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.

Musical Sense or Technique?

One of the most popular terms used by Iranian instrumentalists is the existence or a lack of musical “sense”. Both musicians and fans of music consider having “sense” while playing music as an important principle to the extent that they use it vis-a-vis having technique.

“The Art of Silence” Project Will be Released

Shaahin Mohajeri, the award-winning Iranian microtonal compose, has contributed to The Art of Silence is an international project which features unpublished pieces by microtonal composers from Iran, Japan, the United States, and other countries.

From Past Days…

mehrdad-mahdavi

“Guitar Memories” Released

The album “Guitar Memories” consists of the performance of baroque to recent era masterpieces, by Mehrdad Mahdavi, and is published by Tanin-e Honar Publication.

In this album there are pieces composed and arranged by artists such as: Sylvius Leopold Weiss, Johann Anton Logy, Fernando Sor, Yuquijiro Yocoh, Leo Brouwer.

violon-dast-(3)

Principles of Violin Playing (II)

Since for playing violin, it’s necessary that the player’s palms and fingers be inclined toward the fingerboard, therefore, the player, while bringing up his hand, should turn it toward the fingerboard.

s2

Principles of Playing Violin (VI)

B. applying force: the force needed for putting finger on finger board is applied through finger tips and using the rest of hand set especially wrist is not allowed. To practice this, it is possible to hold violin without the bow and throw the fingers on the finger board from 1-2cm distance; apply force only through finger tips.

arvin-sedaghatkish-motebasem-hamid-190

Simorgh Criticised

Simorgh (Simorq) Orchestra was founded by the renowned Iranian composer, Hamid Motebassem, in 2011. Simorgh Orchestra is the largest orchestra featuring Iranian national instruments. Although the orchestra established by Master Hossein Dehlavi, the great Iranian composer, in 1993 was larger than Simorgh Orchestra, it only featured the Iranian plucked string instruments unlike the latter one. The first album which was recorded by the Orchestra, conducted under Motebassem’s baton, was his Simorq based on Zal story from Shahnameh by Ferdowsi, the great Iranian poet.

lip1

New Technique for Playing Classical Guitar (I)

Joint application of the two techniques of “Lip” and “Nose” could be effectively applied for hearing and playing far-away intervals, by the Classical Guitar. Before this, a Classical Guitar player had to waive playing intervals not possible with the left hand, and had to replace or eliminate some notes, making it possible to play such intervals; specifically the capability of the left hand of the musician, was also a factor in such a selection. These methods are hereby illustrated by photographs and a video-file, in order to provide optimum comprehension of applying these methods, invented by the author; specifically the “Lip” technique, which is considered to be a more significant technique, emphasized by the author.

s2

Principles of Violin Playing (IX)

4.3.1. To practice playing of doubles of notes involving two different fingers, each note is played at separate bows with slow tempo, each note is played perfectly regarding its bass and tenor sounds and then the considered double is played at another bow while considering the resulted sound of the double.

malihe-saeedi-saidi-sadidy-190-1312052365

Qanun, a feminized instrument?

In the world music culture, there are instruments which were traditionally associated with a certain gender. It remains disputable to what extent these gender-based perceptions have been logical and scientific. For example, as playing wind instruments need more breath strength and the public opinion believe that men have stronger breath compared to women, these instruments are predominantly a male domain. Harp is also considered a female instrument as the public opinion believe that women have finer fingers and can therefore better perform nuances and delicate techniques on the instrument.

afsdghm

Illusion or Ingenuity?

Mohsen Renani in the preface of his book entitled “The Political Economy of nuclear conflict; an introduction to traversing the civilizations” writes:

alexander-rahbari-ali

Ali Rahbari & Recording Iranian Symphonic Compositions

In the few days prior to the New Iranian year (March 2015), the news of the revival of Tehran Symphony Orchestra under Ali (Alexander) Rahbari’s conductorship was announced. Ali Rahbari, who served as assistant to Herbert von Karajan in Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at a very young age, was also invited to conduct Tehran Symphony Orchestra in 2005; however, the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government put an end to his collaboration with this Orchestra. Recently, it was announced that Rahbari is invited to conduct an orchestra in the U.S.

photo_2017-09-02_12-25-39

Musical Sense or Technique?

One of the most popular terms used by Iranian instrumentalists is the existence or a lack of musical “sense”. Both musicians and fans of music consider having “sense” while playing music as an important principle to the extent that they use it vis-a-vis having technique.