IRAN xi. MUSIC

 

IRAN

xi. PERSIAN MUSIC

Persia is a country with rich and diverse musical tradition, which may be classified in various ways.

(1) Regions of music. All ethnic groups (the Persian majority, Kurds, Lors, a number of Turkic-speaking peoples, Baluchis, Armenians) and various ethnic and religious minorities claim to have distinct musical styles and genres. In the present article, the emphasis is on the explicitly Persian traditions, although the significance of other traditions cannot be underestimated. It is important to note that members of various ethnic minorities have participated in the development of Persian musical traditions and have significantly contributed to their enrichment throughout history, and they still do. The Persian concept parallel to the European idea of “folk music” is musiqi-e maḥalli (regional music, more recently musiqi-e nawāḥi), and in Persian discourse about music the distinctness of regions is stressed.

(2) Classes of music. Persian culture recognizes categories of music parallel to those of Europe and India (among other cultures): folk music (maḥalli), urban popular music (sometimes pejoratively called musiqi-e ʿāmiāna), with functions parallel to those of Western popular music, exhibiting a great variety of musical styles; and classical music, designated with various adjectives as aṣil (authentic), sonnati (traditional), kelāsik (classic, a French loanword), or dastgāhi (with patterns or rules). Various other forms of sound performances, such as the formal recitation of the Qurʾan (tajwid), the passion plays (taʿzia), the recitations of poetry at the zur-ḵāna (q.v. at iranica.com) are, strictly speaking, ordinarily not classified as music.

(3) Degrees of musicality and social acceptability. A major debate in Islamic theology and jurisprudence has been the social acceptability of music in general, or of its various types, genres, and contexts (see Zonis, pp. 6-8). The debate has always been of broad significance, but here only its effect on the concept of music will be noted. The word musiqi (derived from Greek via Arabic) means “music” in the English sense, but it refers more to instrumental than to vocal music, more to metric and rhythmically predictable music than to music with free rhythm, and more to secular than ceremonial or even sacred contexts. A second word, ḵᵛāndan (to sing, to read, to recite) is more widely used for vocal forms. Thus, one may argue that there is a continuum between ḵᵛāndan and musiqi, with certain types of performance (e.g., Qurʾan recitation, call to prayer) closest to ḵᵛāndan, others (popular and composed classical instrumental music) closest to musiqi, and others yet (e.g., classical vocal and instrumental improvisations) being intermediate.

History. The musical culture of Persia, while distinct, is closely related to other musical systems of the Middle East and Central Asia. It has also affinities to the music cultures of the Indian subcontinent, to a certain degree even to those of Africa, and, in the period after 1800 particularly, to that of Europe. Its history can be traced to some extent through these relationships. Like that of most of the world’s cultures, the music of Persia has depended on oral/aural transmission and learning. Despite the fact that native notation systems seem to have been developed periodically, and even while Western notation, in adapted form, has come to be widespread in classical music, music is normally learned through hearing; and, in any event, the reading of notes during performance (as is common in Western music) has never become a norm. This is due in part to the importance of teacher-specific instruction and the importance of improvisation (badiha-sarāʾi, q.v.).

Our knowledge of the history of music in Persia is based on a variety of sources, which do not contain notational documents. Art objects, from sculptures dating from ancient times to miniatures from the last eight centuries, depict instruments, performers, and contexts (Mirabdolbaghi; During and Mirabdolbaghi, passim; Nettl, 1991). Works of Persian literature and occasional writings by visitors to Persia contain descriptions of musical events and sounds. There is a rich body of philosophical and theoretical treatises about (or including) music that describe the system of modes, rhythms, and genres through history, and also discuss the moral and aesthetic aspects of music. The study of contemporary music terminology yields important clues. Much of the evidence suggests that important aspects of musical life, such as ensemble types (e.g., singer, accompanying wind or string instrument, drum), important instruments, and a system comprised of melody types that may be innovatively interpreted but go back many centuries. Music was an important element in imperial and aristocratic courts. Major figures in the history of Persian music include Bārbad (q.v.), the minstrel-poet at the court of the Sasanian king Ḵosrow II Parvēz (r. 591-628), Ebrāhim Mawṣeli (742-803, q.v.), the outstanding Persian musician at the court of Hārun al-Rašid, and his equally celebrated son Esḥāq Mawṣeli (767-850, q.v.), as well as a number of leading philosophers and music theorists, such as Abu Naṣr Fārābi (q.v.), Avicenna (q.v.), Ṣafi-al-Din ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen of Urmia (Farhat, pp. 3-5), and Qoṭb-al-Din of Shiraz (q.v.).

