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Music of Iran

Development & Changes in the Meaning of the

Word "Music"
By: Dr. Iraj Golsorokhi

D espite the general assumption that the Greeks invented music and have
given its name, Dr. Iraj Golsorokhi maintains that music has been with mankind
from the very beginning and its name has never been invented by the Greeks.
On the contrary, "music" has entered the Greek language through the Persian
language, as the Greeks call music "khavania", which is a derivative of the
Persian word "khenia", meaning a combination of words and music.

Every nation in the world has its own fables and narratives showing that music
has originated exclusively from that nation.

The Chinese claim that music started with them and the Persians have a similar
belief. The Indians have a more serious assertion as they say they own music
and other nationalities express analogous opinions about the invention of
music. The fact, however, is that there is some truth in all these declarations as
music has existed in all parts of the world. The first mother who sang a lullaby
for her infant used music.

The origin of the word "music", though, has been a contested issue, but the
term was translated from Greek into Arabic and from Arabic into Persian.
Alkandi, the Muslim philosopher and scholar, translated it from Greek into
Arabic, and Farabi used the word "music" in his "Al- Musiqi al-Kabir" (The
Great Music). At the time that Farabi employed this term, Iranians had been
using another name for this art.

The question of "Blessed Medina" or the "Blessed City" dates farther back than
the time of Socrates, and perhaps its source can be traced in Iran. But what we
can claim with validity is related to Socrates' ideas and opinions. The Greeks
had two kinds of education in mind concerning the creation of the "Blessed
City". They said: "Let us presume that the blessed city is created. A man who
must live in such a city should be an excellent person and needs two kinds of
education: (1) physical education and (2) spiritual education and other matters
related to "musica".
The term "musica", in fact, is the root of the word "music". The Arabs prefixed
an "al" to "musica" and translated it into "al- music". Consequently, in all fables
where music has been used, "musica" has been translated to "al-music".

In Iran, music was referred to as "khenia" and most probably "khandan", which
means reading, was derived from "khenia". Of course, "khenia" did not mean
reading but an intermixture of words and sound; and he who played a musical
instrument was called a "kheniagar".

In "Qabousnameh", a whole chapter has been dedicated to "kheniagari" or

music playing. Thus, we see that until the time of Qabous and his work, the
"Qabousnameh", the word "music" had not yet entered the Persian language. At
the time the Iranians were using "khenia", what was strange was that the
Greeks were applying the same term when referring to absolute music - not
sensations related to the spirit only. They took the term "khavania" from Iran
and attributed it to all variations of music.

Some Grecian, including the Hellenic, believed that Iranians derived the word
"khandan", or reading, from the Greek "khavania". It is known however, that
"khavania" does not have many derivatives and it is obvious that this is a
foreign word.

Based on Dr. Farmer's studies, it has been established that many musical
instruments such as the harp, now available in the West, were imported from
the East or, from Iran to Greece. The harp is totally an Iranian creation and it
has traveled from Iran to other countries. Even the lute of Orpheus, the famous
Greek musician, was of Iranian origin. Neither in the Persian language nor in
any other language did the word "music" cover all the different states and
sensations of that art. In other words, one cannot say that one is playing music
or knows music. But one says: "He plays the violin" and "He is a violinist"; or
"He sings; he is a singer"; "He plays the piano; he is a pianist". Therefore, one
does not give a broad and irrational definition to the word "music".

Other nations have also used the term "music" and each have their own
particular music. At such a time that no cultural relation existed between
different nations, the Silk Road played the role of a catalyst. Through this giant
cultural exchange, the inner texture of the art of music was transferred to
different nations, e.g. Chinese music traveled to Europe and European music
traveled as far as China.

There is a term in religious mythology called "musiqaqia", which was

attributed to archangels. From the time of the invention of the "Blessed City"
until the Islamic era or the period that witnessed the fall of Grecian philosophy,
in Greece, even the word "music" was not attributed to the playing of a musical
instrument or to singing. The same was true in ancient Persia.

But since the broad sense of music covered dancing, singing, playing of
instruments and recitation, in Iran, we call a musician; in Europe they call a
cellist; in Iran, we call a singer; in Europe they call a chanter. From the
beginning, the term "music" had a general denomination and covered all the
different states and sensations of the spirit, including literature and poetry.

From the outset, music has been an applied art. First, there was choir music and
folklore songs. During those times, a man who worked in the farm sang while
he labored, and those who were interested listened to this pastoral song. But
there came a time when human output was increased, e.g. a farmer produced
more wheat than what was needed to feed himself and his family and allowed
him to sell the surplus.

As a result, the person earned more money, wore better clothes and had an
inclination for art and luxury. At the time when there was unity between sorcery
and religion, utmost use was made of music. Then, sorcery was performed with
music. Magicians were also physicians and one of the ways of applying the art
of physics was through the employment of music. Such practices are still
popular in some villages.

For example, in attempting cures for typhoid or meningitis, which attacks the
brain and the nerves, spiritual treatments (along with the flute) are done
simultaneously. One of the famous Iranian scholars, who owns a library in
London, says: " My only son had been afflicted with typhoid and meningitis
simultaneously and what the doctors did for him did not help, until someone
suggested that if I was after my son's health, I had to summon a flute player to
play to the patient. After a lot of studies and contemplation, I hired a flutist and
he played for 40 days before my son. Then the doctors reported improvements
in his condition. I was perplexed as to how this performance could have such
an effect."

Therefore, it is apparent that music has many applications. One of the first
alphabets created in the world was the alphabet of music. It is said that Iranians
invented the musical alphabet before other nations. Xenophon and others
report: "In battles, Iranians played certain sounds that made the enemy fearful
and escape, such as the sound of stones falling from the mountain or the sound
of a waterfall or the horrible sound of the flood or the howl of terrible beasts of

These sounds were recorded on paper and were taught to the soldiers. In his
book "Alfehrest", Ibn-e-Nadim has recorded 380 such sounds and Massoudi
has recorded 160 sounds. During the Sassanid period, in the fifth century AD,
Barbud employed 30 sounds for music. Naturally, he should have recorded his
inspirations and performed them for his audience, since if he did not, he could
not play them again.

Farabi had two books about music that had been missing previously. One of the
books, recently discovered, is called "Iqaa" (which means beats in music) and
the other is called "Ahsae Iqaa" (counting the beats). Both of these works have
been translated into Persian and parts of these books have appeared in the
Central Asian and Caucasus Magazine (scientific publication no. 2 of the
Foreign Ministry). Farabi said some fashion of note writing was popular in the
old Iranian art and the rest was invented by himself. Farabi was puzzled as to
why the origin of music was attributed to Greece when all indications showed
that this branch of art had its roots in Persia.

Farabi recorded all the musical pieces of his period and described the ancient
note recording method in Iran. About 2,000 musical works and melodies and
relics of that period have been passed on to us including pieces from Barbud,
Armove and Maraghi. Of course, some pieces from great musicians, who lack
any historic significance, were found in Farabi's books. These musical notes
could be performed and played at present. - See more at: