RADIF – Part one

The author contends that radif is a large collection of elastic and flexible melodies that were meticulously preserved and organized orally by the aforementioned master-musicians over the last two centuries. This collection carries all the different existing scales and motivic gestures in Persian music and includes highly complex transitional melodies bringing all the smaller pieces (gushehs) together and presenting a larger form of musical assembly known as dastgah. In the author’s opinion, radif is the art of combining musical materials within an ordered framework of uniformity and interdependence. The structure of radif is occasionally variant, depending on the user’s purpose. Radif as a pedagogical system must stay solid and untouched, and the presenters should rigorously observe the narrator’s instructions in materials and techniques. This manner of applying radif can be fulfilled with the help of practice and hard work in order to achieve the same result as the instructor demands. At this level the user is not allowed to make changes in any component of the material and any changes would be considered to be a weakness in techniques. However, this rule is bending when using these materials in actual performance, at which time the performer, benefiting from the profound understanding of all the musical material learned through years of practice and experience, is expected to demonstrate creativity through the medium of improvisation. This might be a suitable response to Nettl’s observation according to which he indicates that, in performing traditional music, performers are divided into two different groups: namely, those who just play radif as is and those who improvise based on radif. Performer and audience alike might regard performing radif in the former manner as lacking creativity (Nettl 2009, 30). Another hypothesis which the author has arrived at, after many years of close examination of these materials, is that the content of radif needs to reflect such rhythmic flexibility as will allow the performer to adjust the music towards the poetry that is intimately associated with this performance tradition. In other words, the performer can choose the poem and adjust the existing melodies to the poem. In this regard, the appropriate dastgah or naghmeh (this latter being synonymous with āvāz, namely a secondary dastgāh with shorter repertoire) must first be selected, then gusheh-hā1* are symbiotically ordered by means of transitional melodies (foroud-ha). Hand in hand with this, there must be consistency in the “hidden pulsation” within the gusheh-ha in relation to the well-established rhythm and prosody of Persian classical poetry. Therefore, on the one hand, radif as a collection of Persian musical scales, gestures, flexible musical phrases, and emotional expressions is a pedagogical system of Persian traditional music which can both preserve and transfer the existing musical material. On the other hand, the advanced musician will view the radif as a blueprint which carries all the required skills, culture and knowledge in the art of creative improvisation in Persian classical music. In light of what has been said, my general contention is that the aforementioned pedagogical considerations will aid and facilitate the realization of the improvisational dimension already discussed.  1* – hā is the suffix for pluralisation in Persian.

