21 June 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

A birthplace of complex musical instruments “Iran”

Music is a form of art, which derives from the Greek word meaning “art of the Muses.”

While it is not certain how or when the first musical instrument was invented, most historians point to early flutes made from animal bones that are at least 40,000 years old. The oldest known written song dates back 4,000 years and was written in ancient cuneiform.

Instruments were created to make musical sounds. Any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument if it is specifically designed for that purpose. But what about complex musical instruments?

Archaeological records of Elam, the oldest civilization in the southwestern Iranian plateau, suggest the ancient land is the birthplace of the earliest complex instruments, which date back to the third millennium BC.

Narratives say the initiation of music in Iran dates back to the time of the mythical king, Jamshid. However, fragmentary documents from various periods, including rock-carved carvings, suggest millennia of musical practices in every corner of the ancient land.

Harp a string instrument that flourished in Persia in many forms from its introduction, about 3000 B.C, until the 17th century. The original type was the arched harp as seen at Čoḡā Miš and on later third millennium seals. Around 1900 B.C they were replaced by angular harps with vertical or horizontal sound boxes.
Harp a string instrument that flourished in Persia in many forms from its introduction, about 3000 B.C, until the 17th century. The original type was the arched harp as seen at Čoḡā Miš and on later third millennium seals. Around 1900 B.C they were replaced by angular harps with vertical or horizontal sound boxes. Source: Encyclopedia Iranica

Archeologists have discovered many trumpets made of silver, gold, and copper were found in eastern Iran attributed to the Oxus civilization and date back between 2200 and 1750 BC. The use of both vertical and horizontal angular harps has been documented at the archaeological sites of Madaktu (650 BC) and Kul-e Fara (900–600 BC), with the largest collection of Elamite instruments documented at Kul-e Fara. Multiple depictions of horizontal harps were also sculpted in Assyrian palaces, dating back between 865 and 650 BC.

Not much is known of the musical scene of the classical Persian empires of the Medes, Achaemenids, and Parthians, apart from a few archaeological remains and some notes from the writings of Greek historians.

Xenophon’s Cyropaedia also speaks of many singing women at the court of the Achaemenid Empire.

Chang players depicted on a 6th-century Sasanian relief at Taq-e Bostan
Chang players depicted on a 6th-century Sasanian relief at Taq-e Bostan

The Sassanian period (226 CE-651), in particular, has left us ample evidence pointing to the existence of a lively musical life. Sassanid ruler Khosrau’s II reign is considered the “golden age” for Iranian music.

In a large relief at the Taq-e Bostan archaeological site, he is shown among his musicians, holding a bow and arrow and standing on a boat in the middle of a group of harpists. The names of some important musicians such as Barbod, Parkash, Azad, Nakissa, and Ramtin, and titles of some of their works have survived.

With the advent of Islam in the 7th century CE, Persian music, as well as other Persian cultural taints, became the main formative element in what has, ever since, been known as “Islamic civilization”.

Lute player statue from the time of the Parthian Empire, kept at the Netherlands's Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.
Lute player statue from the time of the Parthian Empire, kept at the Netherlands’s Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.

According to Encyclopedia Iranica, Persian musicians and musicologists overwhelmingly dominated the musical life of the Muslim lands. Farabi (d. 950), Ebne Sina (d. 1037), Razi (d. 1209), Ormavi (d. 1294), Shirazi (d. 1310), and Maraqi (d. 1432) are but a few among the array of outstanding Persian musical scholars in the early Islamic period.

In the 16th century, a new “golden age” of Persian civilization dawned under the rule of the Safavid dynasty (1499-1746). However, from that time until the third decade of the 20th-century Persian music became gradually relegated to a mere decorative and interpretive art, where neither creative growth nor scholarly research found much room to flourish.

Karna, an ancient Iranian musical instrument from the 6th century BC, kept at the Persepolis Museum, southern Iran.
Karna, an ancient Iranian musical instrument from the 6th century BC, was kept at the Persepolis Museum, southern Iran.

When it comes to structure, perpetuated through an oral tradition, the classical repertoire encompasses a body of ancient pieces collectively known as the “radif” of Persian music. These pieces are organized into twelve groupings, seven of which are known as basic modal structures and are called the seven “dastgah” (systems).

