Ostad Mohammad Reza Shajarian


Persian Classical Music

Although the modal structures, performance styles and melodic elements found in the music cultures stretching from the Northern Mediterranean to Central Asia share many features, the Iranian classical repertoire has a distinct character rooted in the unique cultural and territorial history of Iran. Subject to waves of foreign conquerors for over a thousand years, Iran continuously absorbed elements of neighboring cultures. But, at the same time, having honed powerful political and social institutions of its own since the antiquity, Iran has always been important center for arts and letters, providing the stability and the enviroment necessary to create and support a highly refined culture with contributions from successive generations of artists and learned men. Being so, Iran proved to be an indomitable cultural influence on its neighbors and conquerors as well.

Iranian art music was transformed by the arrival of Islam and Sufi mysticism between the 7th and 9th centuries, but the structures and performance styles associated with the Persian court tradition also fundamentally reshaped Islamic music in this same period. Meanwhile, the region of Khorasan in northeastern Iran gained political autonomy in 820, and in the decades following the rise of Baghdad it developed its own musical model, the pardeh system, based on the transformation of the old Persian modal system. Later, in the 13th and 14th centuries, a new musical school emerged based on the structure of the Persian classical verse called ghazal. A ghazal contains six to ten lines, usually associated with love, mysticism or hedonism. Its subtle metaphors often belie its apparently simple surface meaning. Many musical pieces from the 13th century forward adopted the metric structure of the ghazal which after the 14th century became the main source for the vocal section (avaz) of the repertoire.

The ghazal's adaptable structure facilitated the sequentialization of modes and melodies in accordance with its verses, resulting in the development of the instrumental radif. Over time different masters grouped all of the scattered pieces of the melodic modes into a closed hierarchical system of modes or suits called the dastgahs. The Iranian classical repertoire consists of twelve such suits. Each derives its name from the main mode of its introductory section, or daramad and each has its own characteristic interval structure, rhythmic formula and melodic motifs.

Every dastgah is made up of a series of small units called gushehs. Each gusheh ('corner' or 'section') is an independent piece, containing as few as four or five notes, with its own particular mode, duration, melody, and performance style. A gusheh can be metric or non-metric, instrumental or non-instrumental, and its classification depends on such complex features as its historical background (folk or classic), its affinity to Persian classical poetry, its transmitability from one dastgab to another, and its relationship to inter-regional musical systems such as the Turkish makam and Central Asian Shashmaqam. There are more than four hundred gusbehs in the dastgah vocabulary, and each dastgah generally contains fifteen to forty of them, from which the performer chooses six to ten for any given performance.

Historically, various important masters selected specific gusbehs and established their sequence within particular dastgahs. Such an individual ordering of the dastgah repertoire came to be known as a radif. The importance of the radif as a model increased over the course of history. The four authentic versions we know today all spring from the radifformed by Ali Akbar Farahani in the latter half of the 19th century.

Today the radif serves two principal functions: as a pedagogical model allowing students to break down the repertoire into its building blocks, the elemental gushehs, and as a pattern on which a musician can improvise with infinite creativity. Iranian classical music is mostly improvisational. Thus the interpretion of the modes and modulation from one dastgah to another depend heavily on the performer's skill. In an improvisatory performance, the musician can change the order of the gushehs and reshape the radif's melodic modes in any desirable progression.

Mohsen Hajarian

Ostad Mohammad Reza Shajarian

Born in 1940 in Mashad, Iran, Mohammad Reza Shajarian is an internationally and critically acclaimed Persian traditional singer, composer and Master (Ostad) of Persian music. A living legend of Persian classical music, Shajarian is also known for his mastery of Persian calligraphy and humanitarian activities.

Shajarian is considered as one of the most celebrated world music artists. His singing is widely believed to be technically flawless, powerful, and strongly emotional. In Persian classical Dastgah music, singing is the most difficult art to master and Shajarian is the embodiment of the perfect singer and a major source of inspiration. In 1999 UNESCO in France presented him with the prestigious Picasso Award, one of Europe’s highest honors.

He studied singing at the early age of five under the supervision of his father, and at the age of twelve, he began studying the traditional classical repertoire known as the Radif. Shajarian started his singing career in 1959 at Radio Khorasan, rising to prominence in the 1960s with his distinct style of singing. Since then, he has had an illustrious career that includes teaching at Tehran University’s Department of Fine Arts (among other places), working at National Radio and Television, researching Iranian music, and making numerous important recordings. His heavenly voice, materialized through the rich melodies of Persian music, gives a whole different and marvelous interpretation to ancient Persian poetry.

He studied with the great masters Esmaeil Mehrtash and Ahmad Ebadi, and learned the vocal styles of singers from previous generations, including Reza Gholi Mirza Zelli,Fariborz Manouchehri, Ghamar Molouk Vaziri, Eghbal Azar , and Taj Isfahani. He started playing the Santour under the instruction of Jalal Akhbari in order to better understand and perform the traditional repertoire, and in 1960, he became the pupil of Faramarz Payvar. He is inspired by the late master vocalist Gholam Hossein Banan. He studied under the guidance of master Abdollah Davami, from whom he learned the most ancient (songs). Abdollah Davami also passed on to Shajarian his own interpretation of the Radif. LAter he made significant contributions to registering Radif a World Human Heritage.

Throughout his long career, he released about 50 albums. Two of these were nominated for Grammy award in Best world Music first in 2004 and later in 2006. The same year he was awarded with the Mozart Medal by UNESCO. In 2010, he received the BITA award from Center of Iranian Studies of the Standford University in the USA. The same year he was included in NPR's 50 Great Voices list.