ĀVĀZ, in modern Persian “song” (of any kind) or, more broadly, “music.” In use it thus resembles Arabic ḡenāʾ (singing), which has “stood for both "song" in particular and "music" in general” (Farmer, History of Arabian Music, p. 152). The word is derived from OIr. vač- “to voice, utter, speak,” and is related to Av. vač- “voice,” NPers. vāža “word, vocabulary item” (see J. Pokorny, Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, Berne and Munich, 1959, I, pp. 1135-36).

Āvāz as a musical term has three basic meanings: (1) The classical vocal style of Iran, which is based on the elaborate modal system called dastgāh and sung mainly to classical Persian verses. (2) “Tune.” This term is used to denote an auxiliary mode in the dastgāh system. Āvāz-e Abū ʿAṭā, āvāz-e Afšārī, āvāz-e Daštī, āvāz-e Bayāt-e Tork and āvāz-e Bayāt-e Eṣfahān are used in contemporary music theory (R. Ḵāleqī, Naẓar-ī be mūsīqī, p. 111). However, some music theoreticians such as ʿAlī-Naqī Wazīrī use the Arabic term naḡma (melody) in this sense, as in naḡma-ye Daštī, instead of āvāz (ʿA. Wazīrī, Āvāz-šenāsī, p. 35). Use of the Persian term āvāz (in Arabic āwāz, plur. āwāzāt) for secondary mode is old, going back to the 7th/13th-century theoretician Ṣafī-al-dīn ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen Ormavī. In his Ketāb al-adwār (633/1235?), he mentions six āwāzāt: Kavāšt, Kardānīya, Salmak, Nowrūz, Māya, and Šahnāz. In this sense, the term āvāz is almost equivalent to the Arabic terms for “branch mode,” such as šoʿba (plur. šoʿab) or faṛʿ (plur. forūʿ) (Farmer, op. cit., pp. 203-05). (3) Most importantly, āvāz is used to specify the unique rhythmic texture of the non-metric vocal style of Iran. In this sense, instrumental music, which has been developed primarily as accompaniment to the āvāz per se in the dastgāh system, might well be called āvāz, provided that it is executed in non-metric rubato style. In particular the term refers to improvised passages following the original vocal style and adapting it into the instrumental version. In this context, the term āvāz is contrasted to żarbī, which is characterized as a section played in a fixed meter (usually with the tonbak/żarb or drum accompaniment). Since the bī-żarb (non-metric) rhythmic texture predominates and constitutes the main body of the so-called dastgāh music, the term āvāz is sometimes used in the sense of “classical Iranian music,” both vocal and instrumental. On the other hand, āvāz may be contrasted to the term taṣnīf, which generally implies a kind of strophic song composed in a fixed meter. The taṣnīf also presents a striking contrast to the āvāz in respect to the verses employed. The verses sung in the āvāz are usually composed in the ʿarūż (q.v.) system of Arabo-Persian versification, whereas those employed in the taṣnīf are often non-arūż poems which are sometimes called “syllabic” verses (ašʿār-e hejāʾī).

Rapport with the poetic meter. In the āvāz, the ḡazals of Ḥāfeẓ and Saʿdī and the maṯnawī of Rūmī are among the most frequently sung verses. As far as the non-metric portion is concerned, theoretically a verse composed in any kind of poetic meter may be sung. However, in practice, some special meters are preferred: Mojtaṯṯ-e moṯamman-e maḵbūn-e maqṣūr (ᴗ - ᴗ - / ᴗ ᴗ - - / ᴗ - ᴗ - / ᴗ ᴗ - // bis) and its variations; Hazaj-e moṯamman-e sālem (ᴗ - - - / ᴗ - - - / ᴗ - - - / ᴗ - - - // bis); Hazaj-e mosaddas-e maḥḏūf ( ᴗ - - - / ᴗ - - - / ᴗ - - // bis); Hazaj-e moṯamman-e aḵrab-e makfūf ( - - ᴗ / ᴗ - - ᴗ / ᴗ - - ᴗ / - // bis) and its variations; Ramal-e moṯamman-e maḥḏūf ( - ᴗ - - / ᴗ ᴗ - - / ᴗ ᴗ - - / ᴗ ᴗ - // bis) and its variations; Ramal-e mosaddas-e maḥḏūf e maqṣūr (- ᴗ - - / - ᴗ - - / - ᴗ - // bis); and Możāreʿ-e moṯamman-e aḵrab-e maḵfūf e maḥḏūf ( - - ᴗ / - ᴗ - ᴗ / ᴗ - - ᴗ / - ᴗ - // bis). The meter of Motaqāreb-e moṯamman-e maḥḏūf-e maqṣūr (ᴗ - - / ᴗ - - / ᴗ - - / ᴗ - // bis) is also sometimes found in the āvāz. The particular reference for the Mojtaṯṯ-type meters is rather easily explained. The combination of short and long syllables in this poetic meter coincides exactly with that of the musical meter called Kerešma (Example 1).

