Persian traditional music

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Persian traditional music or Iranian traditional music, also known as Persian classical music or Iranian classical music, [1] [2] [3] refers to the classical music of Iran ( also known as Persia ). It consists of characteristics developed through the country's classical, medieval, and contemporary eras. It also influenced areas and regions that are considered part of Greater Iran. [4]


Due to the exchange of musical science throughout history, many of Iran's classical modes are related to those of its neighboring cultures.

Iran's classical art music continues to function as a spiritual tool, as it has throughout history, and much less of a recreational activity. It belongs for the most part to the social elite, as opposed to the folkloric and popular music, in which the society as a whole participates. However, components of Iran's classical music have also been incorporated into folk and pop music compositions. [4]


The history of musical development in Iran dates back thousands of years. Archaeological records attributed to "pre-Iranian" civilizations, such as those of Elam in the southwest and of Oxus in the northeast, demonstrate musical traditions in the prehistoric times. [5]

Karna, an Iranian musical instrument from the 6th century BC, kept at the Persepolis Museum. Karna-Persian-Instrument-Persepolis-Museum.JPG
Karna, an Iranian musical instrument from the 6th century BC, kept at the Persepolis Museum.

Little is known about the music of the classical Iranian empires of the Medes, the Achaemenids, and the Parthians. However, an elaborate musical scene is revealed through various fragmentary documents, including those that were observed at the court [5] [6] and in public theaters [7] and those that accompanied religious rituals and battle preparations. [5] Jamshid, a king in Iranian mythology, is credited with the "invention" of music. [8]

Dancers and musicians depicted on a 5th-7th century Sasanian bowl. Dancers and musicians on a Sasanian bowl.jpg
Dancers and musicians depicted on a 5th-7th century Sasanian bowl.
7th-century Sasanian musicians plate, kept at the British Museum. Sassanid Music Plate 7thcentury.jpg
7th-century Sasanian musicians plate, kept at the British Museum.

The history of Sasanian music is better documented than the earlier periods, and the names of various instruments and court musicians from the reign of the Sasanians have been attested. Under the Sasanian rule, modal music was developed by a highly celebrated poet-musician of the court named Barbad, who is remembered in many documents. [9] He may have invented the lute and the musical tradition that was to transform into the forms of dastgah and maqam. He has been credited to have organized a musical system consisting of seven "royal modes" (xosrovāni), 30 derived modes (navā), [10] and 360 melodies (dāstān). [5] "Khosrau II was a great patron of music, and his most famous court musician, Barbod, was said to have developed a musical system with seven modal structures (known as the Royal Modes), thirty derivative modes, and 365 melodies, associated with the days of the week, month and year"[17]. Iran's academic classical music, in addition to preserving melody types attributed to Sasanian musicians, is based on the theories of sonic aesthetics as expounded by the likes of Iranian musical theorists in the early centuries of after the Muslim conquest of the Sasanian Empire, most notably Avicenna, Farabi, Qotb-ed-Din Shirazi, and Safi-ed-Din Urmawi. [4] It is also linked directly to the music of the 16th–18th-century Safavid Empire. Under the reign of the 19th-century Qajar dynasty, the classical melody types were developed, alongside the introduction of modern technologies and principles from the West. [4] Mirza Abdollah, a prominent tar and setar master and one of the most respected musicians of the court of the late Qajar period, is considered a major influence on the teaching of classical Iranian music in Iran's contemporary conservatories and universities. Radif, the repertoire that he developed in the 19th century, is the oldest documented version of the seven dastgah system, and is regarded as a rearrangement of the older 12 maqam system. [11] During the late Qajar and the early Pahlavi periods, numerous musical compositions were produced within the parameters of classical Iranian modes, and many involved western musical harmonies. [12]

The introduction and popularity of western musical influences in the early contemporary era was criticized by traditionalists, who felt that traditional music was becoming endangered. It was prior to the 1950s that Iran's music industry was dominated by classical musicians. [13] In 1968, Dariush Safvat and Nur-Ali Borumand helped form an institution called the Center for Preservation and Propagation of Iranian Music, with the help of Reza Ghotbi, director of the National Iranian Radio and Television, an act that is credited with saving traditional music in the 1970s.[ citation needed ]

