Classical Persian Music

Classical Persian Music

Classical Persian Music is the precious and ancient heritage of the Iranians passed on through generations from master to pupil, for thousands of years - It is the music in which sounds of nature, poetry and mysticism come together to form a mosaic of hundreds of beautiful and delicate melodies.

The entire repertoire of the classical Persian music is called the radif, which means row in English. It indicates an order in the organization of its sub-components. There are over 300 melodies (or gusheh-ha) within the radif. The radif is divided into twelve dastgahs; seven major dastgahs: Mahur, Shur, Homayun, Chahargah, Segah, Nava, Rast-Panjgah; and five subsidiary dastgahs: Esfahan, Afshari, Abu-Ata, Bayat Tork, Dashti. Each dastgah is a musical scheme, which the performer uses as the basis for improvisation. It has its own scales with embedded modulations, hierarchy of scale degrees and repertory of traditional melodies. In general, these ancient melodies are memorized by musicians and form the basis of their improvisations. Each melodic pattern is a skeletal idea upon which the performer improvises. Therefore, the art of improvisation is central to the performance and moreover many compositions are based on such improvisations.

Dating back to 7th century BC, according to an Assyrian rock relief, the Persian santur, the great grand parent of Piano, has many derivatives around the world such as the Romanian cimbalom, the European hammer dulcimer and the Greek santuri. It is a three-octave dulcimer made with aged walnut wood and performed by using two delicate handmade wooden mallets. The mallets are commonly, especially in the recent decades, covered with felt to soften the sound quality; however using pure wooden mallets without the felt, one can hear even more of all the incredible harmonics it produces. It is a non-chromatic instrument with seventy-two strings arranged on adjustable tuning pegs in eighteen quadruple sets, nine (bronze) in the low register, and nine (steel) in the middle and high registers. It is one of the commonly used instruments in Iran today famous for its colorful sounds.

Belonging to the lute family, the tar appeared in its present form in the middle of the eighteenth century. The body is a double-bowl shape carved from mulberry wood, with a thin membrane of stretched lamb-skin covering the top. The long fingerboard has twenty-six to twenty-eight adjustable gut frets, and there are three double courses of strings. Its range is about two and one- half octaves, and is played with a small brass plectrum.

The ancestry of the setar can be traced to the ancient tanbur of pre-Islamic Persia. It is made from thin mulberry wood and its fingerboard has twenty-five or twenty-six adjustable gut frets. Setar is literally translated as “three strings”; however, in its present form, it has four strings and it is suspected that setar initially had only three strings. Because of its delicacy and intimate sonority, the setar is the preferred instrument of Sufi mystics.

Daf courtesy
Dating back to the pre-Christian calendar, Daf has a wooden frame with a goatskin cover with rings inside the frame. Frame drums are the most ancient type of musical instruments. Daf is one of the most ancient frame drums in Asia and North Africa. In Iran, Sufis use Daf during their Zikr (spiritual chanting) ritual; in recent years Iranian musicians have successfully integrated it into Persian music and is one of the commonly used instruments in Iran today.

Zarb (aka, Tombak: courtesy)
It is an ancient persian goblet shaped drum, made from Walnut or Mulberry wood, and covered with goatskin. In the days of the Persian empire the Zarb came second to Daf, which was favored at the court, and formed part of the traditional music ensemble. Only in the 20th century has the Zarb come into it's own, from a simple rhythmic accompaniment to a performance in itself. It is one of the commonly used instruments in Iran today.


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