Theories Of Persian Music
Overall, the history of Persian classical music - like the history of Iran itself - can be divided into two major eras, Pre-Islamic and Post-Islamic.
Under the Achaemenids (550-330 BCE), music served an important function in worship as well as in courtly entertainment. Bas-reliefs from the period clearly depict groups of singers, players of trigonal harps (chang), accompanied by large tambourines, as well as long necked lutes and double-flutes. However, the first written evidence of Persian music is from the Sassanid Period (226-643 CE). Khosrau II was a great patron of music, and his most famous court musician, Barbod, was said to have developed a musical system with seven modal structures (known as the Royal Modes), thirty derivative modes, and 365 melodies, associated with the days of the week, month and year.
The Arrival of Islam
With the advent of Islam in the seventh century, Persian music, as well as other Persian cultural elements, became a formative element in what has since become "Islamic civilization". Persian musicians and musicologists overwhelmingly dominated the musical life of the Eastern Islamic Empire. Baqdad became the centre of Persian music, and many musicians who were active in that capital of the Islamic world and are considered to be Arabs were actually were Iranians. Zalzal (d.791), Ziryab (89-857) and the Museli family were among these Persian musicians who played a very important role in enriching and developing of the musical tradition of the whole Islamic world. Zalza introduced additional frets on the lute that made available non-diatonic intervals: one approximately half-way between a minor and a major third; one approximately half between a major and augmented second; and one approximately half way between a semitone and a tone. The first of these is commonly called ‘the neutral sound’; its sound is characteristic of traditional music throughout West Asia.
An important development taking place in the history of Persian music in this period was the invention of the notation system. This notation system was based on the Abjad system of writing in which each letter corresponds to a number as well. In this system of notation like its western counterpart each letter represents a tone. However, in the Persian system of notation the staff was not used and the letters were written as they were written in a regular writing. The rhythm was shown by designating a specific number under each letter. (Figure 1 & 2)
In this period of Persian music history some philosophers wrote about music and its theory. Most notable of all was Abu Nasr Farabi (d.950). In his book, “Musiqi al-Kabir”, Farabi talks in detail about music theory and instruments. In this book, Farabi refers to the tanbur of Baqdad and the tanbur of Khorasan, and for each of these instruments he presents a scale. According to him, the tanbur of Baqdad is tuned to a scale proceeding in step of approximate quarter-tones and encompassing a range of little more than a minor third. Farabi describes another scale based on the intervals of the tanbur of Khorasan. This scale has twelve notes. (Figure 3)
The 13th Century
In the thirteenth century, Arab-Persian music theory became largely standardized into what became as the Systematic or Iraqi school (since it developed in the court of Baqdad). The pioneer of this school was Safiadin Ormavi (from northwestern Iran) who provided a theoretical synthesis of the many systems of intervals and scales proposed before his time. Safiadin divided the octave into seventeen notes, giving each note a name. (Figure 4)
One of the main important topics and terms in Safiadin’s music theory is the concept of “dowr” (cycle). The dowr is based on the division of an octave which can be dived to small sections such as thetrachord and penachord. For example, one dowr from C to C can be consist of two tetrachords like (C-D-E-F) and (G-A-B-C) or a combination of a tetrachord and a pentachord like (C-D-E-F) and (F-G-A-B-C). Safiadin defines thirteen penachords and twelve tetrachords, and by multiplying them he came up with ninety- two dowrs or maqams. However, only twelve maqams out of ninety-two maqams were recognized by Safiadin as consonant. These modes or maqams to this day provide the theoretical basis for all different kinds of Middle Eastern music.
The Mongol Invasion
The Mongol invasion of Persia (from 1220), drastically changed the socio-political environment of the region. During this period, Shiite theology became established, and Sufism penetrated deep into Persian lyrical poetry. The musical style of Araq (western Iran) gradually adopted the structure and emotional language of ghazal (a form of Persian poetry) and poetry became the main source of avaz (vocal section). During the 16th to 17th centuries, Persian music began to follow its own course and diverged from that of its Arabic, Turkish, and Tajik neighbors.
The Safavid Period
With the rise of the Safavid dynasty at the end of the fifteen century, and the increasing influence of Shiism, music in Persia declined. The court still patronized musicians, but their art became subject to the authority of Shiite clerics, who viewed it with suspicion. Musical performance was given over to illiterate 'labourers of pleasure'. The brilliance of the Persian tradition passed to India, where the ruling Moguls were Turco-Mongols, deeply influenced by Persian court culture. In Iran, musical traditions were kept alive by Sufis and performers of taziye (Shiite passion plays).