Although musical performance continued to be controversial throughout the Islamic period, it was supported by the princely courts and by Sufi orders and, eventually, by modernizing social forces. Persian music experienced several periods of decline, but its revival in the late decades of the Qajar dynasty was spurred by Mirzā ʿAbd-Allāh (ca. 1843-1918, q.v.), who was principally responsible for developing the radif, or the basic repertoire of classical Persian music; Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Darviš Khan (1872-1926, q.v.), composer and influential teacher; and ʿAli-Naqi Vaziri (1886-1984, q.v.), who sought to revitalize Persian music by modernizing it through the introduction of Western technologies, musical principles, and performance contexts (During and Mirabdolbaghi, pp. 31-46; Zonis, pp. 30-40; see also Ḵāleqi, 1955-56, I, pp. 115 ff., 296 ff., II, passim; Behruzi, pp. 62-72, 104; Khatschi; Ṣafwat).

An important aspect of Persian music history is the influence of Persian music in South and West Asia. Much of the musical terminology of Arabic, Turkish, and (most of all) Azerbaijani cultures is of Persian origin. The 16th-century Mughal emperor Akbar (q.v.) introduced major changes in Indian music by bringing Persian musicians to his court. Turkish classical music is dominated by the work and thought of the great Persian poet and Sufi Jalāl-al-Din Moḥammad Rumi. The twentieth-century history of Persian music is characterized by the standardization of the radif, the body of about 250-300 (for a list, see Ṣafwat, pp. 78 ff.) short pieces of music memorized by musicians as a point of departure for improvisation and composition, which makes Persian music as a distinct system easily distinguished in its sound and structure from those of its neighbors. Persian music in the 20th century is also characterized by use of the Western-based international system of music notation, which led to the formation of orchestras and distinguished ensembles and brought about noted composers of traditional and experimental music. The existence of sizeable Persian diaspora communities in Europe and North America has been a major factor in the last few decades in introducing Persian music to the Western audience (Zonis, pp. 17-40; Nettl, 1992, pp. 154-94).

While the various non-Persian-speaking ethnic groups of Persia maintain their musical tradition, many of the musicians of Persian classical music (and of modern mainstream popular genres) have been members of minorities, particularly including Kurds, Jews, and Armenians.

Attitudes and values. Although Persia is rich in musical sounds, it is a fact that Persian society of both earlier and recent past in the Islamic period has taken an ambivalent attitude towards music, reveling in its aesthetic but regarding it as dangerous and to be handled with care, and prohibiting it in certain contexts and, sometimes, forbidding it totally in public. This is particularly true among devout Muslims. Although the statements in the Qurʾan about music do not specifically suggest its prohibition, its use has been circumscribed by religious authorities through the ages in the Islamic Middle East, most recently in Persia following the revolution of 1978-79. Popular music in places of entertainment, public performances by female musicians, and even instrumental music in general have been proscribed. The desire to maintain a musical culture has been supported by the tendency to define “music” narrowly and to encourage members of non-Muslim minorities, such as Jews and Christians (and following this, Muslim minorities such as Kurds), to the practice of music. Musicians, with the exception of world-famous artists, did not enjoy high social status, and in the classical music field it was, until the late 20th century, preferable to be considered a learned amateur than a professional. The concept of freedom is closely associated with musical values. This is evidenced by the centrality of improvised music, and by the concept of the ideal of amateur musicianship, in which the improvising performer has liberty of all sorts, from the freedom to perform what and as long as he wishes to the decision to select out of the musical vocabulary from moment to moment. Professional musicianship is a specialized occupation, particularly in rural communities, in which performers typically restrict themselves to one genre of music or type of recited narrative. Performers of classical music ordinarily do not participate in popular or folk genres, but musicians active in Persian classical music may also be active “Western” or “international” music. Finally, Sufism and Sufi ideas play an important role in various aspects of Persian musical thought (During, 1991, pp. 167-76).