The "Radif of Iranian music" was officially inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009, described as "the traditional repertoire of the classical music of Iran". [14] [15]


Iran's classical art music relies on both improvisation and composition, and is based on a series of modal scales and tunes including twelve Dastgahs and Avazes. [16] Compositions can vary immensely from start to finish, usually alternating between low, contemplative pieces and athletic displays of musicianship called tahrir. The common repertoire consists of more than 200 short melodic motions (guše), which are classified into seven modes (dastgāh). Two of these modes have secondary modes branching from them that are called āvāz. This whole body is called radif, of which there are several versions, each in accordance to the teachings of a particular master (ostād).

By the end of the Safavid Empire, more complex musical movements in 10, 14, and 16 beats stopped being performed. In the early Qajar era, the rhythmic cycles (osul) were replaced by a meter based on the qazal, and the maqam system of classification was reconstructed into the radif system. Today, rhythmic pieces are performed in beats of 2 to 7, with some exceptions. The reng are always in a 6/8 time frame.[ citation needed ]

A typical Iranian classical performance consists of five parts, namely pišdarāmad ("prelude"; a composed metric piece), čahārmezrāb (a fast, metric piece with a repeated rhythmic pattern), āvāz (the improvised central piece), tasnif (a composed metric song of classical poetry), and reng (a rhythmic closing composition). [4] A performance forms a sort of suite. Unconventionally, these parts may be varied or omitted.

Iran's classical art music is vocal based, and the vocalist plays a crucial role, as he or she decides what mood to express and which dastgah relates to that mood. In many cases, the vocalist is also responsible for choosing the lyrics. If the performance requires a singer, the singer is accompanied by at least one wind or string instrument, and at least one type of percussion. There could be an ensemble of instruments, though the primary vocalist must maintain his or her role. In some tasnif songs, the musicians may accompany the singer by singing along several verses.[ citation needed ]

The incorporation of religious texts as lyrics has largely been replaced by the works of medieval Sufi poets, especially Hafez and Rumi.[ citation needed ]


Indigenous Iranian musical instruments used in the traditional music include string instruments such as the chang (harp), qanun, santur, rud (oud, barbat), tar, dotar, setar, tanbur, and kamanche, wind instruments such as the sorna (zurna, karna), ney, and neyanban, and percussion instruments such as the tompak, kus, daf (dayere), naqare, and dohol.[ citation needed ]

Some instruments, such as the sorna, neyanban, dohol, and naqare, are usually not used in the classical repertoire, but are used in the folk music. Up until the middle of the Safavid Empire, the chang was an important part of Iranian music. It was then replaced by the qanun (zither), and later by the western piano. The tar functions as the primary string instrument in a performance. The setar is especially common among Sufi musicians. The western violin is also used, with an alternative tuning preferred by Iranian musicians. The ghaychak, that is a type of fiddle, is being re-introduced to the classical music after many years of exclusion.[ citation needed ]

See also

Concepts from Persian Wikipedia

The following articles on the Persian Wikipedia (easily translated with a browser such as Chrome) cover material not yet included in the English Wikipedia. It is easy to gloss over rhythm, instrument and song as having the same meanings that they have in western musical theory, when they have specific meanings in Persian musical theory.

Related Research Articles


The daf, is a large Kurdish and Persian frame drum used in popular and classical music. It is also used in religious ceremonies among Kurds. The Daf is considered the national musical instrument of Pakistan.

Music of Iran

The music of Iran encompasses music that is produced by Iranian artists. In addition to the traditional folk and classical genres, it also includes pop and internationally celebrated styles such as jazz, rock, and hip hop.

Hossein Alizadeh

Hossein Alizadeh is an Iranian musician, composer, radif-preserver, researcher, teacher, and tar, shurangiz and setar instrumentalist and improviser. He has performed with such musicians as Shahram Nazeri, Mohammadreza shajarian, Alireza Eftekhari and Jivan Gasparyan, as well as with a number of orchestras and ensembles.