Ethnomusicologists and musicians have been examining the main repertoire in Persian classical music, the radif, with a view to achieving a coherent understanding of the constituent elements and fundamental rules of this ancient music. Some researchers have endeavoured to establish a solid theory using Western models of analysis. Among these we can cite Vaziri (1914), Khāleqi (1937, 1955), Masoudieh (1968), Talā’i (2000), and Zonis (1973). Nettl (1972, 1974) attempted to examine the relation of radif to actual performance conditions, when discussing improvisation and composition. Even those researchers who concentrated on the social context and the historical background of Persian music, as well as its affinities with other related cultures such as the Arab, Turkish and Indian, could not neglect the importance and ubiquity of radif. In this regard, we might cite Farmer (1929), and During (1988). Furthermore, certain ethnomusicological researchers might be viewed as cultural “insiders” with regard to their approach to theory, transcription and analysis whilst others were “outsiders.” Among the former one might cite Farhat (1966), Masoudieh (1968), Darvishi (1995), Khoshzamir (1978), and Khatschi (1967). Among the latter one might refer to Klitz (1971), Zonis (1973), Tsuge (1974), Nettl (1970, 1978), During (1991), Miller (1999), Simms (1992, 1996, 2001), and Simms and Koushkani (2012). Apart from this, certain researchers, such as Barkeshli (1963) and During (1985, 1987), were trying to define and describe the Persian tuning system by means of innovative musical terminology. What all of these researchers have in common, in the final analysis, is that they all used the Persian radif as their principal and all-encompassing referential tool. In his research on radif, Nettl claims that most studies do not show much difference in their method and process of investigation (Nettl 2009, 31-32). Although quite a number of studies discuss the radif as their main focus, they are not all unanimous in their conclusions. Furthermore, Nettl believes that any research on Persian classical music is equivalent to a study of radif as the main existing repertoire (ibid., 29). Likewise, Zonis, in her major study on the Persian radif, indicates that the radif constitutes a fundamental source for all Persian music, asserting that “Persian art music is based on a large collection of melodies known as the radif (row)” (Zonis 1973, 62). More interestingly, though, Safvat and Caron maintain that radif is a musical process for the purpose of continuity, organization and development (Caron and Safvat, Les tradition Musical 1966, 17). With this in mind, Nettl’s view that radif is the key to understanding today’s Persian classical music, as it has been a tool that, over the course of the 20th century, has become more meaningful and of greater utility among musicians rather than researchers (Nettl 2009, 31). In the view of this author, the difference in the research findings in this regard happens for two reasons. First of all, in most research of this nature scholars have borrowed their methodology from Western musical culture, attempting to answer questions originating from an altogether alien culture. Questions such as: What is the theory of this music? Who is the composer of this piece? How we can render this music in hand into our Western musical language? What is the harmony? How does Western culture affect this particular music? Perhaps this is why scholars such as Khatschi, in his major research, did not notice any particular relevance with regard to the content of radif (Khatschi 1967). The second reason relates to those scholars within the indigenous culture, such as Vaziri and Khāleqi who, in my opinion, were trying to create complexity rather than simplicity when describing Persian classical music. Such complexity occurred in order to: 1. Bring about a prestigious status with regard to Western-oriented approaches, thereby demonstrating to the Iranian musical community that the music “which you did not appreciate for centuries had been beyond your comprehension;” 2. Blindly apply Western research tools as a superior method. For instance, Vaziri (1914) and Khāleqi (1937) attempted to create a musical theory based on Western music (and they were followed by researchers such as Masoudieh and Barkeshli, with almost the same approach). Masoudieh in 1968 introduced a “theory” for Persian music. Nettl comments on this by saying that, although Masoudieh has a “very clear theory” on Persian music, he “did not see the term radif as a technical term in his theory” (Nettl 2009, 31). Although these theories on Persian music somehow make sense in Western musical culture, and can answer some fundamental western question on Persian music, using these methods because of disconnection from the indigenous tradition creates much contradiction and ambiguity. For instance, the question in regards to finding “the tonic,” springing from a Western musical mind, had been answered. However, later research by scholars such as Farhat indicated that there is no “tonic” in Persian music (Farhat 1990, 24). A further example of this disconnect is that using theory as a tool for improving students’ comprehension towards the actual musical material, creativity or even better presentation in the field of imitation is evidently irrelevant. There is also another fact, in my opinion, which has created some ambiguity towards some Persian musical elements such as radif, which is the source of information: in other words, the person who links the scholar to the material. In most cases the person who became the “reference” did not have all the required qualifications for transmitting the actual musical knowledge, context and the culture, which had been hidden in the mind of the master-performer as a pedagogical system. Scholars such as Nettl and During were getting their knowledge from Boroumand as a source, or other scholars such as Zonis, Miller, and Tsuge had become Safvat’s students. The main reason for these chosen teachers, such as Safvat, becoming the main “reference” for scholars was not their ability as “the best” but the politically determined educational system in the universities that allocated such and such a number of foreign students to such and such a teacher. In the second section of the next chapter we shall present the family tree as it relates to the Persian radif, which will demonstrate the lineage of the Persian musical heritage. And we shall see in the following discussion how some people with no proper experience ultimately became the “source” or “reference” for most scholars.