Vernacular music. “Vernacular music” is an imprecise term denoting the music in which a society as a whole participates, or which is known and appreciated by a broad segment of a population, in contrast to the fine-art music which belongs mainly to an intellectual or social elite. In Persia, ceremonial music, rural folk music, and urban popular music might be considered “vernacular.”

Ceremonial Music. Ceremonial music (e.g., reciting of the Qurʾan and the call to prayer, or other liturgies such as those of the Jewish, Zoroastrian, Bahai, and Christian religions) includes the performances of the naq(q)āra-ḵānas. These were places—in towers attached to the royal court and some shrines (e.g., those of Imam ʿAli al-Reżā in Mashad and of Šāh-e Čerāḡ in Shiraz)—at which a kind of military band consisting of woodwind (reed) instruments and kettledrums played regularly at dawn and sunset and also on the occasion of public rejoicing (e.g., a military victory, Nowruz, birth of a prince). The institution had a long history in Persia, but it largely disappeared in the course of the 20th century (see, e.g., Eskandar Beg, I, p. 370; Mostawfi, Šarḥ-e zendagāni I, pp. 362-64, 420-21). Also in the realm of ceremonial music is the singing or chanting, and drumming, of the moršed (lit. leader) in the zur-ḵāna, an institution best described as a traditional gymnasium in which men, typically in groups, engaged in physical exercises, some derived from ancient warfare with wooden clubs, and some related to the whirling dance of dervishes. The moršed sings verses from epic poetry, particularly the Šāh-nāma, while his drumming helps the athletes keep time and rhythm and signals changes in movement. In passion plays (taʿzia), a ritual theatre enacting the battle of Karbalāʾ and the suffering and martyrdom of Imām Ḥosayn b. ʿAli (q.v.), the characters sing or chant, improvising to traditional motifs (Zonis, pp. 10-12). Finally, among ceremonies, there is the practice of sina-zani (chest-beating) at mourning processions on the occasion of ʿĀšurāʾ (q.v.). Groups of men march and then, periodically, form a circle and chant, using short motifs in responsorial style and, as a kind of percussion, beating their chests or backs in rhythmic accompaniment.

Rural folk music. Musical cultures of rural Persia are contrastive to traditions in Europe, where the concept of “folk music” is widely defined and based. There is relatively little group singing, or songs to accompany agricultural labor. Music is experienced largely through hearing various kinds of musical specialists. Among them are professional instrumentalists and vocalists, referred to as moṭreb (musician), who perform at formal events such as weddings. The storyteller (naqqāl) may recite (using traditional melodic formulae) the Šāh-nāma and other epic poetry in teahouses, interspersing the recitation with spoken commentary (a practice found also in other epic traditions in Central Asia and the Balkans). The rawża-ḵᵛān recites verses in honor of Imam Ḥosayn, commemorating his martyrdom. The baḵši (q.v.), a wandering minstrel, entertains at social gatherings with romantic ballads about warriors and warlords. Some of these music specialists belong to individual ethnic groups (e.g., Kurds, Turkmans, Baluchis), while others are generally distributed. Folk musicians usually learn their art from fathers, uncles, or other relatives. In performance, they may read the words of their songs from printed or written sources, but the music is orally transmitted and often consists of tunes that exist in numerous variants. Thus, a quatrain (do-bayti, q.v.) with the rhyme-scheme aaba, is often sung to variants of a tune type called “the čahār-bayti tune.” Persians often stress the individuality of the folk music repertory of the various regions (see Blum, 1974 and 1978).

Urban popular music. Urban popular music, best defined as music largely distributed through mass media of broadcast, recordings, and film, has seen periods of development as well as decline in the 20th century. Before 1978 it could be heard in urban music halls patronized largely by men. Public performances stopped shortly after the revolution of 1978-79, and there have been occasional public concerts since 1990. Outside Persia, this music has been significant in the integration of diaspora communities.

