Henry Cowell: “Persian Set”

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.

A combination of technique and musicality in the fingers of a pianist

In the world of classical music, the position of soloist has always been exceptional. Apart from the technical ability that many orchestral musicians also have, the soloist must also have a special power to be able to present a different and unique perspective of a piece. The soloist must maintain its special power of expression not only in solo roles but also when interacting with the orchestra.

Jamshid Andalibi passed away!

Jamshid Andalibi, one of the most famous ney players in Iran, passed away on the fifteenth of Esfand, 1402, at the age of 66 due to a heart attack at his private residence. Andalibi was a member of a family that had a significant presence in the field of Iranian music in the sixties and…
Read More »

From Past Days…

Hassan Kassai, Ney Virtuoso

The name of Maestro Hassan Kassai is so vehemently intertwined with Ney (Persian reed flute) that one cannot imagine one without the other immediately coming into mind. Ney is one of the instruments which went through a lot of ups and downs in the history of the Iranian music since the time of Sassanid kings to the time when shepherds found playing it consoling when they took their cattle for grazing. However, Nay could never demonstrate its main capacities to gain a stable position among the musicians and the people like other instruments including Oud, Tar, Santour, all sorts of bowed string instruments and plucked string instruments.

Polyphony in Iranian Music (IV)

Two choirs alternatively perform Veŝ Tavaré Na avaz (Transcription 5). The second group starts the avaz before the first group finishes it; consequently, two different voices coincide (Transcription 5, staves 2 and 5).

A brief examination of Ardavan Kamkar’s Santour playing style

I still think of those fish in a crystal bowl for the Haft sin table and those disappointed old men who went out to sell blackfish.

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.

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.

Davoud Pirnia (1900 - 1971)

About Davoud Pirnia, the founder of “Golha” radio program

Davoud Pirnia, writer and musicologist was the founder of “Golha” (Flowers of Persian Song and Music) programs on Tehran Radio (1956-1966). He received his early education from his father, Hassan Pirnia (Moshir al-Douleh), and several tutors of the time (Taraghi, interview, July 1989) and continued his studies at Saint Louis School in Tehran and then in Switzerland and graduated in law. While studying law, Pirnia got acquainted with European classical music. Upon returning to Iran, he was employed by the Ministry of Justice and founded the Lawyers’ Guild. Then he was transferred to the Ministry of Finance and established the Department of Statistics in this ministry. Later, he became the head of the state inspection office at the Prime Ministry; he was, then, promoted to the position of the Deputy Prime Minister (Navab Safa, interview, August 1999)

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.

A Persian Nocturne for Piano

A Night in a Persian Garden is the name of a Nocturne composed by the Persian (Iranian) contemporary composer Behzad Ranjbaran. This Nocturne, published recently by the Theodore Presser Company in the US, was performed for the first time in 2002 in New York City by the young Persian pianist Soheil Nasseri and has enjoyed many performances by other pianists.

Ashoura Opera

Ashura Opera was composed by Behzad Abdi, the Iranian composer, in 2008 based on librettos compiled by Behrouz Gharib. The main source for the libretto is poems by Mohtasham Kashani, a sixteenth century Iranian poet.

Polyphony in Iranian Music (II)

With regard to each polyphonic form, only one specific and distinguished example is analyzed. These polyphonic forms are as follows: