Rhythmic Forms of Persian Art Music
There are various rhythmic compositions in Persian art music, sung by
vocalists and played by instrumentalists, including percussionists, usually
tonbak players. Some of the compositions are traditional, while others
have been composed quite recently.
Traditional rhythmic compositions of Persian instrumental music can be
found in radif. The repertory of Persian art music together with traditional
order of classification is called radif. Radif can be divided into two
important parts: Zarbi, and Avaz. Zarbi here means rhythmic and is a generic
term for any kind of rhythmic composition. Avaz literally means vocal
but here means "non-rhythmic", the opposite of zarbi. Radif
is of two kinds: vocal radif and instrumental radif.
Rhythmic compositions of Persian vocal music are very variegated. I should
explain that in the past vocalists were of two kinds. The job of the avazkhan
was to sing the non-rhythmic compositions of vocal radif, while the tasnifkhan
was to sing the rhythmic compositions of Persian art music, i.e. tasnifs.
Two famous tasnif composers of the past are Ali Akbar Shayda and
Aref Ghazvini. It should be mentioned that most of the tasnifkhans
were tonbak players, e.g. Ostad Abdollah Davami who established
the vocal radif repertoire of Persian art music and Reza Gholi Khan
The Famous Rhythmic Forms of Persian Art Music
This means, "before entering". It can be compared with the European
prelude. A 20th century invention, it consists of a measured piece written
for group performance, to be played at the beginning of any traditional
performance. The melody of a pishdaramad usually contains hints or references
to the upcoming gushehs in the performance (Gusheh here means a piece
of music). The pishdaramad was invented by the great tar and setar player
of 20th century, Darvish Khan, who wrote the first such piece for
a public concert in the early 1920's. It can be composed in various rhythms,
but almost always in slow tempo.
Audio Sample of Pishdaramad
Literally Chaharmezrab means "four plectra". The origin of this
name is not clear, since it refers to an improvised or composed piece,
which is almost always in 6 or 12 beats and fast tempo. Chaharmezrab is
usually performed by a single instrument, although it does not have to
be. It is a musical form well suited to demonstration of virtuosity. The
development of chaharmezrab is attributed to Darvish Khan, Habib
Sama'i and Abolhassan Saba.
Audio Sample of Chaharmezrab
This is the principal dance form in Radif music. It can be improvised
or composed, performed by one or more instruments. A reng usually occurs
towards the end of a radif performance. Some famous rengs are included
in the radif repertoire, while others have been composed later. It is
almost always in 6 beats and medium tempo.
Audio Sample of Reng
This means "song". It is a composed piece to be performed by
a one or several instruments and vocals, which can be placed anywhere
in a performance. Tasnif is of two kinds. The first kind is sung in a
Gusheh of radif e.g. Tasnif-e-Rak that is sung in the Rak or Tasnif-e-Zabol
that is sung in the Zabol. It should be mentioned that Rak and Zabol are
Gushehs of radif. The other kind is sung in different Gushehs of radif.
Most of the traditional tasnifs are in 6 beats and almost always in slow
Audio Sample of Tasnif (Vocals by maestro
The rhythmic compositions (zarbis) of Radif Repertoire of Mirza Abdollah
(a very skillful setar player of the Ghajar period) are:
Dastgah-e-Shur: Gereyli, Gereyli-ye-Shasti, Reng-e-Hashtari, Reng-e-Shahr-ashub
Dastgah-e-Nava: Nastari and Reng-e-Nava.
Dastgah-e-Chahargah: Lezgi, Matn, Hashiyeh and Reng-e-Shahr-ashub.
Dastgah-e-Mahur: Harbi, Yekchubeh, Reng-e-Shalakhu, Saghinameh, Koshteh
In Radif Repertoire of Mirza Hosseingholi (a very skillful tar
player of Ghajar period) there are a few rhythmic compositions. The son
of Mirza Hosseingholi, Ostad Ali Akbar Shahnazi (a very skillful
tar player) composed a master course for tar and named it Radif-e-Dore-ye-'Ali.
In this radif he has composed a pishdaramad and a reng for every Dastgah
(except Dastgah-e-Nava and Dastgah-e-Rast-Panjgah).
Avaz: It literally means vocal, but here non-rhythmic composition.
Avazkhan: It literally means vocalist but here avaz performer.
Dastgah: Dastgah is the most important structural element of radif,
and formed by combination of various gushehs with their own melody-lines
and varied rhythmic patterns. Usually a Dastgah consists of several gushehs
of witch the first gusheh is of special importance and named daramad.
Daramad that is the first gusheh of a Dastgah, contains the first tetra-chord
of the Dastgah to witch the musical composition must return. This return
to the first tetra-chord of the Dastgah is called forud that literally
it means landing.
Gusheh: It literally means corner and angle but here a piece of
music. A special combination of some gushehs in its traditional order
makes a Dastgah of a radif.
Radif: The repertory of Persian art music together with traditional
order of classification is called radif. Radif literally means row.
Tasnifkhan: Tasnif performer.
Tonbak: Persian goblet drum. For more info click
Zarbi: Rhythmic composition.
Acknowledgement. The author wishes to thank Eric Stuer for his edition.
This domain ©
1996-2006 Eric Stuer, all rights reserved
RHYTHMWEB and RHYTHM WEB are trademarks, and any unauthorized
use of the names is a violation of applicablre law.