Persian popular music over the period after 1960 has been characterized by a great variety of styles, resulting from combination of elements deriving from Persian classical and rural folk music, Arabic, Indian, Russian, and a variety of Western European and American popular genres, ranging from French and Italian lyrical songs to rock music. Popular music is most commonly performed by vocalists with elaborate accompanying ensembles, whose instruments include the traditional (e.g., tār, santur, ney, tombak, daff) mixed with European instruments such as violin, flute, piano or keyboard, and guitar. The words of popular songs through the 20th century have had an enormous variety of subject matter, including romantic love, traditional folklore, devotional subjects, and, at various times, serious protest against intolerable social and political conditions (e.g., “Jomʿa,” “Bu-ye ḵub-e gandom,” “Šabāna”).

Instruments. The traditional cultures of Iran possess a large number of instruments, some of national provenance, others regional; some shared with neighboring cultures, and some of European origin (During, 1991, pp. 99-152; Mallāḥ, 1997). The following are most prominent in traditional classical music: (1) The setār is a lute with small body, frets, and long neck. It has four (sometimes three) strings, one of which is not fingered but used as a drone. The strings are plucked with the nail of the forefinger. (2) The tār is a larger, long-necked lute with a large sound box carved from one piece of wood and covered with skin. It has six strings and is plucked with a plectrum. (3) The kamānča is a fiddle with small round body, supported by a spike (like a cello), and held on the player’s knee. It has four (sometimes three) strings and is bowed with a horsehair bow held palm upwards (see Darviši). (4) The santur is a trapezoid-shaped dulcimer with seventy-two strings; it is hammered with light balsa wood mallets. (5) The ney is an end-blown reed flute with (usually) six finger-holes; it is particularly significant in Sufi music and is used also in Arabic, Turkish, and Central Asian cultures. (6) The tombak or żarb, a goblet-shaped wooden drum with one skin, is played with the fingers. (7) The daf(f) (see DAF(F) and DĀYERA) is a kind of frame drum which forms an integral element in Sufi music. (See Mallāḥ, pp. 143-62, 184-92, 305-15, 406-12, 421-23, 592-99, 696-701; for pictures, see During and Mirabdolbaghi, pp. 85, 93, 98, 111, 121, 129, 132-33, 140-41, 146, 151.)

These are the central, major instruments of Persian classical music, but there are also others that are widely used. The tanbur is a long-necked ancient instrument with four strings and a small sound box. It is the favorite instrument in the northeastern and western regions, particularly among the Kurds, and is treated with special respect by the Ahl-e Ḥaqq (q.v.). The qeyčak (also ḡeyčak, ḡičak, ḡežak) is a complex-shaped, strong instrument similar to the sarinda of Pakistan and North India. It belonged to village music until it was introduced to the classical in the 20th century. It originally had varying arrangements of bowed and drone strings, but there are only four in classical music. The ʿud is a lute with short neck and large body and no frets. It is the principal traditional instrument of Arabic cultures, with five or six identically tuned pair of strings. The European violin in its traditional form (but with occasional adjustments in tuning) was adapted to Persian classical (and popular) music and became one of the principal instruments in the 20th century. The piano (q.v. at iranica.com) has also been adapted (sometimes with elaborate retuning of its strings) to Persian classical music (Mallāḥ, 1997, pp. 192-219, 505-12, 514-19, 719-25; Zonis pp. 149-84; During and Mirabdolbaghi, pp. 108-9).

The instruments used mainly in what was referred to above as vernacular music include the following: The sornā (also zornā), an oboe-like double-reed instruments similar to many forms found in South and West Asia and southeastern Europe, is an important instrument in ceremonial music and weddings. The dotār, the prototype of Turkish sāz, is a large lute with long neck and oval body and two or three strings (or sometimes more). It is also widely used in urban traditions in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The qoṣma consists of two clarinet-like instruments in parallel attachment that are played in unison. While the urban instruments are substantially standardized, those of village music exist in many regional or personally invented variant forms (Mallāḥ, 1997, pp. 327-28, 416-20; During and Mirabdolbaghi, pp. 99-152).

