Importance of poetry and its relationship with music


Classical Persian music has its roots in poetry; according to Ruhollâh  Xâleqi: “In our country, poetry and music have always relied on one another, never separating. Even today, the public enjoys music only if the instruments and songs are both involved.”

A brief look at the music of other countries shows that in some countries music has gradually separated from poetry and assumed independence. Xâleqi  continues: “In other countries, where music has advanced more and constantly changed and renewed in accordance with the times, like their other sciences and traditions and industries, poetry and music have separated. But these two old friends rejoin in certain circumstances. (A Look at Music, Ruhollâh Xâleqi)

In Persian, the verb خواندن  (to read) refers to both reading poetry and singing songs, a clear indication of the close connection between the two concepts. From reciting poetry, one reaches a song, and conversely, singing a song leads to poetry. Maestro Hossein Dehlavi writes: “Sung music is one of the most fundamental musical forms in the world, which is a result of joining a song with words. Every nation, based on its historical past and its literature, poetry and music, is familiar with this concept.”

Noting the significance of poetry in Iran, he continues: “Perhaps because poetry was more widespread in Iran, and because different forms of instrumental music were less common, as well as other historical reasons, sung music, or Âvâz – which is accompanied by poetry – has gained more significance. That is why we have named a part of our national classical music “Âvâz”. Examples include Dashti Âvâz, Afshâri Âvâz, Abu-Atâ Âvâz, Bayat-e Tork Âvâz, and Bayât-e Isfahân Âvâz. Even if performed solely with instruments and without a singer, traditional music is still called Âvâz, or “song,” because of this form of music and even the systems of its Radif, are each a part of the set of sung music, performed by instruments. (Connection between Iranian Poetry and Sung Music, Hossein Dehlavi)

In order to get more familiar with Persian music, it is worth to note that this form of music was initially devised to recite poems more elegantly. It has roots in history.

In the Pre-Islamic Sassanid period, musicians recited poems in the form of songs, with melodies pleasant to their ears. In order to make them more beautiful, they performed the same melodies with instruments too.

Before the Arab invasion of Iran and the consequent Islamization of Iran there lived musicians such as Bâmshâd, Râmtin, Sarkesh and Nakisâ, and above all, Bârbad, one of the most prominent musicians of the time. Musicians wrote poetry, composed music, and sang their lyrics while playing instruments.

It is said about the death of King Khosrow Parviz’s horse, that when the horse, Shabdiz (“the night-colored”) died, nobody dared give the news to Khosrow Parviz, because he had decreed that whoever brought the news of the death of the horse, which was sick, to him, would be killed. The courtiers go to Bârbad and ask him to give the bad news to Khosrow Parviz through poetry and music. Bârbad went to the King and sang a poem he had written for that purpose, thus letting the king know about the news without mentioning the name of Shabdiz. Bewildered, Khosrow Parviz says, “Is Shabdiz dead?” The courtiers tell him that the news is true and that he has announced it himself.

Another look at the ancient history of Iran shows that whenever poetry and literature prospered, music gained significance too, leading to the advancement of music.

One example is the period between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, A.D., described as the golden era of Persian poetry and literature, as well as music. In that period which coincided with the rule of the Abbasid caliphs in Iran, lived poets such as Saadi, Nezâmi-Ganjvi, Attâr, Rumi and Erâqi, the latter a disciple of Rumi. On the other hand, favorable social conditions, and the support by Abbasid caliphs such as Harun al-Rashid–whose sons Amin and Ma’mun were familiar with music–resulted in the advancement and popularity of music during that period.

In the fifteenth century A.D., during the Timurid era, before the Safavid period and the declaration of Shiism as the official religion of Iran, poetry and music were prospering, producing poets such as Hafiz Shirazi and musicians such as Abdolqâder Maraqei, both of whom were the fruit and extract of the arts of poetry and music in the Pre-Safavid Islamic period.