Music & Melodies of the Persian Ismaili qasideh

Music & Melodies of the Persian Ismaili qasideh

Double finispiece from the 'Diwan' of Sultan Ibrahim Mirza.

Double finispiece from the Diwaninfo-icon of Sultan Ibrahim Mirza, Opaque Watercolor, Iran, Qazvin, 1582
© Aga Khaninfo-icon Trust for Culture, Catalogue: Spirit and Life

The tradition of devotional poetry amongst the Ismailis in Iran, known as qasidas, is part of the broaderliterary tradition of Persia found among other Muslim traditions as well. As thetraditional Persian music is closely associated with Persian poetic literature,certain tonalities of Persian music have been used for recitation and singingof poetry, depending on the content and occasion of a poem. Each tonality is saidto relate to a particular feeling or moment. The Ismaili devotional literature incontemporary Iran is invariably recited in some of these tonalities, includingcertain gushas of Bayat-i Isfahan, Shushtari, Homayounand Se-gah. This gallery attempts to provide an overall understanding ofthe structure of Persian musical traditions, which have also influenced therecitation of the Ismaili devotional literature in Iran and the broaderPersian-speaking societies.

Detail of a musician from the image above.
Detail of musician from the image above
© Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Catalogue: Spirit and Life

Though not entirely satisfactory, scholars often divide the history of music in Persia into three periods: the Pre-Islamic, the Islamic period and the    modern period. Music had a high place in the cultures of pre-Islamic dynasties. Amongst the earliest historical records of Persian music are the writings    of the Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophone, who refer to the use of martial, ritual and ceremonial music at the time of the Medes (900-550 BC) and the    Achaemenian (559- 331 BC) dynasties. During the Sassanid period, a musician, Barbod, is credited with devising a musical system based on seven modal    structures.

Though performance ofmusic continued both in the court and in society after the advent of Islam throughthe Arab conquests in the seventh century, a variety of attitudes towards musicemerged, ranging from complete opposition to whole-hearted acceptance. From thethirteenth century onwards, attitudes towards music in Persia were stronglyinfluenced by the growth of Sufi orders, as almost all of them saw music as anintrinsic part of their devotional practices. The Safavid period, particularlyunder Shah Abbas, the greatest ruler of the Safavid dynasty who ruled Iran from1501 to 1722, saw significant royal patronage of music. Manyminiatures from the period depict scenes that include people playing musicalinstruments and dancing.  A keydevelopment during the time of the Qajars (1794 to 1925 CE) was the organisationof traditional music into dastgahs or modes and avazs or melodies.(Miller & Shahriari: 2006)

Sources consulted:
Farhat, H. The Dastgah Concept in Persian Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Miller, Terry E., and Andrew Shahriari. World Music: A Global Journey. New York: Routledge, 2006.