Henry Cowell: “Persian Set”

photo_2017-01-01_11-54-07

Persian Set: Four Movements for chamber orchestra: Moderato; Allegretto; Lento; Rondo

Henry Cowell, one of the most innovative American composers of the 20th century, was born in 1897. Cowell and his wife visited Iran in 1956 and stayed there the whole winter, upon the invitation by the Iranian Royal Family, when he composed his album “Persian Set” in four movements for chamber orchestra. His composition is expressive of the characteristic quality of the Persian or the Iranian music.

Henry Cowell describes below his composition and the general characteristics of the Iranian classical music:

“This is a simple record of musical contagion, written at the end of a three-months’ stay in Iran, during which I listened for several hours nearly every day to the traditional classic music and the folk music of the country — at concerts, at private parties, at the National Conservatory for Traditional Iranian Music (where the instructors gave wonderful demonstrations of virtuosity for my benefit), and at Radio Tehran. Tape recordings at the Department of Fine Arts were especially helpful in displaying the rich variety of music in regions too difficult to visit in midwinter.

“Of course I made no attempt to shed my years of Western symphonic experience; nor have I used actual Iranian melodies or rhythms, nor have I imitated them exactly. Instead I have tried to develop some of the kinds of musical behavior that the two cultures have in common.

“The musical cultures of Asia have remained monodic in theory, but they are often polyphonic in actual performing practice. Attempts to combine the old classic melodic styles of the East with eighteenth and nineteenth century European harmony do not seem to me to be successful. But where a need is felt for the tonal variety of the Western orchestra, I think polyphony (based on the actual structure of the melodies used) is a natural direction for musical development to take in the East.

“The tonal coincidences in Persian Set were suggested by the polyphony actually heard from Iran’s three-to-five man ensembles. In one of the most commonly-heard musical styles the instruments (with or without a vocalist) and the drum take turns leading the melodic improvisation on one of the many inherited formal structures. A second melody instrument then follows the leader more or less in canon, at intervals varying according to his ability to keep up.

Sometimes he will even take off in a parallel but different phrase of his own.

“At Radio Tehran, European and Iranian instruments are sometimes combined. Persian Set adds the tarto a small Western orchestral ensemble. This is a beautifully shaped, double-bellied, three-stringed Persian instrument of very elaborate technique, for which the mandolin is an approximate substitute. (A guitar is used as substitute in this recording.)

“Persian music is modal (usually tetrachordal) and its modes rather persistently take either the note C or the note D for their tonic, as I have done here. There are five tetrachords in customary use which Iranian musicians combine in a number of ways. Four of these are used in Persian Set.

They correspond quite accurately to our tunings for (descending): C-B-A-G; C-Bb-A-G; C-B-Ab-G.

The fifth tetrachordal form has the famous quarter-tone interval at one point, and it is used just as much as the others, but one hears many pieces without it. It corresponds to the Western C-BbAhalf-b-G (not used in this composition).

“This quarter-tone is blamed by Iranian musicians for the difficulties in “modernizing” Iranian music by “harmonizing” it, but an even more basic trouble derives from the fact that it is not yet generally understood in Iran — what we in America have discovered only recently ourselves — that classic European harmony fits scales but not modes, whether the modes be those chosen for development in the Orient or in the Occident.

“One of the traditional musical styles heard in Iran today is a quiet, improvisatory one, arhythmical, like a prose invocation. Traditional Persian music was a great classic art which is said to have spread westward into many parts of the Arab-speaking world, reaching Greece about 600 B.C. In the 7th century A.D., the Arabs returned it to Persia in somewhat altered form as Islamic music. Moslem distaste for music had much less effect on the peoples of Iran than it did upon the Arabs, so that the practice of the art of music was never quenched in Persia after the Moslem Conquest. A few melodies surviving today are believed by Iranian students to be pre-Islamic, and certain types of mordents, and particularly the trill across a tone and a half, widespread today over the whole Middle East, are commonly called “Persian” by musicians of other countries. The elaborate Persian drumming techniques have been admired for generations, and even today in Cairo, Beirut and Istanbul most drummers will claim to be Persian —and sometimes are.”

Sources:

New World Records 

Britannica

 

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *
*
*
Your email is never shared.

Developments in Iranian Music Since Qajar Era (II)

Santour:
Nine-bridge and twelve-bridge Sanours were both used until the early Pahlavi dynasty. However, as Faramarz Payvar devised new methods for playing the nine-bridge Sanour, this variety of the instrument which was hammered by felted sticks became popular.

Developments in Iranian Music Since Qajar Era (I)

At the end of the Qajar era and as Iran entered the power transition period, known as the constitutional era, the Iranian music went through a lot of changes. These changes gained momentum as the students and followers of Ali Naqi Vaziri’s entered the musical scene. These changes greatly influenced designs of instruments, playing methods, singing, composing, etc.