II.2 The origin of radif in Persian musical culture II.2.1 Ancient origins

The exact origin of this musical repertoire is not clearly known, since all of the historical documents were destroyed during the Muslim invasion (AD 642) (Khāleqi 2012, 312), and the decline in musical scholarship for nearly four hundred years from the 16th until the beginning of the 20th century caused by the radical religious movement of the Shiites in Persia (Farhat 1990, 5). Moreover, the transition from the ancient maghām-i system to the most recent dastgāh-i organization presented in the Persian repertoire (radif) is not evident because of successive interruptions in historical continuity. This state of affairs has become crucial in many historical studies in this regard. Khāleqi suggests that, because of the commonality in names which exists in some old documents it would not be naive to deduce that some of the radif’s pieces could be traced back to the ancient period of Barbad and Nakisā, even if only partially. The musical piece is named based in the first instance on ancient names, secondly on the geographical location it is derived from, and finally after the name of the composer or narrator, or the name of the poem sung to it (Khāleqi 2012, 311). In this regard, Khāleqi delineates that in the old existing books and writings by Persian scholars and poets twelve maqām-hā had been mentioned: 1. oshāq 2. navā 3. bosalik 4. rāst 5. arāq 6. esfahān 7. zeerafkand 8. bozorg 9. zangoleh 10. rahāvi 11. hosseini 12. hejazi. Six avāz-hā were added to these, namely: 1. gavesht 2. gardānie 3. salmak 4. norooz 5. muyeh 6. shahnāz (ibid., 311). Furthermore, after referring to the names of the remaining musical pieces prior to the Arab-Muslim invasion mentioned by music scholars such as Safi-ul-Din Urmavi and Abdul Ghāder Marāqi, as well as by famous Persian poets such as Nezāmi and Rudaki in the centuries after the invasion, Khāleqi suggests that we still have more than one hundred similar names that exist in our new repertoire from the past (Khāleqi, 2012, 312). However, it must be stressed in this regard that continuity of mode names does not necessarily suggest in an absolute sense that there is continuity of musical structure. On the other hand, researcher Ann Lucas strongly challenges this connectivity and continuity as evidenced by the “twelve-maghām-i system,” indicating that this could be interpreted exclusively as an act of pre-Islamic nationalism connecting the Persian radif to its own ancient pre-Islamic Persian musical culture. Following on from this, she considers the “seven-dastgāh-i tradition” not only as a totally separate system unconnected with the “twelve- maghām-i system” but also as a “modern musical system” promoted and cultivated in large measure through the impetus of Western influence among classical Persian musicians and theorists since the end of the 19th century: The twelve-magham system is of premodern cultural definition within the dynastic model of governance and religious community. The seven–dastgah tradition is a modern musical system defined within the modern nation of Iran, a nation that deploys symbols of regional history in unique and selective ways in order to legitimate its existence in the modern world against other possible national-cultural entities. Indeed, when it comes to the seven-dastgah tradition and its musical antecedent, never the two twains shall meet: they are two separate systems that existed based on two distinct cultural dynamics fueled by distinct circumstances at different points in time (Lucas 2010, 13) (my italics). Certain Persian ethnomusicologists and musicians such as Darvishi (1995), Kiāni (1990) and Movahed (2003) are unanimous in their opinion that this method of organization based on modal affinities, namely the radif, is not an imitation from Western musical cultures, in contrast to Nettl`s suggestion that this may have been a reaction to westernization (Nettl 1992, 17). Talā’i lightly confirms this idea of Western theoretical influence (Talā’i 2000, 1), and Asadi has also embraced the idea of Western influence on the existing Persian radif (Asadi 2001, 67). However, a book called Behjat-ul-Ruh (circa 17th century), which is contemporaneous to the Safavid dynasty, contains a poem where allusion is made to twelve maqām and six āvāz. This could constitute a piece of evidence proving the existence of a musical organization based on consistency and unbroken continuity in modal affinities (namely the radif) in the Iran of several centuries past. With regard to this, Feldman, in his major research on Ottoman court music, after highlighting the crucial role of Persian musicians in the court of the Ottoman empire in the 17th century, notes that Persian musicians in the Ottoman court of this time had their own prepared instrumental repertoires and musical collections as memorized melodic formulae (Feldman 1996, 392). What must be emphasized here is that, at this time, long before the invention of the name radif, Persian musicians somehow followed the same principles that exist in today`s version of radif. Again according to Feldman, the link with the distant past is embodied in the practice of “memorization of discrete melodic sections:” The Persian practice emphasized memorization of discrete melodic sections rather than extensive performance-generation. Improvisation remained true to the principles of the âvâz, which expressed the meter of Persian poetry, and maintained the integrity of the individual gusheh. (ibid., 298) Through the present author’s long experience as a musician-performer, the musical influence allegedly realized exclusively by the West could not have had the most consequential effect on the classical Persian musical repertoire, nor can we maintain that such and such a musical family (in this case the Farahāni family) was the most instrumental in transmitting this tradition. In light of this, the ramifications of the Persian musical repertoire are so complex, like a pearl that achieves maturity with the test of time, there have most certainly been other influences handed down through the legacy of generation upon generation.