The Qajar Period
During the nineteenth century-probably due to the increasing inability of Persian musicians to perform large-scale, improvised structure-what was remembered of the Persian tradition, a repertoire of some 300- 400 pieces known as the radif , was organized into twelve suites dastgah-ha (‘organization’). Naseradin Shah was a great patron of music. He sponsored many great musicians among them Mirza Abdollah and Aqa Hussein Qoli Farahani who organized the basis of the contemporary Persian traditional music repertory, radif. (Figure 5)
A process of Westernization of Persian music began in Iran in 1862, when, Naseradin Shah ordered the establishment of a military band, such as he had observed in Europe playing overtures, marches, polka, and waltzes. A French musician, Alfred Lemair, was hired to run a traditional ensemble of indigenous horns, trumpets, and percussion into a Western concert band. His work was so successful that by the end of the ninetieth century, the music school in Tehran taught Western instruments and music theory.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, Colonel Ali Naqi Vaziri wrote a theory for Persian classical music based on the theory of Western classical music. Vaziri tried to explains the modes of Persian music on the bases of western scales. He also tried to temporize the intervals of Persian music. Vaziri’s theory dominated Iranian music schools and conservatories for more than fifty years and still accepted by many. However, during the Revival era, many musicians tried to codify a theory for Persian music base on the structure of the radif and the modes of this music. This point should be made that in this search they were influenced by western ethnomusicologists as well. (Figure 6)
Figure 1: A song written in the old system of notation
Figure 2: The same song transcribed in western notation
Figure 3: based on the frets of the tanbur of Khorasan
Figure 4: Safiadin divided the octave into seventeen notes
Figure 5: Mirza Abdollah Farahani
Figure 6: Colonel Ali Naqi Vaziri
The Principles of Persian Music
Like other Middle Eastern music, the music of Iran is modal in nature. Initially (before the Qajar era) each of the major modes had an associated formula for melodic invention (mayeh). The mayeh included rules for cadences, a hierarchy of tones, and acceptable melodic patterns. Using the mayeh as a guideline, the musician was expected to improvise within a single mode for the duration of the performance, much as is done with Indian raga. Gradually, this method became cumbersome for the musicians and for the listeners. As a result, during the Qajar dynasty, the old modes and mayehs were restructured and the dastgah system was developed. The modes were replaced by the seven dastgahs and five avazs. The names of these dastgahs are: shur, mahur, rast panjgah, segah, chargah, nava, homayun. The avazs are: abuata, bayat-e turk, afshari, dashti and esfahan.
In studying Persian music theory this point should be taken into consideration that in Persian music like some other modal musical systems, tetrachords and penatchords are more important than scales. Persian music is a modal music in which different combinations of tetrachords and pentachords make its modes. As mentioned, all of these modes are categorized into a large repertoire known as the radif, classified in large units known as dastgahs and avaz. In fact, the radif is the model repertoire with modal, rhythmic, and melodic potentialities anticipated for Persian classical music. As a matter of fact, the repertoire, while being extremely flexible, is used as a model for improvisation and composition.
The radif itself has smaller parts which are dastgah, avaz, and gushe. In fact, the dastgah also has its own repertory of modes and melodies, each of which is called an avaz and gushe. Avaz is a sub-dastgah whose structure is very similar to that of a dastgah but in smaller scope. Each dastgah has a pitch scope which is between two and two and a half octaves. The pitch scope of a avaz is smaller between an octave and a half. (Figure 1)
Each dastgáh and aváz is composed of a succession of melodic segments of various lengths called gushe, which can be either rhythmic or non-rhythmic. A gushe is actually a melodic type which usually spans only four or five tones, and serves as a model for improvisation. The first gushe in each dastgáh or aváz is called the daramad, which explores and establishes the main mode of that dastgah or avaz. Subsequent gushes may modulate to different modes. In fact, different gushes come after the daramad in succession to complete the pitch scope of each dastgah or avaz. Generally, the gushes are played in an order which fills the lower, middle, and upper portions of the dastgah’s pitch scope. Aside from that, the order and mode of each gushe may not have a logical relationship to that of the dastgah itself. The different gushes are bond together by melodic fragments known as foruds, which inevitably resolve to the finales of the dastgah. Within each dastgah are also encoded the rules for achieving that resolution. (Figure 2 & 3)
Each dastgáh or aváz has three main .The first of these notes is the sháhed note, which holds the most weight within the gushe. Sometimes, this note is translated as the ‘tonic’, which is not exactly correct since Persian music is a modal music not tonal. For example, the pitch scope of the daramad mahur C is from G, four notes before the C which is the sháhed note of the daramad mahur. Each dastgah has a main sháhed note which is also the sháhed note of the daramad of that dastgah. For example, in the above examples which are in the dastgah mahur the sháhed note of the daramad and the whole dastgah is C. But, each gushe may have its own shahed as we can see on the gushe dad in the dastgah mahur whose sháhed note is D. (Figure 4)
Another important note is ist (stopping). There are two kinds of ist note: the temporary one and the complete one. The temporary ist note is a temporary cadence on which the gushe rests. The complete ist is the final cadence for that particular gushe which may or not be the same as the sháhed note of that gushe. The mutaghayer (variable) is a variation of a note which is used in a gushe. For example, in the gushe shekaste in the dasgah mahur, the sixth note of the dastgah (in this case LA from the mahur C) is variable. This note is sometimes natural and sometimes a quarter tone lower.