They include : Shur, Homayun, Segah, Chahargah, Mahur, Rast-Panjgah, and Nava. The remaining five are commonly accepted as secondary or derivative dastgahs. Four of them: Abuata, Dashti, Bayat-e Tork, and Afshari are considered to be derivatives of Shur; and, Bayat-e Isfahan is regarded to be a sub-dastgah of Homayun. The individual pieces in each of the twelve groupings are generally called “gushe”, but each gushe has a specific and often descriptive title. A gushe is not a clearly defined musical composition; rather, it represents modal, melodic, and occasionally rhythmic skeletal formulae upon which the performer is expected to improvise. Thus, the radif submits an infinite source of musical expression. The flexibility of the basic material and the extent of the improvisatory freedom is such that a piece played twice by the same performer, at the same sitting, will be different in melodic composition, form, duration, and emotional impact.

For those with a passion for music, it is worthy to spend a few hours in one of the museums dedicated to the music of the nation. An example is the Isfahan Music Museum located in the Armenian quarter of Jolfa in Isfahan. It showcases 300 regional and national musical instruments.

Source: Tehran Times

Related Articles

Jordan’s mysterious ancient wall “Khatt Shebib”

22 October 2022

22 October 2022

The accomplishments of ancient civilizations are typically woefully underappreciated because we stereotype them as primitives who only wore loincloths, and...

The mystery of Cathedral of Salamanca’s astronaut figure, isn’t what people think it is

10 March 2022

10 March 2022

There is a photograph of an “astronaut” carved in a 16th century Spanish cathedral in Salamanca. Known as the Catedral...

Queen of Seas Who Challenged Rome: ‘Queen Teuta’

31 October 2023

31 October 2023

Illyrian Queen Teuta is one of the most extraordinary figures of Illyrian antiquity and of Albanian heritage. She was also...

Bristol Redcliff Quarter’s outstanding medieval knife

17 May 2022

17 May 2022

In 2017 and 2018, Cotswold Archeology and Oxford Archeology, in a joint venture, undertook excavations ahead of redevelopment at Redcliff...

Famous Celtic hero bust of the Czech Republic “The head of Mšecké Žehrovice”

5 May 2022

5 May 2022

Located in the Czech Republic, the Mšecké Žehrovice’s head makes an appealing piece with its delightful curling mustaches- “perhaps the...

Egypt’s Lost city “Thonis-Heracleion”

6 September 2021

6 September 2021

Thonis-Heracleion (Egyptian and Greek names of the city) is a port city lost between myth and reality until 1999. Few...

Rock Ship of Masuda, Japan’s mysterious monolith

17 April 2023

17 April 2023

Located in the Takaichi District of Nara Prefecture, Japan, the village of Asuka is famous for its mysterious stones. The...

Iran’s legendary ruined city “Susa”

12 August 2021

12 August 2021

Ancient Susa is one of the oldest cities in the world. The Elamite, Persian, and Parthian empires formerly ruled over...

Queen Kubaba: Some 4,500 years ago, a woman rose to power and reigned over one of the largest civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia

28 December 2023

28 December 2023

Is it possible to say who was the first queen in history? Given the size and diversity of human civilization,...

Ancient musical instrument “Chang” symbolizing Azerbaijan’s rich cultural heritage

16 March 2022

16 March 2022

Harp is a world-famous, ancient, stringed musical instrument. Chang, in terms of structure, is a harp-like stringed musical instrument. The...

“Oracle Bone Inscriptions”, the world’s oldest writing system that has not disappeared in history

5 June 2023

5 June 2023

“Jiaguwen,” or the oracle bone inscriptions, are thought to be the earliest fully-developed characters as well as the source of...

A Pagan cemetery belongs to the Late Roman Empire period in Istanbul

12 June 2022

12 June 2022

During the restoration of the ancient Sheikh Suleiman Mosque, which was restored as part of the Med-Art Education Project by...

Georgia’s Queen of Kings “Tamar the Great”

17 August 2021

17 August 2021

Queen Tamar (1160-1235 CE) reigned during Georgia’s Golden Age, when the country’s frontiers stretched from the Black Sea to the...

Hasanlu Teppe and Mysterious Gold Bowl of Hasanlu

22 January 2022

22 January 2022

Hasanlu Teppe dominates the plain known as Solduz in Iran and was one of the largest settlements in the Qadar...

“Dholavira,” the settlement with the world’s oldest signboard

16 August 2021

16 August 2021

Dholavira, also known as Kotda (which means “big fort”), is one of the islands in Kutch’s vast desert. The city...