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Dastgah – poetry in music

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Homayoun Shajarian & Dastan-Ensemble

Traditionelle persische Kunstmusik
Berlin, Samstag 09.02.2008 20:00
rbb Grosser Sendesaal


Homayoun Shajarian – Gesang | Hamid Motebassem – Tar und Setar | Pejman Hadadi und Behnam Samani – Perkussion | Saeed Farajpouri – Kamanche | Hossein Behroozinia – Barbat

“Of the hundred melodies he played, he chose thirty sweet-sounding songs”, reported the twelfth century epic poet Nizami, describing the performance of thirty songs (alhan) and a hundred melodies (dastan-ha) at the pre-Islamic Sassanid court.

In the ninth and tenth centuries, musicologists wrote magnificent, systematic treatises on music that remain undisputedly authoritative to this day. For the most part, the music has been passed down through the generations from master to pupil (sineh be-sineh: “from breast to breast”). In the nineteenth century, a form of traditional art music (radif) developed, whose range of melodies and improvisations have been transcribed and notated and in which a certain cross-fertilisation with European culture is evident.


The radif is based on various modes (dastgah-ha).

Dastgah – the tonal anchor of traditional art music – consists of dast (hand) and gah (place, time). In other words, depending on the sequence – how or where the hand is placed or the time selected for the music – contemplative or emotional responses are triggered. We discover the realms of the dastgah by wandering through its many picturesque places (gushe-ha). The gushe-ha themselves are based on just three or four notes, and develop from these only to return to the starting point (forud). A dastgah cannot be performed without gathering and coordinating these elements.
Improvisation is a central tenet of Iranian music. The performance of a dastgah, which is improvised ad hoc, is shaped by the mood of the musician and the sensitivity of the listeners: it is a reciprocal dialogue between the meditation of sound and the implosion of silence.

“How many more words will you waste, O Sa’di, on the science of music?
The secrets of the heart are revealed only to the ear of the soul”
(Sa’di, 13th century).

There are seven primary modes or dastgah-ha, from which five secondary modes (avaz-ha) are derived:

    dastgah-e Shur
    avaz-e Abu‘ata
    avaz-e Bayat-e Tork
    avaz-e Dashti
    avaz-e Afshari
    dastgah-e Homayun
    avaz-e Esfahan
    dastgah-e Segah
    dastgah-e Chahargah
    dastgah-e Nawa
    dastgah-e Mahur
    dastgah-e Rastpandjgah.

Of course, various dastgah-ha can be mixed together. This is known as morakkab-chani and morakkab-navazi.

Each dastgah has a specific tonality that makes the mind sing and the feelings dance:

    Mahur conveys serene boldness,
    Chahargah subdued joy. Shur – a broadly sweeping dastgah – is majestic and earnest, while
    Dashti and Afshari represent deep sadness.
    Segah leads into a mystic dimension and
    Homayun induces sweet melancholy.

A dastgah is made up of five parts which can be varied in any way:

    pishdaramad (introduction),
    chaharmezrab (rhythmic),
    avaz (singing),
    tasnif (song),
    reng (dance).

