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Artistic creations are the result of material and spiritual constructs that each nation creates in its lifetime. Many such creations, such as historical buildings, books, and works of art, weather the ravages of time and remain with us today. The rate of survival of older art is much higher in the west because of the propensity of the respective governments both to support and to preserve works of art.
In countries such as Iran, however, the preservation of the art has depended more so upon the people's desire and commitment than upon government support. This is especially true of religious shrines and art which have fared much better than many other forms of art.
Iranian music has had an especially tortuous survival because of its prohibition in the post-Islamic period. Many of our musicians (who pursued art as a family vocation) had to immigrate to domains where the rulers were non-Muslim or less fundamentalist in their attitude towards music. For example, the famous Zalzal musical family left for Spain (where the king allegedly celebrated their arrival by proclaiming a public holiday). Another famous emigration involved Rumi's father who moved his family to Ghounieh in today' Turkey.
This chronic exodus of musicians throughout the centuries has caused a break in the continuum of the art. Even though the Abjad alphabet (numerical system) had been used to transcribe music, the rhythmic freedom of Iranian music has made complete transcription impossible. Iran's rich musical tradition was handed down personally and orally from master to student.
At many junctures of history, great men of belief and commitment have given most of their lives to the preservation and transmission of Iran's musical treasure, the Radif. One such great man, Mirza Abdullah Farahani was able to reconstruct, to transcribe and to pass on the Radif to his students. Fortunately, the permissive attitude of the later kings in the Qajar dynasty, especially after the Constitutional Revolution, made his endeavor more fruitful. Mirza Abdullah believed that one should train students that the Tar could be passed from hand to hand at parties and gatherings as if it were a huka (the traditional water pipe). People such as Abdolhassan Saba, Ismai'l Ghahramani, Montazam al-Hokama and many others who later developed their own schools and styles were Mirza Abdullah's students.Definition of Radif
Even though the Radif predates Islam in Iran (7th Century AD), it is difficult to say how closely the original melodies have been preserved. Based on research carried out by this author, on the music of Ahl-e-Haq (Kurdish Mystics) and the music of Khorasan province, it appears that the Radif's essence has survived, though it has been adapted to the geographic, historical, and political conditions particular to each region. The study of above indigenous music reveals very strong traces of what we call the traditional Radif, albeit with name changes for various Gushehs or made changes or mode changes for the same Gushehs.
The art of performing the Radif, as opposed to improvisation, forces the soloist to reproduce the work of his predecessors without interpretation. Until recently, such musicians, known as Radif Masters have done much to preserve and to pass on the Radif.
Mirza Abdullah and his brother, Mirza Hosseingholi, passed the Radif on to their students including Ali Akbar Shahnazi (Mirza Hosseingholi's son), Ismail Ghahramani (Mirza Abdullah's top student and carrier of his mantel), Darvish Khan, Abolhassan Saba, and Noor Ali Boroumand. These students transcribed the Radif for Tar and Setar. This work still continues by the new generation of Iranian classical performers.
As for vocals, Mr. Abdullah Davami (a friend of Mirza Abdullah and Mirza Hosseingholi and an equal to Darvish Khan) developed the Radif for human voice with help from Mirza Hosseingholi and based on the vocal Radif of Ali Khan Nayeb al-Saltaneh.
This complete vocal Radif was recorded on tape by Mr. Davami and his student Mr. Karimi and is the only one of its kind, containing seven Dastgahs and five Avaz and their appendices.
In short, mastery of the Radif is essential if one wants to become a performer of Iranian classical music, just as it is essential to know the collected poems of great poets by heart to become a great poet.
Just as the word Radif (row) implies, it represents an ordered succession of melodies with a logical connection within each Dastgah or system. The melodic content of the Radif in each Dastgah (i.e. Shoor, Mahoor, Segah, etc.) depends on the master to whom the particular Radif is attributed. For example, there is a difference between the Radif in Shoor between what is attributed to Mirza Abdullah, Mirza Hosseingholi and Mr. Abdullah Davami, a difference based on their personal preferences.
Another factor in determining the exact melodic content of the Radif is the musical instrument for which the Radif is composed. The Radif in a certain Dastgah is different for tar, kamancheh, santoor or nay (shepherd's flute), even though their basic melodic content is the same.
The Radif, subject to interpretation by each master, has also been expanded upon and extended by the various masters and new melodies have been improvised, composed or discovered and then added to the Radif by each master and later their musical heirs.
The knowledge of this considerable treasure of Radif sustaining our classical music is essential for innovation within and advance of our music.