Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Iranian Music article

excerpt from Middle East Studies Association Bulletin

Introduction to Traditional Iranian Dastgâh Music
Margaret Caton, Los Angeles CA
Reprinted from the Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, July 1994 (with changes in orthography to HTML standards).
Copyright 1994 by the Middle East Studies Association of North America

TRADITIONAL IRANIAN dastgâh music, as fostered in the courts and the homes of the aristocracy, draws from many sources, including regional music styles, religious genres of melody and chant and popular songs that have been reworked by master musicians and their students. In different regional capitals, musicians acquired their repertoire from their master teacher through a process of listening and repetition and also drew from local sources of music, incorporating these into their own unique version of this repertoire of traditional melodies and melodic fragments.

These melodies existed as the basis of creative performance, or improvisation, similar to the use of melodies in jazz improvisation in the West. Within the last century these melodies became organized and systematized into what is known as the dastgâh system, twelve groups of melodies arranged in a traditional order. These dastgâh are each arranged into a progression of modes, which are specific tunings and organizations of tones with connotations of mood and ethos. The entire body of a master s repertoire arranged in such a way is known as the radîf.

During a performance, specific melodies (gûshes) may be selected from the dastgâh, generally in the order they appear in the radîf, and are used as the basis of an improvised performance. The overall contour of the melody is arch-shaped, based on a progression of pitch levels from low to high to low, both within pieces and for the dastgâh as a whole. The ascending portion of the dastgâh gradually increases emotional tension, which is released approximately two-thirds of the way through a performance at the climax (auj) and then resolved as the dastgâh returns to the original pitch level and mode of the initial melody.

Iranian music reflects central concepts in Iranian culture, particularly Islamic mysticism, and also reflects cultural themes found in other art forms, such as architecture and rug design. The performance of the dastgâh has the potential of producing a hâl, or inspiration, that can transport both the listener and performer outside the realm of ordinary consciousness. The progression of modes within the dastgâh is, by its arch-shaped pitch contour, designed to gradually take the listener away from his daily concerns into the realm of the mystic, where he releases his current problems and contemplates spiritual verities.

Traditional music has been associated with Sufi philosophy, particularly through poetic themes. Classical poetry is an integral part of a performance of traditional dastgâh music, particularly the ghazals of Hâfez and Sa`adî, as well as the Masnavî of Rûmî. The form of the ghazal is an important structural element in the vocal performance (âvâz) of the dastgâh. Lines of poetry (bayt) are selected at the time of the performance and matched to one of the gûshes. Each bayt (or two) of poetry, then, is sung to a separate melody, as follows: vocalized introduction, misrâ` (half-bayt), vocal ornamentation (tahrîr), then second misrâ`, tahrîr and vocalized conclusion.

Traditional instrumental music is also based on the dastgâh system, and particularly on vocal forms. The meter and rhythm of a ghazal forms the basis for the rhythm of the traditional repertoire of melodies, and is an elastic, interpretive rhythm, though not to be confused with free rhythm. In addition, instrumentally- or musically-based rhythm occurs more frequently in instrumental performances of the dastgâh.

Instruments associated with the performance of classical music include the târ (double-bellied, long-necked lute), santûr (hammered dulcimer), nay (end-blown cane flute), kamânchih (spiked fiddle), tumbak (goblet-shaped drum), sitâr (long-necked lute, usually played solo) and, to a lesser extent, dâyirih (frame drum) and `ûd (lute).

Ensembles usually included a vocalist, one or two melody instruments and perhaps a drum. Beginning in the late Qâjâr period, ensemble performances and pre-composed forms became more frequent, attributed to the influence of music from Western cultures. A dastgâh performance became organized into a suite of sections, in the order of pîshdarâmad, âvâz, tasnîf and ring. The pîshdarâmad is a pre-composed overture for instrumental ensemble, the âvâz is the traditional body of the radîf, the tasnîf is a pre-composed song form for vocalist and instrumental ensemble and the ring is an instrumental piece in dance rhythm. Also interspersed in sections within the âvâz is the chahârmezrâb, a virtuosic instrumental solo.

Although the basis of classical Iranian music has remained the dastgâh system, different trends during the last century have influenced the following characteristics: the extent to which the performance is improvised, the size of the ensemble, the order of pieces and the incorporation of musical characteristics from different cultures, particularly European, Arabic and internal regional styles.

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