The most important traditional Iranian instruments are

    Belonging to the lute family, the tar appeared in its present form in the middle of the eighteenth century. The body is a double-bowl shape carved from mulberry wood, with a thin membrane of stretched lamb-skin covering the top. The long fingerboard has twenty-six to twenty-eight adjustable gut frets, and there are three double courses of strings. Its range is about two and one- half octaves, and is played with a small brass plectrum.setar
    The ancestry of the Setar can be traced to the ancient Tanbur of pre-Islamic Persia. It is made from thin mulberry wood and its fingerboard has twenty-five or
    twenty-six adjustable gut frets. Setar is literally translated as “three strings”. however, in its present form, it has four strings and it is suspected that Setar
    initially had only three strings. Because of its delicacy and intimate sonority, the Setar is the preferred instrument of Sufi mysticsbarbat (short-necked lute),
    The Barbat is an ancient instrument of Persian origin, refined during the Arab age into the current form of Oud. After Tanboor it is the oldest string instrument in Iran. In 800 B.C a kind of Barbat was used. In some books the invention of this instrument is a scribed to Barbad. As it is told in some books, the reason to name this instrument Barbat is that this name is the Arabic form of Barbad, but in some other books it is told that Bat means chest, so the similarity between the form of a Barbat and the chest of a drake is the other reason for its name. After Islam’s attack to Iran this instrument was taken to Arabia and after a while it came back to Iran with a bit change in it. For Islamic culture penetrated in to Europe, this instrument was used is some parts with different names , for example in Italy it was called “Lotto”, in France “Loth” in Portugal “Aland” a and in Spain “Loud”. This instrument was abolished in Safavidth period by an unknown reason (maybe because of the religious fanaticism), even till recent decades.kamancheh (upright spike fiddle)
    The Kamancheh is the traditional classical bowed lute of Persian classical music and dates back to antiquity. It has a small, hollowed hardwood body with a thin stretched fish-skin membrane. Its neck is cylindrical, and it has four strings. Often known as the “spiked fiddle”, because of the spike protruding from its lower end, it is played vertically in the manner of the European viol. The bowstrings are pulled by the player which accommodates subtle tone variations. It is suspected that the fourth string was added in the early twentieth century as the result of the introduction of western violin to Iran.

    tombak (drum)
    The Tombak is a chalice-shaped drum carved from solid mulberry wood. It is covered at the wide end by a membrane of lamb or goat skin. The technique of this instrument uses both hands and consists of rolling and snapping the fingers in various ways. The rich variety of tones and textures on this instrument allows the player to punctuate and ornament the melodic phrases as well as create rhythmical patterns.

    daf (frame drum)
    The Daf is a type of frame drum that is depicted in many Persian miniatures and has reliefs from centuries ago. Although it appears at first sight to be a relatively simple instrument, the daf has the potential of producing intricate rhythmic patterns and sounds. The daf is equipped with metal rings on the inside which add a jingle effect to the sound. The frame is covered with goat-skin.

    Dammam is a large drum in one piece. The drum is covered with goatskin, which is secured by a cord, which is knotted seven times, and made from the fibers of a date palm. It is played with a wooden stick and/or with the hand. In the south of Iran it is played in religious ceremonies and kept in the Mosque.

    Nai (flute) and santur (dulcimer) were not used in this concert.

Iranian music includes court music, rural melodies (motreb), mystic songs of the Dervish order (khaneqah), and especially folk music and religious music: passion plays (ta’ziyeh), tales of the suffering of martyrs (rouzeh and nouheh). All these forms are inter-related, influence each other and nurture each other and are closely related to the dastgah. It is this many-faceted interaction that makes Iranian music so rich: “No player plays this melody, no nightingale can sing it” (Sa’di).

Persian poetry is a shared cultural heritage that is also an expression of the experiences of real life. The Divan of Hafis is in every home. It is a book of wisdom that people consult, love and recite. Hafis speaks “the tongue of that which is concealed”. His Divan can be opened at any page to reveal mysteries, advice and prophecies.

At gatherings, people often indulge in a poetry game (mosha’ereh) involving two sides. One begins by reciting a verse. The final letter of that verse has to be taken as the first letter of the opponent’s verse.

Poetry pervades all walks of social life. Goethe wrote “We shall say little of these poems, for they are to be enjoyed, and we are meant to be in harmony with them”.
The expression of mystic love in Persian poetry is so charged with eroticism that it is difficult to distinguish between earthly and divine love. This ambiguity can even extend to subject and object. Candle and moth, rose and nightingale, wine and inebriation – to name but a few – are among the literary idioms that are the heart of the language. The poetry is carried by this range of associations. Decoding it reveals archetypal images.