This is one of the most typical rhythmic patterns of Iranian music. This distinctive rhythmic pattern is held so important in the āvāz that it appears at various points. The so-called Šāh-gūša (king gūša) has usually a section named Kerešma which is performed with a more or less clearly fixed metric rhythm. This rhythmical meter serves as relaxation and diversion to set off the non-metric āvāz texture which is rather serious and tight.

The preference for Hazaj-type meters may be explained in terms of their relationship to folk verses and songs. The meter of Hazaj and its variations are among the ones most frequently found in folk poetry such as do-baytī and lullabies (lālāʾī). The meter of Hazaj-e mosaddas-e maḥḏūf e maqṣūr, which is the meter of do-baytī (or čār-baytī in regional dialects), is particularly often sung in the āvāz-e Daštī, which is closely associated with Iranian folk tunes.

Ramal-e mosaddas-e maḥḏūf e maqṣūr is the meter of Jalāl-al-dīn Rūmī’s Maṯnawi-e maʿnawī, couplets from which are often sung in the āvāz of Afšārī, Bayāt-e Tork, Abū ʿAṭā (Gabrī), Daštī, Šūr, Bayāt-e Eṣfahān, Māhūr, and of Segāh (Moḵālef). A few other Ramal-type meters such as Ramal-e moṯamman-e maḵbūn-e maḥḏūf-e aslam are frequently found in the ḡazals of Ḥāfeẓ and Saʿdī, which are most favorably sung in the āvāz.

There are some other types of poetic meter which are associated with the specific āvāz: Motaqāreb-e moṯamman-e maḥḏūf-e maqṣūr is the meter of Ferdowsī’s Šāh-nāma, and of the Sāqī-nāmas of Ḥāfeẓ and Rażī-al-dīn Artīmānī. Verses chosen from either book are sung in the āvāz. When these verses are sung in more or less fixed meter, this meter of Motaqāreb is usually treated in the unique rhythmic mode of duple (or square) meter (Example 2).

The verses sung in the gūša entitled Čahār-bāḡ are composed in the poetic meter called Kāmel-e moṯamman-e sālem, a not very popular meter in Persian literature. The verses Če šavad be čehra-ye zard-e man, naẓar-ī ze rāh-e ḵodā konī, . . . / by Aḥmad Hātef Eṣfahānī (d. 1198/1783-84) are among the few examples.

Rhythmic characteristics. The most distinct rhythmic factor in the āvāz of course comes from the verse. Thus, the rhythmic organization of the āvāz is primarily based upon the poetic meter of the arūż system, which is a recurrent cycle of short and long syllables. The pattern and length of a poetic meter, once chosen, remains constant as a kind of rhythmic mode; however, the stress accents of words chosen in a line do not necessarily follow those of the model. “The contrapuntal interplay between the stress patterns of a meter and the stress pattern of normal speech makes for a much needed variety in a strait-jacket of strict quantitative meter” (Yar-Shater, “Affinities,” p. 72). In a way, the āvāz melody reinforces features of the poetic meter, elaborates it, and gives rise to the mood of the verse. However, its resultant rhythmic texture is rather complex.

A close examination of several descriptive transcriptions of sung āvāz reveals the following rhythmic principles: (1) The primal unit of recurring elements of the unmeasured rhythmic texture is a phrase. The accent of the phrase is an inseparable pair of a short syllable and a long syllable (an iamb). (2) Generally speaking, a phrase unit coincides with a foot of the poetic meter, which has usually one iambic pattern ( = the accent). (3) In most cases this iambic pattern is found at the very beginning of a phrase. (4) When certain numbers of syllables precede the accent, they are treated rather as neutral syllables in terms of length. (5) From (3) and (4) it is obvious that words are usually articulated at the beginning of a phrase. Then, the following long syllable(s) may be prolonged as far as the sustaining energy permits. (6) At the end of a phrase, the taḥrīr technique (elaborate melismatic singing) is preferred; this must constitute one of the recurring elements of a phrase in āvāz (Tsuge, “Rhythmic Aspects,” pp. 223-24).

Form. The close affinity between Persian poetry and āvāz is difficult to overstate. The skeleton of āvāz form comes from the basic structure of Persian verses: (1) Each line or bayt (couplet) consists of two hemistiches of equal length and identical syllabic pattern. (2) In regard to rhythm, a couplet is based on six or eight poetic feet (ajzāʾ) with a caesura in the middle, hence six or eight recurrent accents. This is the core of the āvāz which is called šeʿr (verse). The āvāz is usually preceded by an introduction called darāmad, which is usually sung without verse text as such but with vocables such as āy, ey, del ey del, amān, jān, yār, jānam, and ʿazīz-e man.

The singing of the verse is usually followed by an extensive taḥrīr to demonstrate the singer’s (āvāzḵᵛān) vocal technique with vocables, a feature which is very characteristic of Persian āvāz. This ornamental vocal technique is such an important aspect of the āvāz that no āvāzḵᵛān is considered proficient without mastery in it. Each āvāzḵᵛān has freedom to create his own elaborate and tasteful taḥrīr. Certain styles of taḥrīr are called by such appellations as taḥrīr-e bolbolī (song of nightingale), taḥrīr-e čakošī (brazier’s hammer), etc. (Caron and Safvate, Les traditions, p. 160).

