Figure 7: The strings
The only document remained since the last four hundred years ago is a number of paintings in the Chehelsotun Building in Esfahan.
After the Safavid era, there is no trace of the qānūn in Iran until the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time, a man known as Rahim Qānūni and later his son, Jalal Qānūni (b.1906), from the city of Shiraz, brought back the qānūn from the Arab countries to Iran.
The third person who played an important role in revitalizing the qānūn in Iran was Mehdi Meftah who did some research about this instrument and introduced the qānūn to the new generation. As a result, the Iranian Ministry of Art and Culture decided to produce some new qānūns and train some more qānūn players. Among these newly trained qānūn players we can name two women, Simin Aqarazi and Malihe Saeedi, who are the most famous Iranian qānūn players.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, when the qānūn was brought back to Iran, it was still played in Arabic style. Malihe Saeedi was the person who made a lot of efforts to give the qānūn more Persian flavor in sound.
The traditional style of playing the qānūn is to pluck its strings with two horn plectra, one on the index finger of each hand. In recent years, Malihe Saeedi added a new technique to the traditional one which is playing the qānūn with ten figures. This new technique will provide the player with many opportunities in terms of playing and producing different sounds.
Today, the qānūn is played in many countries and has many fans throughout the world. It is played in the Arabic countries, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and some European countries. The European qānūn players usually follow the Arabic style of playing and because of that the generated sounds are familiar for the Middle Eastern people.
Figure 1: Qānūn players in the banquet of Shah Abbas Safavid
Figure 2: Rahim Qānūni
Figure 3: Jalal Qānūni
Figure 6: Malihe Saeedi
Figure 9: Parichehr Khajeh qānūn player
Figure 10: Sahar Ebrahim qānūn player
Figure 11: Julian Jalal al-din Vis, a French qānūn player
Figure 4: Simin Aqarazi, Player of Qanoon