A Radif refers to a row of things, usually of the same nature, such as a row of chairs in a hall, or a row of trees in a garden. Likewise, in Iranian music, Radif refers to a set of tunes and sounds that have passed the filter of taste and verve of Iranian musicians of different periods, and passed on to next generations. The current organization and order of classical Persian music was accomplished during the Ghajar era and passed down to today’s generation under the name of Radif.

Following the hiatus and neglect of music during the Safavid era (1502-1736 C.E), Nassereddin Shâh‘s three trips to Europe (1848-1896 C.E), during which he witnessed the importance of music in European royal courts, encouraged him to reintroduce courtier and martial music.

And so Ali Akbar Farâhâni started to gather and prepare music and lyrics to be taught and the French musician Alfred Jean-Baptiste Lemaire was assigned to teach students and form a musical group in Dâr-ol-Fonun School. He started his work by teaching European notation and playing instruments suitable for marches and military ceremonies.

Nasereddin Shâh‘s prime minister, Mirzâ Mohammad Taghi Khan Farâhâni, known as Amir Kabir, invited Ali Akbar Farâhâni to teach music to courtiers. Collections of that time’s music were compiled and organized based on the Târ intervals by Farâhâni and his two sons Mirzâ Abdollah and Aghâ Hossein-Gholi, all of whom played Târ and Setâr.

In later epochs, these compilations, called the Radif of each maestro, were passed down to the next generations by way of hearing. The maestros of next generations added pieces to these compilations and taught them to their students until they reached today’s generation.

Various individuals tried to record this music in European notation. Today, Radifs of many maestros of Persian musicians are at the disposal of students as records and notations.

Getting to know Radif is in fact getting to know a part of Iran’s national culture; so it can be called Iran’s musical heritage. Without familiarity with Radif, any innovation in Persian music would be far from the cultural roots of Persian music; it would undoubtedly be devoid of identity and most probably influenced by the world’s musical culture. On the other hand, teaching Radif with prejudice and strict guidelines in performing the details without considering its philosophy and structure, and ignoring the creativity factor – which forms the basis and philosophy of this form of music- would be a big mistake, resulting in the lack of enthusiasm and interest on the part of the learner.