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The Radif of Persian Classical music, studies of structure and cultural context, by Bruno Nettl

The Radif of Persian Classical music, studies of structure and cultural context, by Bruno Nettl

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Published by patrickduka123
The Radif of Persian Music comprises a group of essays originally published separately over fifteen years. It approaches the radif, the corpus of melodic models that constitute the core of the classical Persian repertory in the view of a given teacher, in terms of musical structures, relating them to the musicians' own taxonomies and suggesting concentric social and cultural structures in Iranian society. The book presents Bruno Nettl's work along with contributions by his colleague Amnon Shiloah, as well as his students Carol M. Babiracki, Bela Foltin, Jr., Daryoosh Shenassa, and Craig Macrae. Nettl has made "a large number of editorial corrections and some minor revisions and additions, bringing some of the factual material and statements about scholarship and also the bibliography up to date". He also added a brief new section, coauthored with Macrae, about Iranian immigrants in the United States.
The book is not intended as a complete overview of radif but as case studies arid essays on topics of interest to Nettl. The ten chapters are organized into three sections: the first addresses sources, definitions, and structure of the radif; the second contains case studies of three dastgahs--chahargah, mahur and shur--and the third views the radif as part of Iranian culture more generally. The essays deal with "a) the internal structure of the radif; b) comparison of versions of the radif . . . c) relationship of the radif to improvised performance; d) relationship of the radif to the total musical culture of Iran; and e) the radif as an index to important culture characteristics and values of Iran".

First and foremost, the volume is concerned with musical sound: it treats the nature of the musical structures, similarities and variations in sounds, taxonomies and aural identities in detail. "We are interested," write Nettl and Shenassa at the beginning of their discussion of dastgah mahur, "in comparing the overall organization and in detailed comparison of individual sections, taking into account their identity in name as well as in melodic content. . . . We are also interested in internal interrelationships within the dastgah, the radif, and among the four radifs examined". A rudimentary cultural background is assumed: the importance of classical music in Iran, the general nature of Middle Eastern musics and Persian classical music in particular. One must read well over one hundred pages to learn who are the performers and listeners and how this repertory relates to others. The book is marked by the rich survey of literature that characterizes Nettl's scholarship.

Part 2, case studies of three dastgahs, may be the hardest to read. It is densely detailed and generally lacks illustration, aural or visual. Nettl's concern about the inappropriateness of "large-scale uncontrolled distribution" of the cassette that accompanied the first edition, particularly as such distribution "was not intended by the musicians whose performances are included", is certainly well taken; nevertheless, the music examples are sorely missed as one wants to hear the sounds the authors try to describe.

Nettl and coauthor Babiracki present their chapter on the dastgah shut as essentially a commentary on fourteen tables. Here we find plentiful illustration, (in contrast with chapter 2, which would be enhanced by the use of more graphic expression), but the prose is removed by pages from the charts.

The language of the four chapters in part 2 is highly analytical; the authors have extracted information from performances, sources, and musicians and present it as abstractions. This procedure has the obvious strength of rendering analyses in an efficient manner. Upon finishing this section, one might wonder how the discourse of Iranian listeners and musicians, teaching and talking about the music, relates to the analyses.

This more localized commentary appears in the third section. Its chapters address attitudes, judgments and taxonomies, other
The Radif of Persian Music comprises a group of essays originally published separately over fifteen years. It approaches the radif, the corpus of melodic models that constitute the core of the classical Persian repertory in the view of a given teacher, in terms of musical structures, relating them to the musicians' own taxonomies and suggesting concentric social and cultural structures in Iranian society. The book presents Bruno Nettl's work along with contributions by his colleague Amnon Shiloah, as well as his students Carol M. Babiracki, Bela Foltin, Jr., Daryoosh Shenassa, and Craig Macrae. Nettl has made "a large number of editorial corrections and some minor revisions and additions, bringing some of the factual material and statements about scholarship and also the bibliography up to date". He also added a brief new section, coauthored with Macrae, about Iranian immigrants in the United States.
The book is not intended as a complete overview of radif but as case studies arid essays on topics of interest to Nettl. The ten chapters are organized into three sections: the first addresses sources, definitions, and structure of the radif; the second contains case studies of three dastgahs--chahargah, mahur and shur--and the third views the radif as part of Iranian culture more generally. The essays deal with "a) the internal structure of the radif; b) comparison of versions of the radif . . . c) relationship of the radif to improvised performance; d) relationship of the radif to the total musical culture of Iran; and e) the radif as an index to important culture characteristics and values of Iran".

First and foremost, the volume is concerned with musical sound: it treats the nature of the musical structures, similarities and variations in sounds, taxonomies and aural identities in detail. "We are interested," write Nettl and Shenassa at the beginning of their discussion of dastgah mahur, "in comparing the overall organization and in detailed comparison of individual sections, taking into account their identity in name as well as in melodic content. . . . We are also interested in internal interrelationships within the dastgah, the radif, and among the four radifs examined". A rudimentary cultural background is assumed: the importance of classical music in Iran, the general nature of Middle Eastern musics and Persian classical music in particular. One must read well over one hundred pages to learn who are the performers and listeners and how this repertory relates to others. The book is marked by the rich survey of literature that characterizes Nettl's scholarship.

