The histories of the Shah Nameh are sung to the rast. Love-songs, elegies and hymns for the dead, are composed in the puzurk, the zyr-afkend and the rahavi. Zer-kechi, or cloth of old, denotes the richness or beauty of the mode which bears that denomination.
This want of notes is one of the great obstacles that must check the progress of music among the Persians. They have, it is true, some means of supplying the deficiency, such as the different names given to the tones and semi-tones, and the measure, which is divided like ours into perfect and imperfect time. At every concert, this measure is beaten by a musician placed in the first row, on his knees, or on a pair of small kettle-drums, called naccareh: in this manner he indicates the notes which we write down, and directs the orchestra. But a skilful master, without deviating from the measure, varies it by so many flourishes of art, sweet modulations, and imperceptible gradations, that it is sometimes impossible to be recognised.
There is a species of harmonious music, the theory of which is extremely simple, which affects the senses alone without reaching the heart, and produces only more or less pleasing sensations. There is another, which expresses all the passions, and which requires a profound study of the human heart, and of the springs by which it may be moved. To this last, the Persians are utter strangers; but on the other hand, they are very successful in harmonious music: with them, it delights, affects, and moves perhaps more than any other.
"We have heard," says M. Olivier, "military songs and airs which animated and powerfully excited the auditors; and we have heard others that awakened the most voluptuous ideas." The Persian songs, according to Mr. Scott Waxing, are sweet and touching; but the great defect of this music is monotony: the impressions being constantly the same, they at length become wearisome and heavy, how pleasing soever they may have been at first. The Persian musician knows nothing of the rules of proportions, in the assortment of sounds; he has no idea of music in different parts, of the tone, divided into third, fifth, and octave; nor of what constitutes our counterpoint: hence, in a Persian concert there is neither bass, tenor, nor alt—all the instruments are in unison.
The instruments are very numerous, and may be divided into three classes, each distinguished by a generic name. To the first belong the stringed instruments, aoud; to the second, the wind instruments, nefir; and to the third, the instruments which are beaten, thabl. We shall confine our descriptions to the instruments which are most commonly used:—