Persian Music

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Veteran Iranian composer and Santour player Faramarz Payvar has passed away at the age of 77 in the capital city of Tehran.

Faramarz Payvar started learning music at the age of 17 under the tutorship of great Iranian master Abol-Hasan Saba. His achievements in traditional Persian music and playing the Santour brought him great fame, leading to his co-operations with the Iranian Department of Art and Culture in 1954.

Payvar founded the 'Art and Culture Orchestra', which included such renowned figures as Hossein Tehrani, Khatere Parvaneh, Houshang Zarif, Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, Rahmatollah Badiee and Abdol-Vahab Shahidi. He also played the Setar and published a book on Tar and Setar in 1996.

After getting a scholarship from Iran's National Music Conservatory, Payvar majored in English Language at Cambridge University and was graduated in 1965. Payvar, who was also studying Western music at the Royal Academy of Music in London, ended his life as a master composer of Persian music.

The veteran artist amazed music lovers by his performances in every corner of the world. His world tours took him to countries like the US, Germany, the UK, Sweden, France, Japan, Italy, Malaysia, and Russia.

Music has been an indispensable part of the Iranian society since ancient times and archeological finds trace it back to the Elamite era (2,500-644 BCE) - one of the world's earliest civilizations that resided in southwestern Iran. Statuettes recovered in Susa show that many musical instruments such as the Barbat, lute and flute were designed and played by Persians around 800 BCE. Historical records also show that music was an essential part of the Achaemenid court and Zoroastrian religious ceremonies.

During the Sassanid era, the golden age of music in ancient Persia, the first ever musical system in the Middle East known as the "Royal Khosravani," was created and introduced by court musician Barbad the Great and dedicated by him to the Sassanid king Khosrow II. Consisting of structural scales and melodic pieces called Maqam, the Royal Khosravani was later replaced by the radif system of Persian music.

Maqams of the traditional Persian music were the basic forms of Iran's folkloric music, which incorporates the musical features of various regions and ethnic groups.
Other renowned Sassanid musicians include Nakisa, Sarkash, Ramtin, and Bamshad, who played early morning songs to please King Khosrow II and bring happiness to society.

Five centuries after Barbad's death, Alpharabius recorded all remaining Sassanid musical pieces and described the ancient note recording method. About 2,000 musical works and melodies of that period have been passed on to us, including pieces from Barbad and Maraghi. Many of the current names of the modes used in traditional Persian music, survived the test of time and were handed to us with the help of oral tradition.

Persian musician Zaryab is often credited with having had the greatest influence on Andalusian and Spanish music in the post-Islamic era. Today's traditional Persian music, which first began to take shape during the Mongol era, became directly linked to the Safavid music systems. The repertoire was restructured into its current form during the late Qajar Dynasty.

Improvisation and composition are two of the most important tenets of traditional Persian music, which is based on a series of modal scales and tunes called Radif. Classical Persian melodies are classified into seven categories known as dastgah: Mahour, Shour, Nava, Rast Panj-gah, Homayoun, Segah, Chahargah. There are also five song modes namely Abu-Ata, Bayat-E-Zand or Bayat-E-Tork, Dashti, Afshari and Bayat-e Isfahan.

The first four song modes are practiced in the dastgah of Shour and the last one is used in the dastgah of Homayoun. Songs in other dastgahs are improvised by vocalists based on the rhythms and beats of the musical instruments playing in that particular dastgah.

Each dastgah consists of smaller melodic forms called gusheh, which vary in terms of meter, length, expression and importance. Gushe serves as an improvisation model and is played in an order that fills the lower, middle and upper portions of the dastgah scale.

Folk songs have greatly influenced the dastgah system and names such as Isfahan and Bayat-e-Turk refer to the regional origins of the melodic formula that underlies Persian musical heritage. Various dastgahs can be mixed together in what is known as morakkab-navazi, which is an oscillating technique used by musicians to combine modally-related gushehs to bridge over different dastgahs.

Each dastgah has a particular tonality that creates a specific feeling. Mahour for instance conveys serene boldness and Chahargah creates joy. Shour is very majestic and earnest, while Dashti and Afshari bring deep sadness. Segah induces a mystical sensation and Homayoun provokes sweet melancholy.

A typical performance of traditional Persian music consists of five parts, all cast in one dastgah; Pishdaramad (Prelude), Daramad (Introduction), Avaz (improvised rhythm-free singing), Tasnif (rhythmic music accompanied by singing), Chaharmezrab (rhythmic music with non-rhythmic singing or no vocals), Reng (closing rhythm).

Pishdaramad was invented by the great Tar maestro Darvish Khan and draws its melody from the important gusheh of the piece.

Cheharmezrab is a solo piece, mostly with a fast tempo, which is usually based on its preceding melody. Reng, which is usually a simple dance piece, is usually played at the end of every dastgah.

These parts may be varied or omitted.

