A cradle of musical instruments


TEHRAN – Accounts say that the initiation of music in Iran dates back to the time of the mythical king, Jamshid. However, fragmentary documents from different periods, including rock carvings, suggest millennia of musical practice in all corners of the ancient land.

The archaeological records of Elam, the oldest civilization on the southwestern Iranian plateau, suggest that the ancient land is the birthplace of the first complex instruments, which date back to the third millennium BC.

Archaeologists have discovered that numerous silver, gold and copper trumpets have been found in eastern Iran, attributed to the Oxus civilization and dating from 2200 to 1750 BC. The use of vertical and horizontal angular harps has been documented at the archaeological sites of Madaktu (650 BC) and Kul-e Fara (900-600 BC), with the largest collection of Elamite instruments documented at Kul- e Fara. Multiple representations of horizontal harps have also been carved in Assyrian palaces, dating from 865 to 650 BC.

Statue of a lute player from the time of the Parthian Empire, in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in the Netherlands.

The Sassanid period (226 CE-651), in particular, has left us with numerous testimonies indicating the existence of a lively musical life. The names of some important musicians such as Barbod, Nakissa and Ramtin, and the titles of some of their works have survived.

With the advent of Islam in the 7th century CE, Persian music, along with other Persian cultural defilements, became the main formative element of what has since been known as “Islamic civilization. “.

According to the Encyclopedia Iranica, Persian musicians and musicologists have overwhelmingly dominated the musical life of Muslim lands. Farabi (d. 950), Ebne Sina (d. 1037), Razi (d. 1209), Ormavi (d. 1294), Shirazi (d. 1310) and Maraqi (d. 1432) are just a few among the painting of eminent Persian musical scholars in the early Islamic period.

In the 16th century, a new “golden age” of Persian civilization arose under the rule of the Safavid dynasty (1499-1746). However, from this time and until the third decade of the twentieth century, Persian music was gradually relegated to a mere decorative and interpretive art, where neither creative growth nor scholarly research found much room for s ‘flourish.

From the start of the 20th century, once again, Persian music began to find broader dimensions. A desire to create rather than simply carry on the known tradition, and an interest in investigating structural elements, emerged.

Today, in a society which is gradually modernizing, they are generally engaged by the audiovisual and television media. They are also active as teachers both in private and in the various academics and music conservatories.

A cradle of musical instruments

Karna, an ancient Iranian musical instrument from the 6th century BC, kept at the museum in Persepolis, in southern Iran.

In terms of structure, perpetuated by an oral tradition, the classical repertoire encompasses a collection of ancient pieces collectively known as the “radif” of Persian music. These parts are organized into twelve groups, seven of which are known as basic modal structures and are called the seven “dastgah” (systems).

They include: Shur, Homayun, Segah, Chahargah, Mahur, Rast-Panjgah and Nava. The other five are generally accepted as secondary or derivative dastgahs. Four of them: Abuata, Dashti, Bayat-e Tork and Afshari are considered to be derivatives of Shur; and, Bayat-e Isfahan is considered a sub-dastgah of Homayun. The individual pieces of each of the twelve groups are generally called “gushe”, but each gushe has a specific and often descriptive title. A gush is not a clearly defined musical composition; rather, it represents modal, melodic and sometimes rhythmic skeletal formulas on which the performer is supposed to improvise. Thus, the radif submits an infinite source of musical expression. The flexibility of the base material and the extent of the freedom to improvise are such that a piece performed twice by the same performer, at the same session, will be different in its melodic composition, form, duration and impact. emotional.

For music enthusiasts, it is worth spending a few hours in one of the nation’s dedicated music museums. One example is the Isfahan Music Museum located in the Armenian district of Jolfa in Isfahan. It presents 300 regional and national musical instruments.


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