Translated by Mahboube Khalvati
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.
Most probably, the simple procedure of making the instrument which had led to the emergence of nonstandard patterns and eventually the technical restrictions for Ney can be blamed for the lack of stability of Ney’s position in the Iranian music. In order to develop and increase the technical features of a musical instrument, it is necessary to primarily design its structure based on an exact and studied pattern and then make the instrument so that it becomes possible to play the instrument using its maximum capacity. Based on the available information on first Iranian music records, playing techniques for instruments such as Tar, violin and Kamancheh are more sophisticated. The only available old recording of Ney is of solo playing and avaaz accompaniment by Nayeb Asadollah Esfahani who is believed to be the first musician playing Ney by the means of “teeth”. In any case, by examining the available old records, one can learn about the level of playing Ney in the past.
Maestro Kassai could not benefit from the teachings of Nayeb directly but received lessons from one of Nayeb’s pupils, Mehdi Navai; this fact proves, on the one hand, Kassai’s depth of talent and, on the other hand, the limitations and simplicity of Ney’s techniques. In this sense, Hassan Kassai is like Tehrani in Tonbak, Ahmad Ebadi in Setar, Asghar Bahari in Kamancheh and Faramarz Payvar in Santour, in devising techniques and playing all dastgahs by Ney.
In the past, the sound of Ney was impure, in other words, Ney was played in a way that one could not distinguish between different pitches; however, through changes in the position of the tongue, lips and the shape of the mouthpiece, Maestro Kassai could produce a clear and pure sound out of the instrument. This progress made the Maestro’s Ney find its way to the state radio. Consequently, solo performances and accompanying famous instrumentalists and singers such as Jalil Shahnaz, Ali Tajvidi, Ahmad Ebadi, Taj Esfahani, Adib Khansari, etc. promoted Ney to the same level as other Iranian instruments.
After this period, most of Iranian orchestras started using Ney and this need led to the ever-increasing number of Ney players with Ney becoming a field taught at universities as a specialized course. We can say that, today’s Ney players became interested in the instrument after listening to Maestro Kassai Ney.
According to Hassan Kassai, he was born on 26 September 1926 in a family of businessmen. His father, Seyed Javad Kassai, was one of the famous businessmen in Esfahan. Seyed Javad Kassai loved music and his house was a place for gatherings of famous Esfahani maestros such as Seyed Hossein Taherzadeh, Jalal Tajzadeh Esfahani, Akbar Khan Nowrouzi, the Shahnaz family (Shaban Khan, Hossen Agha, Ali Agha and Jalil Shahnaz), Gholam Hossein Saranj and Adib Khansari.
These reunions familiarized Hassan Kassai with the Iranian music from an early age and his passion for music especially Ney (after he saw an itinerant Ney player) made his father take him to Ney lessons by Mehdi Navai. After Mehdi Navai’s death, Kassai took advantage of interactions and collaborations with Esfahani musiscians to further master playing Ney. He especially learned a lot from Jalil Shahnaz to whom he is indebted. Playing Ney accompanied by fretted instruments such as Tar and Setar made Kassai more familiar with different scales of the Iranian music to the extent that he played Chahargah, Esfahan, Nava and Rastpanjgah with an exact tuning and completely for the first time. Kassai is also indebted to Abolhassan Saba and his knowledge of Setar is a legacy of the time he spent with the unique senior musician. Kassai’s style of playing Setar is a combination of Jalil Shahnaz’s Tar-playing style and Abolhassan Saba’s Setar style.
For years, Hassan Kassai taught Ney, Setar and Avaz. Many pupils attended his classes in person and many famous musicians benefited from his lessons on the radio including Hossein Omoumi, Hassan Nahid, Mohammad Mousavi, Behzad Forouhari, Nematollah Sotoudeh and Shahram Mirjalali. Although many of Kassai’s pieces were improvisation rather than composed music, today a lot of pieces and Avaz played by Ney players owe to his performances.
- The Structure of Kurdistan Daf (II)
- The Structure of Kurdistan Daf (I)
- A Look at Ali Tajvidi’s Manifold Musical Activities (II)
- A Look at Ali Tajvidi’s Manifold Musical Activities (I)
- Motherland Orchestra Broke the Spell of the Covid-19 Restrictions
- Is the Iranian National Anthem a Copy? (II)
- Is the Iranian National Anthem a Copy? (I)
- A few steps on the “Road to Bach”
- Maestro Hassan Nahid’s Role in Promoting the Ney
- History’s Impact on Evaluating a Work of Art
- Farhad Poupel’s piece, Road to Bach, performed at Suntory Hall
- “Symphonic Poems from Persia” Released in Germany
From Past Days…
Violin players should always pay attention to the proper position of the left thumb and other points related to it and to its joining point to the palm.
The year 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of Evlin Baghcheban’s death. She played a crucial role to promote opera and choral music in Persia (Iran). Born to an Assyrian-French family in Turkey, she studied singing and piano at the Ankara State Conservatory. In 1950 Evlin married the Persian composer and fellow student Samin Baghcheban and moved to Tehran.
Today, percussion instruments have such a high place in music that are an essential element of orchestras. This has attracted many people to this type of instrument with roots as old as the first humans. A historical study of music, shows that humans used the sound of these instruments to defend themselves against wild animals and, over time, for alerting each other, signaling their readiness and encouraging people for war, ritual ceremonies, dances, etc. in a manner that is still clearly visible in music and some ritual ceremonies.
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.
Torqeh or jal is the same bird (Bimaculated lark) and is the name of a muqam which is well-known in Torbate Jam and those areas. Jal muqam is called Torqeh in Esfarayen and Bojnourd. This muqam which was used to be played by Bakhshis/Bagşies (dutar-players) in the past is seldom performed today.
Developments in Composing
Along with developments in the Iranian instruments, composition of the Iranian pieces developed as well. As a matter of fact, the developments of the two, mutually affected each other. In other words, instrumental developments led to developments in composition and vice versa.
It is more than a century now that the sociologists consider the presence of women in different social domains as a benchmark for a society’s progress. They analyze the presence of women in society by the means of available statistics. Unfortunately, as with regard to the Iranian society, statistics related to women’s engagement, has not been available to the researchers, if they existed at all.
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.”
The world of music has unparalleled respect for Bach. Bach is considered the spiritual father of classical music; Bach’s great position is due not only to his great achievements in the fields of harmony, counterpoint, and compositional sciences but also to his respect for and adherence to the artistic principles of classical music. In the history of classical music, it is recorded that Bach walked about fifty kilometers to listen to the music played by the great German organist Dieterich Buxtehude, and this is the path that every idealistic classical music student should walk.
Preparations for Saba Student Music Festival started in the summer of 2016; the Student Music Festival will be held annually by the students of music at Arts University. The first part of the closing ceremony of the Festival was dedicated to the celebration of the life, work and strives by Maestro Hossein Dehlavi to upgrade the level of music as an academic discipline. The name of the award-winning students and ensembles were announced at the second part of the ceremony.