II.2.2 More recent origins of the radif Regarding the origin of radif

with reference to Safvat, Tsuge adds that it has reached us directly from four main sources during the Qājār period (late 18th century to 1925): 1. The two brothers of Tehran: Mirzā Hoseynqoli (d.1915/1334 A.H.) and Mirzā Abdollāh (1843-1918/ 1337 A.H.); 2. Samā Hozur and his son Habib Somāi (1901/1280-1946) (School of santur); 3. Taziye-khaneha (singers for the religious play called taziye) (School of avaz); 4. Sonnat-e Esfahan: This is a long tradition from the Safavi dynasty (16th to early 18th c. to 1924) in Esfahan, the capital of the Safavids, right up to and including the celebrated ney player Nāyeb Asadollāh (f1.1880). (Tsuge 1974, 29) It is also believed, based on the musical pieces’ designations, that some of these are derived from folkloric music that existed in various geographical locations of Iran. As the pieces’ titles suggest, the musicians who orally transferred these materials may have composed some of the pieces. In summary, it is possible to acknowledge that radif is the only approachable, preserved and available link to both ancient and new Persian classical music, and furthermore that it is the only organized collection of melodies representing different musical cultures from many of the different regions of Iran. Radif is also a well thought out methodology that the musicians in the 19th century used in order to organize their existing musical heritage. At any rate, regardless of their applied organizations (maqāmi or dastgāhi), these melodies moved through the centuries from one generation to the next until they reached Ᾱqā Ali Akbar Farahāni, the person whom we know as the oldest narrator of radif. Farhat also says:

In fact, the emergence of the present system of twelve dastgāh-hā is primarily a development of the Qajar period. On the other hand, music was relegated more and more to a private endeavour existing under a cloud of suspicion. (Farhat 1990, 5)

As Vohdāni says, Farahāni organized pieces based on their modal affinities (Vohdāni 1998),2* thereby preserving this music. Furthermore, the existing Persian musical repertoire belongs to him (namely Farahāni), and history claims that he preserved his entire musical heritage through teaching and educating his disciples. However, his cousin Ᾱqā Gholām Hossein is the link enabling the transmission of this musical knowledge to his cousins (Ali Akbar Khān’s sons), who subsequently became narrators of today’s Persian musical materials (Vohdāni 1998, 19).

Figure 1. This depicts Radif as an organizational entity, in this case an organized repertoire narrated by Āqā Hossein Qoli. It comprises short pieces (gusheh-ha) that, in relation to their intervallic and modal structures, and their consistency and relativity as flexible melodic materials, constitute the seven major sections (dastgāh-hā), together with six subdivisions (āvāz-hā). The later originate in a particular dastgāh, but are smaller than the primary dastgāhs; they nevertheless have the quality of the dastgāh, and contain gusheh-hā in their own right. (Source: The author’s own illustration gleaned from Ali Akbar Khān-e Shahnāzi‘s recording based on his father’s orally transmitted repertoire) 2* – As mentioned earlier, the musical content, consistency in arrangement, organizational thoroughness, elaborate performance techniques and delicacy of ornamentation within radif―all militate against the idea of claiming that one person would be responsible for all these articulations and details.

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