Tar (string instrument)

Tar is an Iranian long-necked, waisted lute family instrument, used by many cultures and countries including Iran, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan and others near the Caucasus and Central Asia regions. The older and more complete name of the tār is čāhārtār or čārtār, meaning in Persian "four string",. This is in accordance with a practice common in Persian-speaking areas of distinguishing lutes on the basis of the number of strings originally employed. Beside the čārtār, these include the dotār, setār, pančtār, and šaštār or šeštār.

Kayhan Kalhor

Kayhan Kalhor is an Iranian kamancheh and setar player and vocalist from Iran, composer and master of classical Iranian traditional music.


Barbad or Barbad-ī Marvazi was a Persian musician of the Sasanian era, who lived during the rule of Khosrau II, 590 to 628.

Sasanian music

Sasanian music refers to the golden age of Persian music that occurred under the reign of the Sasanian dynasty.


A setar is a stringed instrument, a type of lute used in Persian traditional music, played solo or accompanying voice. It is a member of the tanbur family of long-necked lutes with a range of more than two and a half octaves. Originally a three stringed instrument, a fourth string was added by the mid 19th century. It is played with the index finger of the right hand.

Said Hormozi

Ostad Sa'id Hormozi (1897–1976) was born in one of the old neighborhoods of Tehran called Sangalaj. He was a prominent radif master and virtuoso tar and setar player, who is remembered for his efforts to "promote authentic Iranian music" and pass it to modern musicians.

Radif is a collection of many old melodic figures preserved through many generations by oral tradition. It organizes the melodies in a number of different tonal spaces called dastgah. The traditional music of Iran is based on the radif, which is a collection of old melodies that have been handed down by the masters to the students through the generations. Over time, each master's own interpretation has shaped and added new melodies to this collection, which may bear the master's name.

Dastgāh is a musical modal system in traditional Persian art music. Persian music consists of a number of principal musical modal systems or dastgāhs; in spite of 50 or more extant dastgāhs, theorists generally refer to a set of twelve principal ones. A dastgāh is a melody type that a performer uses as the basis of an improvised piece.

Symphonic music in Iran encompasses Iranian musical pieces composed in the symphonic style. In addition to instrumental compositions, some of Iran's symphonic pieces are based on the country's folk songs, and some are based on poetry of both classical and contemporary Iranian poets.

Iranian folk music

Iranian folk music refers to the folk music transmitted through generations among the people of Iran, often consisting of tunes that exist in numerous variants.

Mohammad-Reza Lotfi

Mohammad-Reza Lotfi was an Iranian classical musician renowned for his mastery of the tar and setar. He collaborated with singers such as Mohammad-Rezā Shajarian, Hengameh Akhavan, Shahram Nazeri and Alireza Shahmohammadi.

Faramarz Payvar

Master Farâmarz Pâyvar was an Iranian composer and santur player. Payvar died on 9 December 2009 after a long struggle with brain damage. Although once perceived as marginal, the santur is now considered an important solo instrument in Persian classical music, largely as a result of his work. Over the course of his career, Payvar revolutionised its playing, led two major ensembles and made numerous recordings.

Reza Vohdani was an Iranian musician.

Dariush Talai

Dariush Talai plays both the Tar and Setar.

Iranian/Persian traditional music is now modernly classified into the Dastgāh system. This system is a modal system, in the fact that it utilizes distinct modes of music, in this case seven. Each of these seven modes, referred to as Dastgāh, are then classified into smaller units, each called an āvāz. Every āvāz consists of short pieces and melodies of music called the gousheh that, although each has its own characteristics, share one central characteristic in the āvāz.

Majid Kiani is an Iranian musician and researcher. He was the student of great masters such as: Noor Ali Boroomand, Abdollah Davami, Abolhasan Saba, and Dariush Safvat, among others. He plays Santur,and teaches traditional Iranian music. His masterpiece is the book named: "Seven Dastgah(s) of Iranian Music". He is a leading figure in the Iranian musical establishment, and known for his controlled expositions.

Bayat-e Esfahan is one of melodic pieces of Iranian traditional music, known as a branch of Dastgah-e Shur or Dastgah-e Homayun. Some musical theorists consider the Bayat-e Esfahan an independent dastgah within the Persian radif system.


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Further reading