Iranian music is a rich treasury of harmonious compositions, enchanting melodies and profound, illuminating lyrics. Yet, despite its extraordinary scope and astonishing resources, its deep connection with the essence of Iranian culture and the emotional and spiritual nature of the Iranian psyche, and a history spanning thousands of years, it is not recognized in Western circles as an international musical style, nor as a potential currency for cultural exchange. In its encounter with scientific, academic styles and classical Western music, Iranian music has remained a remote art. Our only accomplishment has been to acquaint a limited audience of educational concerts with this profound and deep-rooted art.
In the cultural exchanges between the East and West, our music has been left far behind that of India, Japan, Africa, and South America. Why has our music been detained from participating in an artistic exchange in the vast domain of art? This question sparked a discussion between Loris Cheknavorian, the composer, musicologist and conductor of Armenian origin, and Fereydoon Nasseri, the musicologist and conductor of the Tehran Symphony Orchestra.
Is Iranian music—composed of regional, folk, and traditional radifi music—capable of being performed on an international scale, and not simply regarded as an Eastern, marginal art?
Loris Cheknavorian: We have a style of folk music that exists among the people of the villages in various parts of the country. This music is the first of three main genres and has been passed down through generations. It is related to certain ceremonies, weddings, circumcision ceremonies, birthdays and such, and has no scientific bearing. In the past, musicians such as Bela Bartók and Komitas have transcribed the folk music of their own countries, but we have not yet attempted to record ours.
The second genre is our dastgahi, radifi or traditional music, which is just as valuable and broad as classical Western music. Mastery of this art requires years of practice and effort.
The third and final style of music is religious, such as that of ta‘ziehs (religious passion plays).
We find these main genres in the music of most nations. They are an intrinsic part of a country’s musical culture. Yet there is another culture which is international, referred to as international academic music. It began with the establishment of orchestras, and is performed by them, using notes and based on scientific principles. Composers from many different countries and cultures have drawn from traditional folk pieces and melodies to create orchestral compositions. Tchaikovsky and Liszt could be mentioned as examples. The use of these melodies is clearly demonstrated in Beethoven’s Third Symphony. This can also be achieved in Iranian music, using orchestral music, or what is referred to as the international language. The composer can present Iranian melodies and tunes within an international structure, so the world may become familiar with and enjoy these melodies.