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Traditional Music

Traditional Music

About the music of the Elamites not much is known; however, we know of a ruler of Susa who had musician at his temple gate about 2600 BC. There are also the bas-relief which shows musicians playing harps and tambourine. It is possible that there was not a lot of difference between Babylonian-Assyrian music and Iran at that time and the Persian names of tabire (drum) and karranay (trumpet) may be derived from names of the Akkadian tabbalu and qarnu.

After the conquest of Alexander the Great when Hellenistic culture found expression in Persia, one might suppose that Greek derived the name of salpinx (trumpet) from Iranians. During Parthian period (beginning 2nd century BC) when Aramaic became the official language, the word shaipur (trumpet) which is Semitic may be taken from Aramaic word.

Sassanian dynasty cherished music as shown on rock carvings of Taq-i Bustan which are two types of harp, trumpet and drums. Also, lute (ud), guitar (rubab) and pandore (tanbura) can be seen from other arts. One can name Barbad, Shirin, and Azada as famous musicians of this era. We also know that specific modes of music were used at certain hours of the day, week, and month, each for a particular purpose as a part of governmental procedure.

After the Arab conquest, Arabic music became known in Iran. At the same time, Persian music influenced Arabic music. In the 10th century, Persian musicians became favorite at Arab court and the Persian lute was a favored instrument.

In the 9th century, the Khorasanian scale was introduced. The musicians played on Persian tanbur which became as popular as lute. The nay (flute), chang (harp), rabab (viol), and the nay-i siyah (reedpipe) were also common instruments at the time.

Persian theorists were leaders in Arabian musical theory, for example, Al-Razi and Al-Sarakhsi. Ibn Sina mentions twelve principal modes of music:Rahawi, Husain, Rast, Busalik, Zangula, Ushshaq, Hijaz, Iraq, Ispahan, Nava, Buzurg, and Mukhalif (zirafgand). We know little about their formation. Four of modes mentioned above have Arabic names which may indicate Arabian origin. Ispahan was named as one of the ancient modes of Persia. There are also six secondary modes (avazat).

During Ghuri rulers and Khwarizmi (12th -13 th century) music grew. Two notable theorists of this era were Fakhr al-Din al Razi and nasir al-Din al Tusi. Another Persian theorist was Qutb al Din al-Shirazi who was famous for Pearl of Crown (Durrat al-taj). In the Treasure-House of Gift (Kanz al -Tahaf) an important work in 1350, ud (lute), rubab (guitar), mughni ( archlute), chang (harp), nuzha, qanun (psaltery), ghishak (spiked viol), pisha (fife) and nay-i siyah (reedpipe) are completely described. In other places, dutar ( two strings) and sitar (three strings) exquisite of poet Hafez are mentioned.

During Timuri Dynasty, Abdal-Qadir ibn Ghaibi lived who wrote The compiler of Melodies (Jami al-alhan) which is cherished in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. By the 14th and 15th century, twenty four branch modes (shuba) and forty eight derived modes (gusha) began, respectively. By the 17th century, there were twenty four of rhythmic modes (usul).

Under Safavid Dynasty, chartar (four strings) and sheshtar (six strings) musical instruments were invented. Ud (lute) and kamancha (spiked viol) were the most favorite instruments with addition of nay (flute) and daira (tambourine) as can be seen in a painting of Shah Safi court. Surnay (shawm), naqqarat (kettledrums), karna (long trumpet), duhul (side drum), and kus (kettledrum) were for military uses. Persian theory especially in nomenclature influenced Indian, Arabian, Turkish and Turkomanian music. Even China through Turkomans was affected by Persian instruments.

By the 19th century, ud (lute), rubab (guitar), qanun (psaltery) were not in use but santur (dulcimer) was still used. During the second half of the 19th century, three viols rumuz, madilan, and tarab angiz were introduced.

About the mid-century, European influence found its way into Persia, mostly in military bands. In the early 20th century, Ali Naqi khan Vaziri a teacher, a composer and instrumentalist played an important role in reviving and advancing the native music of Persia. Vaziri gives the notation of most popular modes (avaz); Mahur, humayun, Bayat-i Ispahan, chahargah, shur, segah, nava, and bayat-i kurd. Pish dar amad is an introduction which prepares the listener for dastgah (melodic modes) which are the pieces to come.

Today as in every generation young musicians are looking for ways to express themselves.

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