Classical Persian music has its roots in poetry; according to Ruhollâh Khâleghi (1906-1965): “In our country, poetry and music have always been relying on one another, and the two have never separated. Even today, the majority of the public enjoys music when instrumental and vocal music are both involved.” Here Khâleghi refers to the growth of instrumental music during the 20th century in Iran, which became a path for many musicians while it never replaced the vocal music in the Iranian society.

Another clear indication of the close connection between the two concepts can be traced in Persian language. The verb Khândan (خواندن), which means to read, is used for describing both reading [poetry] and singing [songs]. One of the renown Iranian musicians, Hossein Dehlavi (1927-2019) writes: “Vocal music is one of the most fundamental musical forms in the world, which is created from music and words. Every nation, based on its historical past and its literature, poetry, and music is familiar with this concept” (Integration of Poetry and Vocal music of Iran, Hossein Dehlavi).

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, vocal 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 Âvâz of Dashti , Âvâz of Afshâri, Âvâz of Abu-Atâ, Âvâz of Bayat-e Tork, and Âvâz of Bayât-e Isfahân. Even if performed solely instrumental without a singer, the term Âvâz is used. This is because Radif and its components are initially a vocal repertoire, which is adopted and performed by instruments, as well” (Integration of Poetry and Vocal music of Iran, Hossein Dehlavi).

There are several historical events, which indicates how classical Persian music was initially devised to recite poems more elegantly. In the Sasanian era (Pre-Islamic Iran from 224 to 651 C.E.), musicians recited poems in the form of songs, with melodies pleasant to their ears. In order to make their songs more elegant, they performed the same melodies on their instruments as an accompaniment. Musicians such as Bâmshâd, Râmtin, Sarkesh and Nakisâ, and above all, Bârbad, one of the most prominent musicians of the time wrote poetry, composed music, and sang their lyrics while playing instruments. These musicians were called Khoniâgar, which is a term that is not commonly used today, because the role of musicians have changed through the time.

There is a famous story of Bârbad who worked for the last king of the great Sasanian empire, Khosrow II, also known as Khosrow Parviz. After the death of Khosrow Parviz’s horse, Shabdiz (“the night-colored”), nobody had the courage to give the news to the king, because he had decreed that whoever brought the news of the death of his sick horse to him, would be killed. This is why the courtiers went to Bârbad and asked him to give the bad news to Khosrow Parviz through poetry and music. Bârbad wrote a poem and sang it to the king. Through this performance he shared the bad news without mentioning the name of Shabdiz. Bewildered, Khosrow Parviz said, “Is Shabdiz dead?” This is how courtiers told the Kind about the death of his horse without anyone mentioning its name but himself.

After Iran became an Islamic country the period between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, C.E., is described as the golden era of Persian poetry and literature, as well as music. In this period which coincided with the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate in Iran, poets such as Sa’di, Nezâmi-Ganjvi, Attâr, and Erâqi, the latter a disciple of Rumi, lived and created masterpieces. 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 C.E., during the Timurid dynasty, right before the Safavid dynasty and the declaration of Shiism as the official religion of Iran, poetry and music were prospering with poets such as Hâfez Shirazi and musicians such as Abdolqâder Maraghe’i, both of whom were the fruit and extract of the arts of poetry and music in the Pre-Shiism Islamic period.