Thus, the most basic form of the āvāz in one gūša may be outlined as follows: (1) darāmad, (2) šeʿr, (3) taḥrīr. However, in contemporary performance practice of the āvāz, several (usually two to five or six) gūšas are chosen from one dastgāh; instrumental sections are inserted; and its overall musical form has become much more complex. A typical scheme of the āvāz in a given dastgāh is as follows: (1) Pīšdarāmad, a “prelude” or orchestral ensemble piece composed in the dastgāh with fixed meter. (2) Čahār-meżrāb, an instrumental piece performed in improvisatory manner, demonstrating the soloist’s technical virtuosity. It is usually accompanied by a tonbak player. (3) Āvāz, singing of the verses by a solo singer in the manner of improvisation, going through various gūšas. It is the main body of the entire āvāz performance. This portion is usually accompanied by a solo instrument such as tār, santūr, kamāṇča or violon, nay, or less often, piano. (4) Taṣnīf, a composed song in the dastgāh, often featuring characteristics of a particular gūša. It has a fixed meter and is accompanied by an orchestral ensemble including a tonbak. (5) Reng, a dance piece composed in the dastgāh, most frequently in the compound duple meter of 6/8 which often appears in the form of 6/8 + 3/4, giving a hemiola effect. It is performed by the orchestra as a finale.

In fact, this format is not too far from the classical Turkish suite called fasil, which consists of peşrev, taksim, kâr, beste, ağir-semaî, şarki, yürük-semaî, and saz-semaî in a given makam. The practice of the Azerbaijani moḡām and ʿErāqi maqām appears to resemble more closely that of the Persian āvāz. These musical styles are most probably descended from the nawba (or nawbat) of medieval Islamic courts, though their evolution and exact relationship can not be determined in detail.

See also entries for each DASTGĀH; MUSIC.

For a music sample, see Čahār pāra.

For a music sample, see Sāqi-nāme in Dastgāh Māhur.



M. Barkechli and M. Maʿaroufi, La musique traditionnelle de l’Iran (Radīf-e mūsīqī-e īrānī), Tehran, 1341 Š./1963; repr, Les systèmes de la musique traditionnelle de l’Iran (Radīf-e haft dastgāh-e mūsīqī-e īrānī), Tehran, 1352 Š./1973.

N. Caron anc D. Safvate, Les traditions musicales: Iran, Paris, 1966. p. 160.

H. Farhat, The Dastgāh Concept in Persian Music, doctoral thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, 1965 (on the modal aspects of the āvāz).

H. G. Farmer, A History of Arabian Music to the XIIIth Century, London, 1929, pp. 152, 203-05.

M. N. Forṣat Šīrāzī, Boḥūr al-alḥān, Bombay, 1332/1914, pp. 4-44 and passim.

R. Ḵāleqī, Naẓar-ī be mūsīqī II, Tehran, 1317 Š./1938, pp. 111-12.

Idem, Sargoḏašt-e mūsīqī-e Īrān I, Tehran, 1333 Š./1955, pp. 366-84 and passim.

Kh. Khatschi, Der Dastgāh. Studien zur neuen persischen Musik, Regensburg, 1962, pp. 117-28.

M. T. Massoudieh, Āwāz-e-Šūr: Zur Melodiebildung in der persischen Kunstmusik, Regensburg, 1968, p. 10.

Idem, “Tradition und Wandel in der persischen Musik des 19. Jahrhunderts,” in R. Günther, ed., Musikkulturen Asiens, Afrikas und Ozeaniens im 19. Jahrhundert, Regensburg, 1973, pp. 73-93.

Idem,Radīf-e āvāzī-e mūsīqī-e sonnatī-e Īrān, Tehran, 1978.

B. Nettl, “Aspects of Form in the Instrumental Performance of the Persian Āvāz,” Ethnomusicology 18/3, 1974, pp. 405-14.

G. Tsuge, “Rhythmic Aspects of the Āvāz in Persian Music,” Ethnomusicology 142, 1970, pp. 205-07.

Idem, Āvāz: A Study of the Rhythmic Aspects in Classical Iranian Music, doctoral thesis, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn., 1974, pp. 23-28 and passim.

ʿA. Wazīrī, Āvāz-šenāsī (part 2 of Mūsīqī-e naẓarī), Tehran, 1313 Š./1934, p. 35.

E. Yar-Shater, “Affinities between Persian Poetry and Music,” in P. J. Chelkowski, ed., Studies in Art and Literature of the Near East, Salt Lake City, 1974, pp. 59-78.

E. Zonis, Classical Persian Music: An Introduction, Cambridge, Mass., 1973, pp. 126-31, 136-37.

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(G. Tsuge)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 17, 2011

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Vol. III, Fasc. 1, pp. 32-35