The classical music. Traditional classical music in its late 20th-century form consists of a number of genres distinguished in various ways. Some are fundamentally vocal, some instrumental, and others performed either way. Some are composed and memorized, and others, improvised to varying degrees; some are explicitly solo, and others, intended for ensemble performance. All are based, or so it is claimed, on a body of music known as the radif. The radif is the principal distinguishing feature of Persian classical music. Perhaps the best way to understand the complexity of Persian classical music is to think of the radif as a repertoire of music which is not actually performed (except in instruction and practice), but parts of which are selected by a musician to serve as bases for composition and for improvised performance. All parts of the basic unit of “performance” are based on one dastgāh (q.v.) or fundamental mode or tonality. A concert may consist of one long performance; more commonly, in public concerts, there may be two or three. In this regard, Persian performances are somewhat analogous to those of North Indian music.

The Radif. The radif is a collection consisting of about 250-300 short pieces of music (from 30 seconds to four minutes; see Farhat; Nettl, 1992; Masʿudieh, 1978; Maʿrufi and Barkešli). While it is a unified concept to musicians, each master musician has an individual version of the radif differing slightly from others, and in a musician’s career his version of the radif may change. But most musicians claim that their versions go back, ultimately, to the original version arranged by Mirzā ʿAbd-Allāh (q.v.), son of the famous court musician ʿAli-Akbar Farāhāni. Although the history is unclear, it seems that Mirzā ʿAbd-Allāh and some colleagues assembled musical materials already widely used, organizing, standardizing, and codifying customs already extant and in some cases held in common with Arabic, Turkish, and Azerbaijani traditions (Khatschi). The concept of radif is not instrument-specific, as the vocal and instrumental radifs do exhibit important distinctions (compare Maʿrufi and Barkešli with Masʿudieh, 1978).

The many pieces in a radif are organized into twelve modal systems (dastgāh, q.v.), each with a characteristic scale or collection of pitches, one or several principal musical motifs consisting of half a dozen notes, and other traits. Musicians claim that each dastgāh has a specific non-musical, expressive character (e.g., devotion, affection, calm, majesty, warlikeness), but they do not always agree on the specific attribution (see, e.g., During and Mirabdolbaghi, pp. 72-75). According to some musicians, all the twelve modal systems have equal status. Others would maintain that there is a hierarchy: (1) Of seven primary dastgāhs, Šur is the most important, the “mother of dastgāhs,” followed by Homāyun (q.v.), Segāh and Čahārgāh (q.v.; these are labeled as “brothers,” because they have important musical relationships), Māhur, Navā, and Rāst-panjgāh. (2) Five secondary or derivative ones are also called āvāzs, naḡmas, or motaʿlleqāt. They are: Dašti, Afšāri, Bayāt-e Tork (also called Bayāt-e Zand), and Abu ʿAṭā (qq.v.), all associated with Šur, and Bayāṭ-e Eṣfahān (q.v.), associated with Homāyun. Although the numbers (seven and twelve) have symbolic significance and thus assure the claim a certain constancy, it seems that new dastgāhs are in the process of developing as “spin-offs” of older ones—for instance, Bayāt-e Kord (q.v.), a part of Šur, which is now often performed independently, and Šuštari, a part of Homāyun (see Setāyešgar, s.vv.; Ṣafwat).

A dastgāh consists of several pieces generically called guša (q.v.). The first of these is always called darāmad (lit. introduction; q.v.) and contains the most characterizing motifs; these continue to reappear in the radif (in a variety of musical contexts) and should be referred to in performances based upon the radif. There follow several gušas, most of them without musical meter, some departing from the scale of the dastgāh, a few with metric character (generically called żarbi), some with memorable tunes and others melodically undistinguished, usually in gradually ascending order of pitch. Some gušas appear (identically or in variants) in more than one dastgāh. Each dastgāh has a cadential passage called forud (lit. descent; q.v.), and a passage signifying the climax, called ʿawj (lit. pinnacle), and there are other analogous features (see Setāyešgar, qq.v.).

