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We are not acquainted with the origin and theory of the music of the Persians: it is to be presumed that they derived the science from India, but so much is certain that they communicated it to the Arabs and the Turks. The airs most admired at Constantinople are chiefly Persian. The theory, being connected with the mathematical sciences, has been treated of by several eminent philosophers, whose works have not yet been noticed in Europe, though some of them are to be found in our libraries.
Avicenna divides music into two parts; the talif or music considered in the melody of the sounds; and the ica, which is the measured cessation of the melody. The tones are called awaz, and the semi-tones nim. These semi-tones are more numerous than ours, for the Persians divide the intervals into very small parts. The transition from one tone to another, by a series of progressions too minute for the system of our music, constitutes the principal charm and merit of theirs. The modes are written in circles; hence music is termed the science of circles. The spaces are called kiah, place: thus yek-kiah signifies the first space, dow-kiah, the second space, and so on as far as seven.
The Persian gamut exactly corresponds with ours. It consists of eight spaces; for in this gamut, the lines are not counted but only the spaces, the last of which answers to our octave. A very singular custom is that of assigning to each space a particular colour: thus, the yek-kiah is invariably green; the dow-kiah, rose-colour, and so on.
The Orientals have no notes, properly so called; but they employ letters, which they place between the lines, to indicate to the musician the interval in which he is to begin, the different tones which he has to run through, the duration of the sounds, the pauses, the time, and lastly the tone with which he is to finish. But the Persians do not always follow this practice. Their music is composed of modes or harmonious phrases, which take their names from persons or places, and serve as moulds for the productions of the imagination of their artists. These modes are either fundamental, to the number of four; or derived, eight in number; or compound, which vary to infinity. He is the most skilful musician who knows the most modes and the most airs; for then he avoids plagiarism, a charge which destroys the best-established reputation. The zenkeleh is the most melodious mode. The ecchac is appropriated to war and love.