Persian Classical Music

The essence of Persian classical music can perhaps best be traced in the mystical poetry of Iran. Throughout the long history of Iran, Iranians have expressed their philosophical and artistic understanding of the world through poetry and music. The Dastgâh system of Persian classical music, Radif, is developed based on the meter of Persian poetry in an abstract way to accompany and help shed light on the mystical world of poetry. The seven Dastgâhs which can be a reminiscent of seven days of the week can suggest its organic proximity with the daily world of people, and their names (Shur, Mâhoor, Homâyoun, Navâ, Segâh, Châhârgâh and Râst- Panjgâh) suggest history and continuity. In effect this system becomes another vocabulary and grammar of an artistic language with which old and new stories are told, stories that in many cases are the fundamental bases of Persian aesthetics.

If Ghazal is the crown jewel of Persian poetry forms, music based on the Radif is the best form to bring out the mystery of the Ghazal. Phrases in the Persian Classical Music were developed to best convey the message of the poet who uses metaphors and mysticism to describe his or her world. Uneven length of phrases and rhythmic cycles are designed especially for this purpose. One can claim that a performance of Persian Classical Music starts in the void and as it develops it gets closer to the light and illumination; a world of mystery unfolds as we listen to the music and the poetry.



Literally meaning "string" in Persian, târ is the main string instrument of Persian Classical Music. It is also widely used in Caucasia in different forms. Persian tar has a body deeply carved from mulberry tree. It has two parts each shaped like a heart. Smaller part is called "Naghaareh" and larger part is "Kaaseeh". When joined togheter edge-to-edge, the face of the instrument looks like number 8. Bridge sits on the membrane made of lamb skin which covers face. Over the bridge, six metal strgings are stretched in three groups of each two strings.


The Kamâncheh is the traditional classical bowed lute of Persian Classical Music and dates back to antiquity. It has a small, hollowed hardwood body with a thin stretched fish-skin membrane. Its neck is cylindrical, and it has four strings. It is played vertically in the manner of the European viol. The bowstrings are pulled by the player which accommodates subtle tone variations. It is suspected that the fourth string was added in the early twentieth century as the result of the introduction of western violin to Iran.


The ancestry of the setâr 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. Setâr, in Persian, means "three strings", but a fourth one was added by Moshtâq Ali Shâh, a famous setâr player of the 18th century. This "sympathetic" string is not 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 Dastgâh. Although setâr is a very intimate instrument and has been said to be the preferred instrument of sufi mystics, with the efforts of master musicians in the past fifty years it has found its rightful place in Persian music ensembles.


The daf is a frame drum made out of wood. One side is covered with lamb or goatskin, and on the inside of the frame little metal rings are attached, which create sound at the smallest movement. When played it is held with both hands, and played with the fingers. Considered a sacred instrument, the daf is present in sufi rituals for its power to create trance states. This drum has now established a permanent position in the Iranian classical orchestra.


Literally meaning "100 Strings" in Persian, Santur is a trapezoid shaped instrument with usually 72 strings streched over two sets of bridges, providing the instrument a range of approximately three octaves. It is made of walnut wood and played with very lightweight hammers. Originating from ancient Persia, the instruments has different variations in other regions.


A bowed fiddle of the Persian folk music, the gheychak is from the southeastern region of Iran. It has two large holes on the upper side near the fingerboard and one on the lower tip, which is covered with a skin membrane. There are four main strings. The sound box resembles an upside-down anchor, which is carved from a tree trunk and is placed vertically on the player’s lap.


The robab is an ancient short-necked lute made of wood, with goatskin covering the body. It has three melody strings, three drone strings, and 11 or 12 sympathetic strings. It is the ancestor of the North lndian sarod, but, unlike the sarod, it is fretted. The robab is usually used in southeastern Iran (Sistan and Baluchistan) as the main instrument and is the national instrument of Afghanistan.

Mohammad Reza Lotfi

Mohammad Reza Lotfi is one of the greatest contemporary masters of the târ and setâr. He is among the major figures who, in the past twenty years, have revolutionized the Persian traditional (classical) music. His innovative approach of combining the classical with folk elements, both in terms of music and technique, has injected a new vitality into a very old tradition. His original creativity and the deep-rooted emotional quality of his playing have made him the father of a new aesthetics in Persian music.

Lotfi was born in 1947 in Gorgan, northern Iran. Encouraged by his elder brother, he learned to play the tar and showed his talent by winning the first prize in lran's Young Musicians Festival in l964. The following year, he started his studies at the National Conservatory in Tehran under Habibollah Salehi and Master Ali Akbar Shahnazi. While at the conservatory, he also studied western classical music and the violin which led to his collaboration with various orchestras under the direction of Hossein Dehlavi. Some of his other eminent teachers were Abdollah Davami, hom whom he learned the Radif and Master Hormozi, who taught him the setar.

While attending the College of Fine Arts at Tehran University, Lotfi became the student of Master Nour-Ali Boroumand. He also worked at the Center for the Preservation and Propagation of Traditional Iranian Music, both as a soloist and a conductor. His other accomplishments were teaching at the Center for intellectual Development of Children and Adolescents, researching folk music for National Radio and Television, and appearing at the Shiraz Arts Festival.

After graduating in 1973, Lotfi joined the faculty of Fine Arts at Tehran University. He continued his collaboration with Radio and Television and co-founded the Shayda Ensemble. Between 1978 and 1980, Lotfi became the Head of the School of Music at Tehran University, He served as the director of the Center for the Preservation and Propagation of Traditional Iranian Music and the Chavosh Conservatory. In 1984 Lotfi was invited by Fondazione Cini to participate in a seminar and perform concerts in Italy where he resided for two years. After living in the United States for a period after 1986, he now lives in Iran. He has tutored many students and has performed widely throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.


  • Azade Shams, gheichak
  • Sepide Meshki, setâr
  • Hengame Mashhadiolasl, târ
  • Elmira Nasiri, daf
  • Farima Movafaghi, kamanche
  • Sanaz Sattarzade, târ
  • Katayun Malekmotiei, santur
  • Puia Leghaei, robab
  • Faride Hamzelu, vocal