Setar.info was created in 1998 and has been dedicated to create an online english language information and knowledge centre on the Iranian lute named Setar, but also on Iranian Classical Music, in general. Our first goal is to reach an international audience interested in this ancestral yet constantly evolving form of Classical Art, but this website also serves as a medium amongst those who already practice this instrument and music, from the very beginner to the advanced performer.
What is Setar?
The ancestry of the setar can be traced to the ancient tanbour of pre-Islamic Persia. It is made of thin mulberry wood and its fingerboard has twenty-five or twenty-six adjustable gut frets.
Setar, in Persian, means "three strings", but a fourth one was added by Moshtaq Ali Shah, a famous Setar player of the 18th century.
This "sympathetic" string is flot played but its echo highlights the predominant note of the avâz (a derived part of the modal system of the Persian traditional music) or the Dastgah.
Setar is a very "intimate" instrument, its confidential sound being the consequence of the years that it had to be played in secret, when musicians were persecuted. Moshtaq Ali Shah used to play at private musical evenings in restricted, often Sufi gatherings.
This great mystic called his instrument "tchoub-e-sagzani" - a stick to beat dogs - as a reaction against the then puritans who wanted to ban music.
Mirza Abdollah, the father of the modern Iranian classical music, was also renown for being a magnificent Setar master.
Because of its delicacy, Setar is the preferred instrument of Sufi mystics.
About the Iranian or Persian Classical Music
The Iranian or Persian Classical Music is a very ancient form of musical tradition deeply rooted in Iran's culture and traditions, and has influenced many neighbouring musical traditions such as Azerbaijani Classical Music or Muqam; North Indian or Afghan Music commonly known as Hindustani Classical Music; Sufiana Music of Kashmir; Central Asian Shesh Maqam; the Uyghur Oniki Maqam and the Arabic and Ottoman Maqams. As a normal cross-cultural exchange the Iranian Classical Music has also been deeply influenced by those other Classical Musics and has become richer and more colorful thanks to them.
Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Iranian Classical Music shared almost exactly the same pattern and structures as most of the said musical traditions. During that period its modern form was created thanks to two prominent master musicians belonging to a family of court musicians; Mirza Abdollah and his brother Aqa Hossein Qoli (They were the sons of Aqa Ali Akbar Khan Farahani, the master musician of Naseraddin Shah's court).
They created a new musical system by altering and rearranging the old maqams and built the 'Radif' (order in Farsi) of the 'Dastgahs' (system or mode in Farsi) of the Iranian Music.
Each brother slightly modified the final single structure according to his own feeling and experience. Since then, there have been two major Radifs : The most well known Radif of Mirza Abdollah and his brother's version, the Radif of Aqa Hossein Qoli.
Later, several other outstanding Ostads (masters) such as Abolhassan Saba, Musa Ma'rufi or Ali Akbar Khan Shahnazi (Aqa Hossein Qoli's son) created their known Radifs, that are also slightly different from that of Mirza Abdollah, but have kept the same overall structure.
Technically, a Radif is the order where the Dastgahs are arranged. Normally there are 7 major Dastgahs and 5 smaller ones.
The seven Dastgahs are Dastgah e Shur; Dastgah e Mahour; Dastgah e Homayun; Dastgah e Segah; Dastgah e Chahargah; Dastgah e Nava and Dastgah e Rast-Panjgah.
The five smaller Dastgahs which are academically called 'Avaz' are Avaz e Abu Ata; Avaz e Bayat e Tork; Avaz e Afshari; Avaz e Dashti and Avaz e Bayat e Esfahan. Two extra Avazs are generally accepted as part the Radif and they are Avaz e Kord Bayat and Avaz e Shushtari.
Each Dastgah or Avaz is itself composed of many short melodies that are called 'Gusheh'. Depending on the Dastgah or the Avaz, the lenght and the number of the Gushehs varies between a dozen and almost fifty. Each Gusheh or group of Gushehs has its own melodical and rythmical patterns.
Many non-specialist listeners might find that the most part of an Iranian Classical concert or performance has no rythm. Otherwise during a considerable part no percussion or rythmical intrument is used and they are only played at some specific moments of the concert. That reality comes from the fact that many of the Gushehs performed during the concert have no "explicit" rythm. They actually have internal rythms exactly like poetry. This fact explains some hierarchy of this music : Poet > Singer > Intrument Players.
The Iranian civilization is overwhelmly surrounded by poetry and poets, present everywhere, at every stage of the social, cultural and even political life of the society. Hence the huge influence of poetry over music. Most Gushehs have rhyms and rythms, exactly as poetry is supposed to have. Those rythms are not countable as are normal rythmical melodies (6/8, 4/4 or 3/4 etc.).
As a result, being based on poetry, Iranian Classical music is very much a meditative musical form. That does not mean that there are no movements or climax. Rather, the long development of this kind of music (like the Indian Classical Music) during a performance inspires spirituality and philosophy to the audience.