In the Middle East, music and poetry are inextricable linked. Both contain melody, rhythm, tonality and silence. Poetry is nurtured by rhythm and by the magical sound of music, while music is nurtured by the succinctness and tangible structure of poetry. We may speak here of the music of words and the grammar of music – a vibrant aesthetic symbiosis. Inseparbly interwoven, they are in dialogue with one another.

Homayoun Shajarian

Homayoun Shajarian is a Persian classical music vocalist, as well as a Tombak and Kamancheh player. He was born (21 May 1975) in Tehran in a music-dedicated family. He is the son of Mohammad Reza Shajarian, who is in turn the grand master vocalist of traditional Persian music. He began studying knowledge of technique and rhythm under supervision of Nasser Farhangfar, master of Tombak, at the age of five. Afterwards, he also continued learning Tombak under Jamshid Mohebbi’s supervision. He commenced learning Persian traditional vocal Avaz under father’s supervision and gained knowledge of Avaz techniques and voice-producing. Simultaneously, he attended Tehran Conservatory of Music and chose Kamancheh as his professional instrument as well as being tutored by Kamran Darogheh and Ardeshir Kamkar. He joined Ava Music Ensemble in 1991. He accompanied father, Hossein Alizadeh and Keyhan Kalhor in concerts of Ava Music Ensemble, playing Tombak. From 1999 on, he started accompanying father also on vocals. He has performed in several famous festivals including: Fez Festival (Morocco), Kölner Philharmonie, Berliner Philhatmonie, Royal Festival Hall London, New York World Music Institute and Paris Theatre.

Nasim-e Wasl, Na-shakiba, Showgh-e doest, Naghsh-e khyal, Ba Setareh-ha

Ensemble Dastan

Dastan, the most renowned ensemble of Iranian art music today, was founded in 1991 by Hamid Motebassem. Morteza Ayan, Mohammad Ali Kiani Nejad, Keyhan Kalhor and Ardeshir Kamkar were among its first members.
Since 2000, Said Farajpoori, Hossein Behroozi-Nia, Pejman Hadadi, Behnam Samani and Hamid Motebassem have formed the main core of the ensemble. Apart from concert tours in Iran, all the members of the ensemble, each a master musician, have toured Europe and the USA with such famous vocalists as Parissa, Sima Bina, Iraj Bastami, Bijan Kamkar and Shahram Nazeri. Ensemble Dastan has performed at many international festivals and concerts and has been presented by the WDR, HR and SFB broadcasting stations, by the Kölner Philharmonie, by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, by the World Music Institute in New York and by RASA in Utrecht, Netherlands.
In 2003, the French Ministry of Culture awarded them the accolade “best music of the year” for their production Shoorideh with Parissa.

Hamid Motebassem, Tar and Setar player (long-necked lutes); composer.
Born 1958 in Mashad. Studied at the art school and conservatory of Teheran.
Masters: his father; Habibollah Salehi; Zeydollah Toloie, Houshang Zarif, Hossein Alizadeh and Mohammad Reza Lotfi.
Has worked with Ensemble Aref, founder of Ensemble Dastan.

Said Farajpoory, Kamancheh player (spike fiddle); composer.
Born 1961 in Sanandadj.
Masters: Hassan Kamkar, Mohammad Reza Lotfi, Hossein Alizadeh.
Has worked with Ensembles Sheyda and Aref, Mohammad Reza Shadjarian and Parviz Meshkatian.

Hossein Behroozi-nia, Barbat player (short-necked lute); composer.
Born 1962 in Teheran. Studied at the conservatory of Teheran.
Masters: Reza Vohdani, Mansour Nariman and Mohammad Reza Lotfi.
Director of the Center for the Preservation of Persian Music.

Behnam Samani, Daf (frame drum), Damam (cylinder drum).
Born 1967 in Chahar-Mahal.
Masters: Djamshid Mohebbi.
Has worked with Ensembles Karavane and Zarbang. Founder of Ensemble Samani.

