Persian Classical Music: System of Modes
Barbad, the court-musician of the great Sasanian king, Khosrow (Chosroes in the Western annals), is said to have invented the Persian system of modes; more likely he introduced modifications to complete and organize them. The musical system consisted of seven Khosravani, thirty modulation forms and three hundred and sixty systems (dastan) which correspond to the days of the week, the month and the year respectively. This is very similar to the Indian idea of “ragas” for different times of day and seasons of the year.
Seven Primary Modes
The seven primary modes or dastgah are: Shur, Mahur, Homayun, Nava, Segah, Chahargah, and Rast-Panjgah. The five secondary modes or avaz are: Abu-Ata, Bayat-e Tork, Afshari, Dashti and Esfahan. Avaz is derived from dastgah, and hence is shorter in length of composition. These twelve modes comprise the entire “radif” or the collection of modes dealt with in Persian classical music today.
Each dastgah reflects a certain mood or emotion. Mood in Western music is usually limited to active or passive according to its two main scales, major and minor. But Persian music, like other Eastern music, provides a wide range of shades and grades of emotion. The mode Shur has an intense, fiery quality, but also may be used to express a tranquil mood. Esfahan, a minor mode, is endowed with a feeling of romantic nostalgia.
Five Secondary Modes
Persian Vocal Styling
Vocal music, like the rest of Persian music, is learned by heart from a master, the definitive form of the traditional style being handed down from generation to generation. Musically, the voice is classed in three registers or dongs (tetrachords): Do Dong (long), Chahar dong (middle), and Shish dong (high). This last can sometimes reach higher than a normal soprano.
A characteristic of Persian vocal styling is voice crackling called tahrir which is used as an ornament or trill. It is similar to the Swiss yodel, the Slavic voice cracking, or what we hear in Japanese or Korean singing. The tahrir is known by laymen as “chah-chah”, but for the more informed, there are various types, such as “tahrir bolbuli” or “tahrir chakoshi.” The tahrir ornament is used in phrases which have long syllables, and it usually falls at the end of a hemistiche, but never in the middle.
The experienced performer often chooses from a renowned poet such as Hafez or Sa’adi a poem or a verse extract sympathetic to the character or mood of the accompanying gusheh.
Associations of Each Mode
The Modal Scales
I. Shur: G Ap Bb C Dp Eb F G and its four derivatives.
II. Avaz-e Abu-Ata: G Ap Bb C D Eb F G
III. Avaz-e Bayat-e Tork: F G Ap Bb C D Eb F
IV. Avaz-e Afshari: F G Ap Bb C D (p) Eb F
V. Avaz-e Dashti: G Ap Bb C D (p) Eb F G
VI. Homayun: G Ap B C D Eb F G
VII. Avaz-e Bayat-e Esfahan: G Ap B C D Eb F G
VIII. Segah: F G Ap Bp C Dp Eb F
IX. Chahargah: C Dp E F G Ap B C
X. Mahur: C D E F G A B C
XI. Rast-Panjgah: F G A Bb C D E F
XII. Nava: D Ep F G A Bb C D
Note: The underlined letters have approximately the function of a tonic. Small ‘b’ means “flat”; small ‘p’ indicates pitch approximately a quarter-tone lower than the indicated note or, in other words, a half flat.