Ali Naqi Vaziri: Bringing the Past into the Present

  July 14, 2021   Read time 2 min
Ali Naqi Vaziri: Bringing the Past into the Present
Vaziri valued the radif-dastgah tradition as the remnants of Iran’s great Persian music history, much of which he thought had been lost for lack of proper preservation and teaching methods.

In considering how to restore some of what had been lost, Vaziri focused on the idea that the radif-dastgah tradition contained ancient Iranian scales that had survived since before Islam. He aligned the notion of Iran’s ancient music with Europe’s notion of classic societies and traced Iranian music’s initial origins to the Achaemenid period. This allowed him to cast Iran’s great history as an extension of music history in ancient Greece. Vaziri bemoaned the perceived loss of ancient Iranian music, but also claimed that the radif-dastgah tradition contained some of these ancient Iranian scales essentially unchanged since ancient times.

Vaziri believed that this ancient period of Iranian musical domination was briefly interrupted after the rise of the religious tendencies of the Ummayad Caliphate, but quickly returned under the rule of the ‛Abbasid Caliphate. On this basis, he also connected modern Iranian music to the early Islamic treatise-writing tradition. In his first teaching manual, Vaziri claimed that the intervallic structure of Iranian music in his day followed the exact rules for intervallic structure outlined by al-Farabi.5 While tracing Iranian music back to pre-Islamic times, Vaziri also described the radif-dastgah tradition as following the rules of intonation described by ‛Abbasid and post-‛Abbasid authors who wrote about music— including al-Farabi, ibn Sina, Urmawi, and Maraghi.6 He further referenced the Iranian legacy of these early Islamic music writers when he stated in reference to the radif-dastgah tradition that Iranian music was directly tied to the music discussed in these older texts. This concept of Iranian music history allowed him to state that “our music today is a music of a thousand years of which the elements of it have not been touched.”

Vaziri established the value of indigenous Iranian music based on a belief in its ancient origins and authentic Iranian character since pre-Islamic times. The questions of morality he raised concerning Iranian music thus related to the failure of Iranians to properly preserve their ancient music until the modern era, and the need for Iranians to recover the principles of their ancient music culture as part of their larger societal efforts to improve Iran’s cultural strength in the modern world. Despite his assertions that the radif-dastgah tradition contained remnants of ancient Iranian music, Vaziri recognized the disparity between ideas about music expressed by writers like al-Farabi and Maraghi and the modern practice. He complained about the loss of much Iranian music, noting that many ideas about music discussed in early Islamic times “remained in the corner” unused. In discussing Iranian music from the early twentieth century, he also contradicted his assertion that Iranian music had been preserved since ancient times, noting that “there is nothing in the hands of the people from before the last fifty years; and if something from before the Constitutional Period exists, it is only in the minds of a limited number of older people.

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