From Past Days…

nu2

New Technique for Playing Classical Guitar (II)

When the author was working on the piece “Playing Love” by Ennio Morricone (from the legend of 1900), he realized a failure of the Lip Technique. Needing to play a chord in the 14th position of the guitar and in order to complete the harmony, it is necessary to play a harmonic note on the 7th or 5th position; it was not possible to touch the string to play this harmonic note, because the Lip Technique is used for getting the notes and not to touch the string and producing harmonic notes. Naturally, the only possible way to touch the string was to use the nose at the required position and playing the note with the right hand, and this was the best option the author found to how to play such harmonic notes, and where the Nose Technique was generated.

logo-jashnvareie-paigah-haie-mousighi-dar-internet

The 4th Iranian Festival of Music Websites and Weblogs

The 4th Iranian Festival of Music Websites and Weblogs was held in Niavaran Cultural Center, in Tehran, Iran on Feb. 28th, 2015. The initiator of the festival was Sajjad Pourghanad, Iranian music writer, researcher, founder of the festival and Persian setar and tar player.

s2

Principles of Playing Violin (V)

3/1/2/5: When the first finger lands next to the nut, continuation of first phalange of this finger, on back of the hand, should be in line with continuation of the back of the wrist and the left hand; moreover, it should not pass them and bend at knuckles. Otherwise, an uncommon stretch is created in first finger’s knuckle also reducing the freedom of other fingers (especially the fourth finger) in finger placement.

iqiqi

A note on “Illusion or Ingenuity” article

The author of the “Illusion or Ingenuity” article, who is apprehensive of the future of the Music in Iran, enumerates some symptoms of the music weakening in the country for example decreasing in the quality of the music as well as lack of the innovation in creating them, a gradual decline in the music public taste and the drop in the application of layered sound and polyphony in music. He explains that one reason for this gradual weakening might be our unawareness of the fact that we are not so intelligent nation. He believes that we, Iranians, have a comprehensive “Illusion of the high national intelligence “that make us ignorant of the unfavorable realities of our music and consequently no searching for the remedy is taking place. His point of view brings to the mind a patient who thinks he is healthy, therefore delays the treatment and finally is killed by the disease. The author also refers to the national difficulties which gradually will lower the national intelligence score such as the increased rate of the immigration and brain drain, low quality of the nutrition, incompetence of the education system and etc and predicts that the condition of the music of Iran might deteriorate in the future because of the mentioned illusion of its great status.

xenakis-polytopes-persepolis-03

Iannis Xenakis’ Persephassa

Shiraz Arts Festival which was held in Shiraz from 1967 to 1977 featured many contemporary renowned artists who were commissioned by the Iranian royalty to compose or create works of art for performance in the arts festival. Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) participated in Shiraz Arts Festival three times in 1968, 1969 and 1971. The Greek-French composer,…
Read More »

Layla-Ramezan

Layla Ramezan, Iranian Pianist

Iranian pianist Layla Ramezan has always sought to create a connection between her Persian origin and the contemporary music which she encounters daily. Sound, phrasing, a particular sense of rhythm and a refined understanding of the “time of musical development” are the foremost qualities of her interpretations. Her musical and pianistic education began in Tehran at the age of 8 with Mostafa-Kamal Poortorab. Having moved to Paris and received a scholarship from Albert Roussel Foundation, she integrated the classes of Jean Micault and Devi Erlih at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris Alfred Cortot, where she received a Diplôme de Virtuosité in piano performance and chamber music.

payam-taghadossi-paiam-taghadosi

Payam Taghadossi: Talented Iranian-Austrian Cellist

Payam Taghadossi (born in 1989) started his musical education at the age of 4 years with Monika Scherbaum in Bregenz (Austria). At the Conservatory Feldkirch he joined the class of Imke Frank and Martin Merker. Later he studied in Zurich (Switzerland) with Thomas Grossenbacher and Christian Proske, where he 2011 graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance. Two years later as the student of Rafael Rosenfeld he received his Master of Arts in Music Performance diploma and later graduated as a Master of Arts in spezialized Music Performance in 2016 from the Hochschule für Musik Basel FHNW.

shahin-mohajeri-mohajery

Shaahin Mohajeri Wins UnTwelve Composition Competition

UnTwelve Non-profit Organization announced the results of its 2014/2015 composition competition on January 28, 2015. Shaahin Mohajeri, an Iranian Tonbak player, microtonalist, acoustician and composer, was awarded the second prize for his piece “Castle of Babak.”

shahin-mohajeri-190

Non-profit “Microtona” Project Released

Microtona is a sixty-eight-page Booklet with personal comments by the contributing microtonal artists. The booklet also includes a DVD which consists of 8 original video tracks and 9 original audio tracks. The project is an international one featuring unpublished pieces by composers from Iran, Japan, U.S., France, Austria, Germany and Belgium.

mirhadi-190

Kayvan Mirhadi and O.R.P Qaurtet

Establishing O.R.P. Quartet is Kayvan Mirhadi’s latest activity as a guitarist, composer and conductor of Kamerata Orchestra. Besides working with this Quartet, Mirhadi is busy these days recording and mixing some of his own works as well as some pieces by 20th century composers. O.R.P Quartet performed a concert in Rasht, Gilan Province in late May 2016 and offered a master class.