Classical Persian Music

Like many genres of world music, in which lyrics play an important part, classical Persian music has also been formed in order to recite poetry. Of course, there are some forms of music, such as the European classical music, that have gradually branched off poetry and assumed independence. A review of the Western music shows that advances in science and technology led to the development of various musical instruments, hence the formation of very large orchestras. Furthermore, the advent of psychology as a science led to a change in the definition of music, transforming it into the art of producing abstract, and at the same time elegant and pleasant, sounds. This genre of music mainly inclined towards instrumental music. Nevertheless, in the past hundred years, different genres of sung music, including pop and jazz, have been created in the West, clearly illustrating the importance of words and lyrics in music.

Persian music, too, possesses the potential to separate from poetry. Virtuoso players of different instruments have created several everlasting compositions. But it must be remembered that the majority of melodies are derived from the vocal performance of poetical rhythms, and instrumental Radif has been formed by imitating the sung Radif.

Compared to other countries, poetry has a significant place in Persian literature. Iranians have used poetry not only to express heartfelt emotions and feelings, but also, to express philosophical, Gnostic and historical ideas. In Iran, the walls, the bodies of vehicles, the mass media, and in general the Iranian society, all bear signs that show that poetry has a permanent presence in the everyday life of Iranians. One could say, and quite with certainty too, that nowhere else in the world has poetry formed such a deep bond with the lives of people.

A brief look at Iran’s history indicates that music and lyrics walked hand in hand, both being of equal importance. For example, Zoroastrian Gathâs were sung, combining poetry and music, as early as the 7th century B.C. One could say that Pre-Islamic musicians were poets, composers, singers and musicians all at the same time, singing their poems with melodic tunes.

In Persian, the verb خواندن /Xândan/ refers both to reading (of prose and poetry) and singing, which is a clear indication of the close connection between the two concepts.

Therefore, familiarity with Persian poetry and sung music is considered a core requirement for learning Persian music.

[1] Gathas (GĀΘĀS), the core of the great Mazdayasnian liturgy, the Yasna [Yasnâ], consisting of five gāθās, or modes of song (gā) that comprise seventeen songs composed in Old Avestan language (OAv.), and arranged according to their five different syllabic meters. See: “Gathas”, Encyclopaedia Iranica: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/gathas