BOḤŪR AL-ALḤĀN (Meters of melodies), a treatise on Persian music and prosody by Sayyed Mīrzā Moḥammad-Naṣīr Forṣat Šīrāzī (1271-­1339/1855-1920), first published in 1332/1914 (see Bom­bay ed., pp. 326, 334). The book is divided into two parts and a conclusion (ḵātema). The first part, the introduction, contains a discussion of Persian music (pp. 2-33), tables of the seven modes (dastgāh; pp. 34-­37), and observations on Persian prosody (pp. 38-56). The second part (pp. 57-319) is a collection of poems (ḡazals, robāʿīs, a maṯnawī, a sāqī-nāma, etc.) specially selected for singing. For each ḡazal its mood, the best time and place for singing it (e.g., day, night, spring, garden, house), and the most suitable musical mode are specified.

Boḥūr al-alḥān seems to be little more than an imitation of ʿAbd-al-Qāder Marāḡī’s Jāmeʿ al-alḥān; indeed, the concluding sections of the two works (defending the legality of music) are identical (Bombay ed., pp. 319-21). The book is nevertheless significant for the study of the historical and theoretical development of Persian music. For example, in Jāmeʿ al-alḥān Persian melodies are divided into twelve cycles (adwār), six āvāzes (singing parts), and twenty-four šoʿbas (bran­ches), whereas in Boḥūr al-alḥān they are divided into seven dastgāhs and several āvāzes, gūšas (melodic materials), and rengs (rhythmic parts for dancing).

Bibliography: Editions: Boḥūr al-alḥān, Bom­bay, 1332/1914; Boḥūr al-alḥān dar ʿelm-e mūsīqī o nesbat-e ān bā ʿarūż, ed. with introd., commentary, and indices by ʿA. Zarrīnqalam, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966-67. See also idem, Dīvān-e Forṣat, Bombay, 1399/1978-79 (see pp. 1-185 for an autobiography of Forṣat Šīrāzī). ʿAbd-al-Qāder b. Ḡaybī Ḥāfeẓ Marāḡī, Jāmeʿ al-alḥān, ed. T. Bīneš, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987.

(Taqī Bīneš)

Evaluation. Most of the information about ancient music in the Boḥūr al-alḥān (pp. 14-28) has been copied from various older sources (During, pp. 157-59), especially the Safavid treatise Bahjat al-rūḥ (incorrectly ascribed to Ṣafī-al-Dīn Ormavī), e.g., on the maqāms (modes), the corresponding signs of the zodiac, and patterns of modulation, but also the anonymous Maʿrefat-e ʿelm-e mūsīqī (ed. Doḵāʾ), in particular on the traditions concerning the origin of the twelve maqāms of the “systematic” school, eight of which are attributed to Pythagoras, the scope of the 42 ancient maqāms, āvāzes, and šoʿbas, ranging from five notes (bāng) to two octaves, and the spirit of each mode and the appropriate time for performing it. These sources are not, however, acknowledged in the book. No scientific or technical treatment of intervals, modal scales, and rhythmic cycles is included of the kind that can be found in the writings of his contemporaries Qoṭb-al-Dīn Šīrāzī or ʿAbd-al-Qāder Marāḡī.

According to the present-day masters of traditional music, the author originally intended to develop his description of modern Persian music on the basis of such traditional materials, but the master Mīrzā ʿAbd-Allāh (q.v.) explained to him that the traditional system had long since fallen out of use and taught him the rudiments of the modern modes (dastgāhs). Mīrzā Moḥammad accordingly continues with a brief outline of the Safavid system (pp. 26-27). He remarks that, though several modern melodies bear old names, it is doubtful that they are the same as those played by such early masters as Bārbad (pp. 28-29). Then, after pointing out that many learned men had struggled to arrange contemporary melodies (p. 29) in a traditional twelve-mode radīf (repertoire), he outlines the modern system, defined as a radīf consisting of 270 gūšas grouped in seven dastgāhs (pp. 34-37). This inventory is identical with that of Mīrzā ʿAbd-Allāh, which is still taught, but it is less extensive than those of radīfs worked out in various later schools (see Safvat, pp. 74­-100).

The second and more important part of Boḥūr al-alḥān, consisting of more than 250 pages, is a collection of poems intended to be sung in particular dastgāhs, āvāzes, or gūšas. Although, following contemporary vocal practice, the author focuses on affinities between the ethos of each poem and the corresponding mode, rather than on technical and metrical links between the two, he does not specify the nature of these affinities. His attributions are thus too imprecise to be useful in practice, and this section of the text must for the moment be regarded as merely a collection of poems, though a careful examination of its contents may some day reveal closer esthetic and expressive links between poetry and music.



Y. Ḏokāʾ, “Maʿrefat-e ʿelm-e mūsīqī,” Nāma-ye Mīnovī, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971, pp. 190-98.

J. During, La musique traditionelle de l’Azerbâyjân et la science des Muqâms, Baden-Baden, 1988.

R. Ḵāleqī, Sargoḏašt-e mūsīqī-e Īrān I, Tehran, 1333 Š./1955, pp. 186-88.

D. Ṣafvāt, Ostādān-e mūsīqī-e Īrān wa alḥān-e mūsīqī-e īrānī, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

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(Taqī Bīneš, Jean During)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 3, p. 320