The Music of Persia

A wondrous legacy

The history of musical development in Iran dates back to the prehistoric era. King Jamshid of Persia, [Vivahvant (Sanskrit Vivasvant) is stated as the father of Yima Khshaeta (Jamshed) in Yasht 13.130.] Yam Kshatriya became later on Jamshed.] a mythological figure of Shahnameh, is credited with the "invention" of [Farsi] music. Fragmentary documents from various periods of the country's history establish that the ancient Aryans "Iranians" possessed an elaborate musical culture.

There is a distinction between the science of Music, or Musicology, which, as a branch of mathematics has always been held in high regards in Persia; as opposed to music performance or more recently modern Muzik, which has had an uneasy and often acrimonious relationship with the religious authorities and, in times of religious revival, with the society as a whole.

Archaeological evidence reveals musical instruments that were used in Persia during the Elamit era. Little is known about the Persian music of the ancient world, least of all about the music of the Achaemenid Empire but it was a mixture of Eastern Indian and Mesopotamian [Kurd] musical instruments and vocals used for spiritual practice. Alexander of Macedonia is said to have witnessed many melodies and instruments upon his invasion, and music played an important role in religious affairs.

Music played an important role in the courts of the kings of the much later Sassanid Empire. Of this period, we know the names of various court musicians like Barbad and the types of various instruments that were used like harps, lutes, flutes, bagpipes and others. Under Sassanid rule, modal music was developed by a highly significant court musician, Barbad, called the khosravani. While today's classical music tradition in Persia bears the same names of some of the modes of that era it is impossible to know if they sound the same because there is no evidence of musical notation from the Sassanid period.

The video to the right is a composition by Kayhan Kalhor with Ali Bahrami Fard on santour.
Kayhan Kalhor was born in Tehran to a Kurdish family. Kayhan Kalhor has a wide range of musical influences, uses several musical instruments, and crosses cultural borders with his work, but at his centre he is an intense player of the Iranian violin. In his playing, Kalhor often pins Iranian classical music structures to the rich folk modes and melodies of the Kurdish tradition of Iran. He is a graduate of the music program at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

Ali Bahrami Fard, born in Shiraz, studied santour with the legendary master Ostad Faramarz Payvar.

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