The dastgāhs are most easily distinguished by the configuration of pitches or notes that they use. These distinctions are somewhat analogous to the differences between major and minor scales in European music or the church modes of medieval European music, and the Indian system of ragas. The bases of Western modes are whole and half tones; these are used in Persian music as well, but additionally there are intervals approximating three-fourths and five-fourths of a European whole tone. The specifics of the tuning have been the subject of debates among theorists, some of whom use ancient Greek music theory as points of departure, while others maintain that the history is substantially Persian, and others again argue for modernized European-based solutions (Maʿrufi and Barkešli, pp. 1-20; Farhat, pp. 7-18). The names of the dastgāhs and gušas suggest an unusually rich body of music that has been assembled from many sources and which reflects various points of view. Included are place names in Persia (Zābol, Eṣfahān, Neyšāburak) and outside Persia (ʿArāq, Rāk-e hendi, Ḥejāz); ethnic groups (Afšāri, Bayāt-e Kord, Bayāt-e Tork/Bayāt-e Zand); emotional and descriptive terms (Šur “passion”; Homāyun “royal”); sounds from nature (Čakāvak “lark”), history (Ḵosravāni), folklore (Layli o Majnun), musical character such as degrees of a scale (Segāh “third place”; Čahārgāh “fourth place”) or structure (Moḵālef “opposite”; Maqlub [or Maḡlub] “turned over”); terms referring to poetry (Do-bayti “couplet”; Čahār-pāra, a quatrain with a particular meter; Ke-rešma, a specific poetic rhythm) (see Setāyešgar, s.vv.).

The rhythmic character of the radif (and of Persian music generally) is complex and varied. While it is easiest simply to distinguish non-metric (or “free”) rhythms and those that have meter (like the European three-fourths or four-fourths), there is in fact a great variety of rhythmic character, with different degrees of predictability or of adherence to metric principles, much of it being based on the metric schemes of poetry (Tsuge; Miller).

The radif is traditionally taught by aural transmission, with individual teachers imparting their versions, guša by guša, to students. It is important to some teachers that the radif be learned slowly, with meditation and contemplation of the individual parts. The pedagogical genealogy of a musician is thus important in establishing his claim to authenticity in his use of the radif. The reputation of a musician rests to a large extent on his knowledge of the radif, and on his ability to show both originality and understanding of the learned tradition in a performance. In the course of the 20th century, various attempts were made to standardize the radif, by publication of notated radifs (some transcribed into Western notation from recorded performances), and by government appointment of a committee (headed by Musā Maʿrufi) to produce a standardized version (see Maʿrufi and Barkešli for a notated version of this radif; see also Zonis, pp. 62-66). These notated and published versions and recordings of the radifs of prominent musicians such as Nur-ʿAli Borumand (q.v.) and Maḥmud Karimi, largely serve archival purposes, and most teaching even in the early 20th century was done through aural means. Investigations and interpretations of the structure and character of the radif constitute an important component of scholarship by contemporary Persian musicologists (see Maʿrufi and Barkešli, Ṭalāʾi, and Asadi).

Composition and improvisation. The radif, as was pointed out above, for all its wealth and complexity functions as a fundamental theory of the music and is used as a point of departure for improvisation and composition. Musicians may speak of varying degrees of “classicalness” to distinguish the extent to which a performer or composer adheres to the principles of the radif. A full-blown performance of Persian classical music is said to consist of five parts (for more detailed descriptions, see Zonis, pp. 137-48; Farhat, pp. 22-23; Caron and Safvat, pp. 142-58):

(1) Piš-darāmad is a composed, often stately, metric piece intended to be played in unison (or near unison) by an instrumental ensemble, melody instruments accompanied by drum; it may also be performed solo by a melodic instrument.

(2) Čahārmeżrāb (q.v.) is a fast, metric piece, often with a repeated rhythmic pattern, always an instrumental solo, and most popularly played by santur; it is intended to show the performer’s virtuosity. A čahārmeżrāb is ordinarily pre-composed and memorized, but it might also be improvised; and, in any event, the performer of a composed one often takes improvisatory liberties, changing order of sections, creating variations and repetitions.