Pejman Hadadi, Tonbak (beaker drum), Pendariq (frame drum).
Born 1969 in Teheran.
Masters: Asdollah Hedjazi, Bahman Radjabi.
Has worked with great Iranian artists as well as with Indian, Turkish and American musicians.

Homayoun Shajarian& Dastan Tour in Europe January & February 2008

Venezia 24.01.08
Info: 0039-41- 534 85 99 | 0039-328-10946 56

Milano 26.01.08
Info: 0039-254-123247 | 0039-328- 1094656

Frankfurt 30.01.08
Info: 0049-175-549 09 22

Stockholm 01.02.08
Info: 0046-8-4071700 | 0046-8-161056 | |

Göteborg 02.02.08
Info: 0046-31-726 53 10 |

Oslo 04.02.08
Info: 0047-2- 236 10 84

London 06.02.08
Info: 0044-20-7730 4500 |

Münster 08.02.08
Info: 0049-251-86 71 69 & 0049-172- 530 85 24

Berlin 09.02.08
Info: 0049-30-60 97 70-0

Antwerpen 15.02.08

Amsterdam 16.02.08

Den Haag 17.02.08


Written by huehueteotl

February 10, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Arts

Tagged with ,

5 Responses

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  1. hi
    nice to meet your blog and i am very glad you publish some post abou iranian music your blog is very good and usefull
    with tanks esmail


    February 19, 2008 at 11:42 am

  2. I was amazed by this music and cannot wait for the cd of this programme to appear. This concert made may life richer. 😉



    February 19, 2008 at 3:58 pm

  3. Very nice post. I really enjoy Dastan’s works


    April 6, 2009 at 12:18 pm

  4. please is there…one comma bemol..meant one comma flat in our iranian music and where..and how
    please reply

    nahdim muhammed ali

    November 1, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    • Here’s some information I found at Christopher’s Persian Classical Music Intervals Page:

      “OK, first a disclaimer: the easiest way to get two Persian music theorists in an argument is to ask them what the actual intervals of Persian music are. 🙂

      I think one of the things that strongly influences the placement of frets for Persian music is that in the course of playing a Dastgah one modulates through many subsidiary Gusheh-ha by changing tonics. So, the ability to change keys is a major factor. I think it was partly for this reason that Vaziri was such a big fan of 24 tET — since then one can change to any key and still play all the intervals consistently. The other two groups of fixed tunings that seem to be popular are tunings built up of fifths (as promoted by theorists such as Barkechli) or of fifths and thirds (based on observations by Farhat, et al).

      Despite the above, most of what I have heard and read from Persian musicians (as opposed to Persian music theorists) is that the ideal intervals for all the Gusheh-ha of all the Dastgah-ha can not be reduced to a fixed set, which is why there are moveable gut frets on those Persian lutes which are not fretless. The musicians adjust their frets depending on the sequence of Gusheh-ha they are about to play.

      A note about the following notation (“p” & “>”):

      Ep is “E koron”
      F> is “F sori”

      This is an ASCII-ified version of the symbols Vaziri introduced to allow Persian classical music to be written in western classical notation.
      Barkechli’s Persian scale is basically a 17-tone Pythagorean scale (this is from PYTH_17.SCL from Scala): interval ratio cents note name description
      0 1/1 0.000 C unison, perfect prime
      1 256/243 90.225 Db Pythagorean limma
      2 2187/2048 113.685 Dp apotome
      3 9/8 203.910 D major whole tone
      4 32/27 294.135 Eb Pythagorean minor third
      5 19683/16384 317.595 Ep Pythagorean augmented second
      6 81/64 407.820 E Pythagorean major third
      7 4/3 498.045 F perfect fourth
      8 1024/729 588.270 F> Pythagorean diminished fifth
      9 729/512 611.730 Gp Pythagorean tritone
      10 3/2 701.955 G perfect fifth
      11 128/81 792.180 Ab Pythagorean minor sixth
      12 6561/4096 815.640 Ap Pythagorean augmented fifth
      13 27/16 905.865 A Pythagorean major sixth
      14 16/9 996.090 Bb Pythagorean minor seventh
      15 59049/32768 1019.550 Bp Pythagorean augmented sixth
      16 243/128 1109.775 B Pythagorean major seventh
      17 2/1 1200.000 C octave