Persian classical music is intertwined inexorably with Persian literature, and the body of the radif has a close relationship with the poetry and prose of its lyrics, which forms the rhythmic basis of the radif. There are both rhythmic and non-rhythmic melodies in the radif. The difference between the rhythmic and non-rhythmic melodies is parallel to the difference between the internal rhythm of poetry and prose. The rhythmic cycles are based on Persian poetry as well as the regional dialogues of Iran and are very rich. They include meters such as 2/4, 3/4/,4/4, 5/8, 5/4, 6/8, 7/8,8/8,10/8,12/8 and14/8, Like prose, the non-rhythmic melodies may not have a barred meter, but they nonetheless have an internal pulse which cannot be measured exactly, but can be sensed.
Figure 1: The pitch scope of the dastgah Mahur
Figure 2: The pitch scope of the daramad mahur
Figure 3: The daramad of the dastgah mahur
Figure 4: Gushe dad
The forms of Persian classical music can be classified in the five categories: pishdaramad, charmezrab, avaz, tasnif, and reng. From these five forms charmezrab, avaz, and reng exist in the radif. The composers of Persian classical music can compose any of these forms.
Pishdaramad is a measured instrumental piece with slow tempo. Pishdaramad serves as an introduction to a performance. Pishdaramad developed in the late Qajar era and seems to be invented by a great master of the tar, Darvish Khan. Pishdaramad is a kind of introductory piece which draws its melody from some of the important gushes of the dastgah or avaz in which the performance is. By playing the pishdaramad, the audience will be ready for listening to the different gushes of that dastgah or avaz in dept during the performance. (Sample 1)
Chaharmezrab is a virtuoso solo piece, using specific plectrum formulas. It is characterized by a fundamental motif repeatedly manifesting itself interrupted by melodic figures of music. Chaharmezrab has a fast tempo, and is often accompanied by the tombak. (Sample 2)
Avaz (Literally chant, not to be confused with the avaz as a sub-dastgah) is basically singing based on a classical text (ghazal, roba’i, dobayti, masnavi, and ect), in a non-measured rhythm. Avaz often amounts to a free interpretation or the adaptation of a gushe. Since Persian traditional music and poetry are intertwined, avaz is the main form and genre of this music. Persian vocal quality is distinctive and includes the tahrir, a kind of yodeling effect in which individual or repeated notes are articulated, using high falsetto or head-voice breaks. (Sample 3)
Tasnif is a classical or semi classical song in a measured rhythm, based on original text, with or without a classical construction. This means that a tasnif can either follow the rules of the meter in Persian poetry (aruz), or it can be simply syllabic. Tasnif is the only fix-metered, composed, no-improvisatory vocal piece. (Sample 4)
Reng is a measured instrumental piece. The reng is the final section of a dastgah or avaz and has a very lively tempo (unlike the pishdaramad). Rengs are meant to be danced with; but the art of the dance has almost disappeared in the last several decades. (Sample 5)
Beside composing fixed compositions, the ability to improvise is the highest goal for Iranian musicians. A musician learns the radif in its different versions and plays many fixed compositions by famous masters in order to develop his own ability of improvising. The real art of improvisation is unprepared creation. At the moment of creation, the musician faithful to the art of improvisation chooses a certain path by selecting various intervals and harmony with his mood. Until the sounding of the first note on stage, this path is a secret to the conscious mind of the improviser and what is desired in during the performance is only known to the unconscious. During the performance, one can choose from many modes and melodies which have been learned by the conscious mind. Improving in this way requires years of practice and repletion as well as strong understanding of the radif and its structure. If a musician knows the structure of the radif, he can develop gushes and link them together in a proper way. The most sophisticated type of improvisation is morakhab-khani or morakab-navazi which is modulation from one dastgah to another. In general, the balance between the fixed composition and improvisation is the reminder of preservation and creation in Persian classical music.
Figure 1: Darvish Khan; composer
Figure 2: Parviz Meshkatiyan; composer
Figure 3: Mohammad Reza Shajariyan; Persian classical singer
Figure 4: Parviz Meshkatiyan; composer