(3) Āvāz (q.v.) is the central piece in the performance. It is improvised, and largely non-metric, although sections of metric music (żarbi) or music in the virtuosic čahārmeżrāb style may be inserted. It is here that performers show their knowledge of the radif as well as their creativity. In the most conservative performances, the soloist goes through the gušas of the dastgāh one by one, using each as point of departure for improvising. More typically, only a few of the gušas are selected, and they may appear in an idiosyncratic order. Almost always, material from the introductory darāmad appears again at the end. Āvāz may take from ten to forty minutes, and interaction with the audience is a major source of inspiration for the performer. The āvāz may be instrumental or vocal, and in either case an instrumental accompanist may participate, typically following the soloist by following two or three notes behind, and occasionally recapitulating what has gone before. Studies of the ways in which one guša may be various interpreted through improvisation by different performers have been central in musicological research on Persian music (see, e.g., Massoudieh, 1968; Nettl and Foltin; Nooshin, 1998).

(4) There follows a taṣnif, a composed metric song, usually of 20th-century origin but sometimes using words from earlier classical poetry. While vocally intended, and often sung in unison with accompanying instruments, it may also be performed as an instrumental solo. Taṣnifs form a genre of Persian music that may also be performed independently, and they play a role in popular music as well.

(5) The last genre is reng, a composed rhythmic piece, ordinarily of light character, taken from or associated with dance music, although dancing itself does not play a role in classical music. As may be seen, the central section is improvised, improvisation being the most prestigious sort of music making; and it is accompanied by a retinue, preceding and following, of composed works.

This full-blown performance of a dastgāh, similar to large-scale suites of genres found elsewhere in the Middle East (the nawbat of North Africa, the waṣla of Egypt and Syria, the samāʿ of the Sufis in Turkey, and the Iraqi maqām) is considered as the ideal norm of Persian classical music. In fact, however, one rarely hears it in this form. More typically, one may hear two, three, perhaps four parts, normally in the order presented above; thus, many performances and commercial recordings consist of piš-darāmad, āvāz, and tasÂnif; or piš-darāmad, čahārmeżrāb, and āvāz; or čahārmeżrāb and āvāz; etc. Many performances consist of āvāz alone, although in that case, music in the style of čahārmeżrāb (applied to the content of a guša), or composed taṣnifs, may be inserted. Finally, some of the composed genres, particularly čahārmeżrāb and taṣnif, are performed independently and play a major role in the sector of popular music that is related to the classical tradition. It should also be pointed out that the composed pieces are typically of 20th-century origin, and that their composers are known and ordinarily acknowledged.

Recent history. The period roughly between 1950 and 1980 was characterized by modernization and Westernization of Persian music (Zonis, pp. 184-204; During, 1991, pp. 52-56; Nettl, 1992, pp. 143-94). Modernization consisted of various strategies to make Persian music compatible and competitive with the Western music that was increasingly being introduced into Persia. This included modern methods of instruction at conservatories and university departments, the increased use of an adaptation of Western notation, standardization of various sorts, introduction of Western instruments, increased emphasis on composed pieces and less attention to improvisation, and Western-style public concerts and radio broadcasting. Westernization involved the introduction of musical elements central to Western music, such as the occasional use of or reference to Western-style harmony, composition for larger ensembles, and the use of the radif in European-derived forms of composition.

The period after 1980 saw a number of significant developments, some of them contradicting those of the period 1960-80. After a period in which musical life declined, the study of Persian classical music revived in several older and some newly founded institutions. There was increased emphasis on authenticity of the radif, particularly in the sense of maintaining the connection to the (supposedly) original form of Mirzā ʿAbd-Allāh.

During the second half of the 20th century, a large (temporarily exiled or permanently settled) emigrant population of Persians developed in European and North American cities, particularly in Paris, New York, and Los Angeles. In these communities, traditional Persian music (classical, popular, and urbanized folk forms, and Western-derived music using elements of the radif) came to play a major role in fostering ethnic identity and a connection to the traditional culture of Persia.

 

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(Bruno Nettl)

Originally Published: December 15, 2006

Last Updated: March 30, 2012

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