Part 2, case studies of three dastgahs, may be the hardest to read. It is densely detailed and generally lacks illustration, aural or visual. Nettl's concern about the inappropriateness of "large-scale uncontrolled distribution" of the cassette that accompanied the first edition, particularly as such distribution "was not intended by the musicians whose performances are included", is certainly well taken; nevertheless, the music examples are sorely missed as one wants to hear the sounds the authors try to describe.

Nettl and coauthor Babiracki present their chapter on the dastgah shut as essentially a commentary on fourteen tables. Here we find plentiful illustration, (in contrast with chapter 2, which would be enhanced by the use of more graphic expression), but the prose is removed by pages from the charts.

The language of the four chapters in part 2 is highly analytical; the authors have extracted information from performances, sources, and musicians and present it as abstractions. This procedure has the obvious strength of rendering analyses in an efficient manner. Upon finishing this section, one might wonder how the discourse of Iranian listeners and musicians, teaching and talking about the music, relates to the analyses.

This more localized commentary appears in the third section. Its chapters address attitudes, judgments and taxonomies, other

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Published by: patrickduka123 on Dec 22, 2008
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06/28/2013

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CHAPTER I
SOURCES, LITERATURE, NAMES 
I. Introduction 
“It is really something extraordinary and fine, something quite unique, this radif that we have created in Iran.” It was a sen-timent imparted to me several times by my teacher, Dr. Nour-AliBoroumand, when I studied with him between 1966 and 1974. Asfar as he was concerned, the radif was the principal emblem andthe heart of Persian music, that form of art as quintessentially Persian as the nation’s fine carpets and exquisite miniatures.Boroumand himself was not well acquainted with othermusical systems, but it strikes me today that his intuition wassurely correct in emphasizing the uniqueness of the radif in thecontext of world music. For while Persian classical music is, onthe whole, rather closely related to the classical music of Arabicand Turkish cultures, a bit less closely to the art music of India,and possibly even more distantly to other modal systems such asthose of medieval Europe or contemporary Southeast Asia andIndonesia, the radif, its central core, is a unique phenomenon. Inone sense, it is the central repertory of the musical system of Iran;in another (Zonis 1973:43), it is the theory, as opposed to the prac-tice, which consists of performances based in various ways upon
Chapter 1p1 1/11/04 1:42 PM Page 1
 
it. It is in some respects simply one of the contemporary versionsof a widespread and comprehensive way of making music that hasexisted in many related forms for centuries throughout theMiddle Eastern Islamic world; but it is also a coherent systemdeveloped recently by a small group of individuals, and with char-acteristics quite different from the worlds of the Arabic andTurkish maqams. For certain purposes, one may properly speak of the radif, but for others, it makes sense to count as many radifs asthere are masters, each of whom may have or use several variantsof his own version.The radif has been the principal subject of many importantstudies of Persian music in the last three or four decades. Perhapsit has even been overemphasized in relation to the music that isderived from it, and in comparison with other types of music of Iran. But in the musical culture of Iran, it casts a broad shadow.Central, to be sure, to the classical music, it plays a role as well inmodern popular music, and some of the folk or regional ruralmusics of Iran are also related to it.The attention given to the radif in many publications hasnot produced unanimity in its perception as repertory or concept.Diversity of view will be of concern at several points in the pres-ent series of studies, but for the moment it is best to begin dis-cussion with a very standard, if for us preliminary, definition. Ella Zonis, in the earliest prominent English-language work onPersian music, says, “Persian art music is based on a large collec-tion of melodies known as the radif (row)” (1973:62). The implica-tion clearly is that the radif is fundamental, and that there is othermaterial that emanates from it. Similar characterizations appearin more recent studies of the Persian classical music system, suchas those of Farhat (1990) and During (1991); and, as well, in therhetoric of Iranian musicians who, in conversations with me,
The Radif of Persian Music
Chapter 1p1 1/11/04 1:42 PM Page 2
 
 would describe the study of Persian classical music simply as“studying radif,” and sometimes even by designating a perform-ance of classical music as “playing radif,” while on the other hand,distinguishing between the radif itself and performances based onit, even criticizing musicians by statements such as, “he is notreally playing music, only repeating the radif.”Zonis (1973), Tsuge (1974), and During (1984a, 1991), threeof the authors of fundamental works on Persian music, eachappropriately devote a whole chapter to the radif, and use thatterm in their chapter titles. It may seem surprising, then, thatother prominent scholars writing slightly earlier depended muchless on the concept, but this may be a result of the fact that theconcept does not quite fit the stereotypes of Middle Easternpractice developed by Western scholars. Massoudieh (1968), giv-ing a rather comprehensive exposition of Persian theory, does notactually use the term. Barkechli, in various publications (e.g.1960,1963), also does not make much use of it, nor does Khatschi(1962), in a book that provides important data about its history.Indeed, Khatschi, in contrast to Zonis, Barkechli, andMassoudieh, seems even to be relatively uninterested in the qual-ity of unity and grand design in interrelationships of components which Boroumand seemed to consider so significant. Caron andSafvate (1966:17), in another work from the same decade, recog-nize the concept somewhat in passing, as they inform the readerthat Persian music consists of a number of pieces of basic materi-al or units in an order called radif. In this paragraph, however, wehave given merely a sampling of the uses of the word, “radif,” inrecent western scholarly literature which, as we see, uses term andconcept, and also describes the Persian classical music system, ina number of ways. In the musical world of Iran, the term seems tohave been used more by musicians than by theorists, and its use
Sources, Literature, Names
Chapter 1p1 1/11/04 1:42 PM Page 3

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