      Farhat, in his doctoral thesis, gives the following as the average of several observed tar and sehtar tunings:
      Farhat’s Observed Tuning interval cents note name
      0 0.000 C
      1 90.000 Db
      2 135.000 Dp
      3 205.000 D
      4 295.000 Eb
      5 340.000 Ep
      6 410.000 E
      7 500.000 F
      8 565.000 F>
      9 630.000 Gp
      10 700.000 G
      11 790.000 Ab
      12 835.000 Ap
      13 905.000 A
      14 995.000 Bb
      15 1040.000 Bp
      16 1110.000 B
      17 1200.000 C

      The following (PERSIAN.SCL from Scala) is similar to Farhat’s observed tuning and can be thought of as being built up of fifths and thirds.

      Another way of thinking of it is to build it up from fifths and syntonic commas:

      Start with a Pythagorean scale containing no koron or sori notes.
      To get a koron note add two syntonic commas to a flat note.
      To get a sori note, subtract two syntonic commas from a sharp note.
      [A syntonic comma is the ratio 81/80, about 21.506 cents.]

      Persian Tar Scale, from Dariush Anooshfar, Internet Tuning List 2/10/94 interval ratio cents note name description
      0 1/1 0.000 C unison, perfect prime
      1 256/243 90.225 Db Pythagorean limma
      2 27/25 133.238 Dp large limma
      3 9/8 203.910 D major whole tone
      4 32/27 294.135 Eb Pythagorean minor third
      5 243/200 337.148 Ep acute minor third
      6 81/64 407.820 E Pythagorean major third
      7 4/3 498.045 F perfect fourth
      8 25/18 568.717 F> classic augmented fourth
      9 36/25 631.283 Gp classic diminished fifth
      10 3/2 701.955 G perfect fifth
      11 128/81 792.180 Ab Pythagorean minor sixth
      12 81/50 835.193 Ap acute minor sixth
      13 27/16 905.865 A Pythagorean major sixth
      14 16/9 996.090 Bb Pythagorean minor seventh
      15 729/400 1039.103 Bp acute minor seventh
      16 243/128 1109.775 B Pythagorean major seventh
      17 2/1 1200.000 C octave

      Vaziri’s scale is just a subset of 24 tET:
      Vaziri’s Tuning interval cents note name
      0 0.000 C
      1 100.000 Db
      2 150.000 Dp
      3 200.000 D
      4 300.000 Eb
      5 350.000 Ep
      6 400.000 E
      7 500.000 F
      8 550.000 F>
      9 650.000 Gp
      10 700.000 G
      11 800.000 Ab
      12 850.000 Ap
      13 900.000 A
      14 1000.000 Bb
      15 1050.000 Bp
      16 1100.000 B
      17 1200.000 C

      I believe Vaziri actually had more than 17 frets per octave on his tar, but I can not remember if he had all 24 frets per octave or a subset that was 17 < n < 24. I will try to remember to update this page if I come across the information again.

      The Dastgah concept in Persian music. Farhat, Hormoz (Los Angeles) 1966 [also:] Cambridge (England) 1990

      Musique d'Iran Nelly Caron et Dariouche Safvate Paris : Buchet/Chastel 1997 [in French]

      Traditional Persian art music: The Radif of Mirza Abdollah Tala'i, Dariush Costa Mesa : Mazda, 1998 [set of book + 5 CDs] [Click on the title to go to Mazda Publisher's home page for this book/CD set.]

      Classical Persian music; an introduction. Zonis, Ella. Cambridge, Mass. 1973

      The radif of Persian music : studies of structure and cultural context in the classical music of Iran. Nettl, Bruno, 1930- Rev. ed. Champaign, Ill. 1992"


      November 2, 2009 at 8:50 am

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