GUŠA (lit.,corner or part), a term in Persian music designating a unit of melody of variable importance, which occupies a special place in the development of one of the twelve modal systems (dastgāh or āvāz, qq.v.). This term came into use during the Safavid era, when the modal system was organized in six āvāzes, twelve maqāms,twenty-four šoʿbas,and forty-eight gušas, such that each element generated two other elements. It has no equivalence in other traditions of maqām, except in the Azeri maqām, where it has the same sense and the same function as in Persian music, and in the old maqām of Kashmir based on the Persian theory.
In Persian music some gušas are specific to a given dastgāh and others belong to two or three dastgāhs, with possible adaptations affecting the melodic and rhythmic forms or even the modal substance. The names of some of the gušas refer to forms and not to a specific melody (darāmad, kerešma, čahār-meżrāb, maṯnawi, etc.).
From the point of view of their importance and their function, three types of gušasmay be distinguished: 1) the great gušas(šāh guša), which contain an introduction (darāmad), several sections (guša) and even modulations (in the Azeri maqām they are designated by the term šoʿba); 2) the gušasof middle extent; and 3) the small gušas reduced to a simple motif. Only the great gušas may serve as a model for composition of measured pieces (such as taṣnif in Zābol, ʿErāq, etc.). Usually the performer has some liberty to modify the melodic substance of the gušasof each dastgāh, to somewhat rearrange their distribution and to leave out some sequences or put in others, borrowed from another dastgāh or otherwise composed. The introductory gušas (darāmad) have a particular importance in that they define the mode of reference, and because of this they cannot be left out.
The dastgāhsare composed of between 20 and 60 gušas according to the repertoire, and the āvāz between 5 or 6 and some 20. The integral canonical repertoires (radifs) of Mirzā ʿAbd-Allāh (transmitted by Nur-ʿAli Borumand, q.v.) adds up to 250 gušas, that of Montaẓam-al-Ḥokamāʾ 392 (Ṣafwat, p. 84), and that of Ḥo-sayn Aṣḡari Farāhāni (oral sources) more than 800. The Azeri maqām contains about 150 gušasand šoʿbas,but has no redundancies, which is not the case with Persian radifs. If we do not take into account the redundancies, the Persian repertoire would also contain the names of about 150 gušas.
The majority of gušas have a non-measured rhythm; they are, nevertheless, modeled on a metric texture coming from the couplet (bayt) usually sung in the guša. A typical guša of average importance usually includes a short introduction (darāmad) without text (sung on vowels), a motif sung on a couplet (āvāz, šeʿr), a short vocalized section (taḥrir), and a conclusion (forud). This struc-ture is generally also preserved in the instrumental radifs.
On the whole, with the gradual development of the dastgāh, the ambitus of its gušasis progressively enlarged, and the register in which they evolve rises, before rapidly descending to the low-pitched register (concluding guša, forud).
Some gušas are first and foremost melodic types defining a modal structure, with its intervals, its ambitus, its initial and concluding notes, its stops, etc. This is notably the case with darāmads. Others emphasize the melodic profile, typical little motifs and sometimes a real rhythm, without which one would mix some gušaswith others. In some cases, this kind of guša may be played in different intervals: for instance, the guša ʿOššāq is played, with various adaptations, in Homāyun, Rāst-Panjgāh, and Navā. Although many gušasare considered as melodic types, some are rather “typical melodies” with a very narrow margin for variations. This is notably true of the gušaswith a measured rhythm (e.g., reng-e šahrāšub, sāqi-nāma, gerāyeli).
Denomination of the gušas varies according to the repertoire, whereas the same name may sometime designate different realities, independent of possible variants. Some old gušas have been forgotten, or subsist as an integral part of another guša. Other gušas, previously mentioned as great maqāms (e.g., Bozorg, Zirafkand, and Busalik), are but, in present radif, little secondary fragments. Most of the names of the gušas indicate their specifically Iranian origin and could not be found in the Turkish and Arabic traditions; some are supposed to belong to the pre-Islamic period (cf. Ṣafwat, pp. 16-18), like Jāmadarān, Mehrabāni, Muya, etc., but we have no way of ascertaining that their contents is the same as in the past.
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Originally Published: December 15, 2002
Last Updated: February 24, 2012
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Vol. XI, Fasc. 4, pp. 404-405