The radif of Persian music was recently inscribed on UNESCO's List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The vocalist plays a crucial role in traditional Persian music ensembles and is accompanied by at least one wind or string instrument, and at least one type of percussion. Traditional Persian music still functions as a spiritual tool just as it did throughout its age-old history.

During the post-Islamic era, Zoroastrian religious lyrics were replaced by lyrics largely written by Sufi and mystic poets, especially Hafez and Mowlavi. Historical texts and inscriptions refer to many instruments used to create music during different eras. Sassanid sculptures and inscriptions for instance mainly show the harp, horn, daf, drum and the flute or pipe.

Harps were also a very important musical instrument until the mid-Safavid Era when they were replaced by zithers. Iranian musicians also made use of Western instruments such as the violin, which was tuned to suit their musical forms.

Kamancheh, Tonbak, Ney, Daf, Tar, Setar, Lute and Santour are the other instruments mainly used in traditional Persian music. Meaning 'little bow' in Persian, Kamancheh is a bowed string instrument belonging to the family of Rebab and the bowed lira of the Byzantine Empire - an ancestor of the European violin family. Famous Iranian Kamancheh players are Ali-Asghar Bahari, Ardeshir Kamkar, Saeed Farajpouri, and Kayhan Kalhor.

The Tonbak is a goblet drum considered the main percussion instrument of Persian music. The instrument was not considered a virtuoso solo instrument until the pioneering work of Hossein Tehrani in the 1950s, as well as innovations of Nasser Farhangfar.

Mohammad Esmaili, Morteza Taheri, Mohammad Akhavan, Nasser Farhangfar, Jahangir Malek and Pejman Haddadi are among the other prominent Iranian Tonbak players.

Ney is an end-blown flute prominently used in Persian, Turkish and Arabic music. It is one of the oldest musical instruments still in use, which has been played since 4,500-5,000 years ago. One of the prominent Iranian Ney players is Hassan Kassai, who was followed by instrumentalists such as Hossein Omoumi, Hassan Nahid, Manochehr Ghayori and Mohammad Mousavi.

Daf is a large-sized frame drum used to accompany both popular and classical music in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Tajikistan and other Middle Eastern countries. Some types of the instrument are equipped with rings or small cymbals, making them more similar to the tambourine. The image of Daf can be seen on Sassanid inscriptions on the Bisotun, which according to some experts proves the existence of Daf before the advent of Islam.

Sufi figures such as the late Seyyed Baha-al-Din Shams Qorayshi, Ostad Haj Khalifeh Karim Safvati and Masha-Allah Bakhtiyari, had a main role in introducing the art and tradition of Daf playing in 20th century Iran.

Tar is a long-necked Persian instrument also used in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and other parts of the Caucasus. Meaning 'string in Persian, the instrument is claimed to be the root of the names of the Persian Setar, guitar, dutar and the Indian sitar.

Hossein Alizadeh, Hamid Motabassem, Majid Derakhshani, Kayvan Saket, Jalil Shahnaz and Dariush Talai are among the masters of the Persian Tar, who have garnered international praise for their brilliant performances. Setar is a member of the lute family which originated in Persia during the early Islamic era and is a direct descendant of Tanbour.

The instrument flourished in the hands of many Iranian maestros such as Abolhassan Saba, Qashang Kamkar, Mohammad-Reza Lotfi, Majid Derakhshani, Jalal Zolfonun and Kayvan Saket. The term Tanbour can refer to various long-necked, fretted lutes originating in the Middle East or Central Asia. Nowadays the term is applied to a variety of distinct and related long-necked lutes used in folkloric music.

The Santour, meaning hundred strings in Persian, is a hammered dulcimer, similar forms of which have been in use in Iran's neighboring countries such as Armenia, Turkey, and Iraq for centuries. The late Iranian musician Parviz Meshkatian was one of the greatest practitioners of the instrument.

Today, numerous Persian music ensembles play a significant role in introducing the country's traditional music to the world. Aref, Sheyda, Lian, Dastan and the Kamkars are only few of the many ensembles, which have contributed to the great appeal of Persian music and its promotion in other parts of the world.

The greatest name that comes to mind regarding modern-day Persian vocalists is Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, who is considered as Iran's greatest living master of traditional Persian music.

He has performed countless international and national concerts in collaborations with other great names in Persian music including Parviz Meshkatian, Mohammad-Reza Lotfi, Hossein Alizadeh, and Faramarz Payvar.

Shajarian, who received UNESCO's Mozart Medal in 2006 and the 1999 prestigious Golden Picasso Medal, is also credited with the invention of some musical instruments namely Sorahi, Saghar, Tondar and Kereshmeh.

His son Homayoun is also among the most successful Iranian vocalists and Tonbak players, who has accompanied his father in countless national and international concerts.

Shahram Nazeri, Alireza Ghorbani, Salar Aqili, Alireza Eftekhari, and the late Iraj Bastami and Gholam-Hossein Banan are also among Iran's famous traditional vocalists.

Source: Press TV & Wikipedia

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