SOMĀʿI, ḤABIB [2009]


SOMĀʿI (Samāʿi), ḤABIB (b. Tehran 1905; d. Tehran 1946), an outstanding player of the santur (a kind of dulcimer), perhaps the greatest santur player of his time (Mašḥun, II, p. 517).

Somāʿi’s first teacher of music was his father, Ḥabib-Allāh Samāʿ Ḥożur, an accomplished performer of the santur, who started teaching his son how to play the tombak (the chalice drum) when the child was four years old (on Samāʿ Ḥożur, see Ḵāleqi, I, pp. 163-68). Before long Ḥabib began to accompany his father’s santur playing with his tombak. He then started learning how to play the santur, and by virtue of his own innate talents and his father’s conscientious and passionate teaching, he could play the instrument with some proficiency by the time he was ten years old. At the age of twelve, he was proficient enough to play in the ensembles of the master musicians of the day. Ḥabib also attended the school of music for a while, where he learned some basics of musical notation, but he never made use of musical notes to write down his compositions (Naṣirifar, I, p. 303).

Somāʿi joined the army as a young man and spent a number of years on military assignments in Khorasan and Kermān; but he did not show much interest in pursuing a military career and never reached higher than the rank of first lieutenant. When he finally returned to Tehran, with the encouragement of his friends, particularly Abu’l-Ḥasan Ṣabā, he started a santur class. His music classes soon attracted a large number of students. Somāʿi, however, was not very keen on teaching and lacked the forbearance and perseverance required for this profession. Moreover, he was a rather moody and irritable person, often alienating students with his unwarranted critical remarks. Most of his students soon left his class except for a handful whose deep love of music induced them to tolerate his edginess. One of these students was Abu’l-Ḥasan Ṣabā, who stayed with him for about one year trying to learn Somāʿi’s particular techniques of playing the santur. Some others, such as Nur-ʿAli Borumand, Qobād Ẓafar, and Morteżā ʿAbd-al-Rasuli attended Somāʿi’s classes for ten to fifteen years. Manučehr Jahānbeglu and Ḥosayn Ṣabā also joined his classes but could not continue for long.

Somāʿi was one of the first musicians to join Tehran Radio when it was established in 1940. His performances there were so widely appreciated by the public that soon the department of music (Edāra-ye musiqi-e kešvar), which was in charge of the musical programs of Tehran Radio asked him to transfer from the army to the Ministry of Education (Wezārat-e farhang) in order to teach music full-time. Somāʿi acquiesced at first but soon changed his mind and transferred back to the army.

Somāʿi was an exceptionally talented santur player who was also endowed with a charming voice, which he often used to accompany his music, thus creating an enchantingly combination. His strokes were gracefully measured, rapid, and fluent. Dāriuš Ṣafwat refers to him as a great genius (nābeḡa-i bozorg) with immense talent and relates, on the authority of Nur-ʿAli Borumand, the profound effect that Somāʿi’s music had on his audience (Ṣafwat, p. 65; Ḥaddādi, p. 222).

Somāʿi’s greatest contribution to Persian music, however, was his rejuvenation of the santur, which, due to its complex nature that requires years of dedicated effort before its mastery, was rapidly falling into oblivion. When Somāʿi began his career, there were very few people in Persia who knew how to play the santur, but the broadcast of his masterful performances on Tehran Radio created such an excitement and enthusiasm that soon a large number of young people began learning how to play this instrument (Ṣafwat, p. 58; Ḥaddādi, p. 324).

Unfortunately, not many of Somāʿi’s works have survived. The only recording of his solo performances, which was kept in the archive of Radio Tehran, was erased at Somāʿi’s own insistent request (however, according to Sepantā, p. 175, it was erased to reuse the blank tape). The only remaining pieces of Somāʿi’s performances are five gramophone records (in Māhur o Delkaš, Abu ʿAṭā wa Ḥejāz, Bayāt-e Eṣfahān, Żarbi-e Šahnāz o Gereyli), in which he accompanies Parvāneh, a well-known vocalist of the time (Ḵāleqi, III, p. 50). Somāʿi also composed a few rhythmic pieces, the best-known of which is on a verse by the poet Moẓaffar Širāzi, which was later performed by the vocalist Purān Šāhpuri. Somāʿi died at the age of forty-one and was buried at Ẓahir-al-Dawla cemetery north of Tehran.


Šāpur Behruzi, Čehrahā-ye musiqi-e Irān, Tehran, 1993, pp. 210-14, 234.

Noṣrat-Allāh Ḥaddādi, Farhang-nāma-ye musiqi-e Irān, Tehran, 1997.

Ruḥ-Allāh Ḵāleqi, Sargoḏašt-e musiqi-e Irān I, edd. Ruḥ-Allāh Ḵāleqi, Tehran, 1994; III, ed. Sāsān Sepantā, 1998.

Ḥasan Mašḥun, Tāriḵ-e musiqi-e Irān, 2 vols., Tehran, 1997.

Ḥabib-Allāh Naṣirifar, Mardān-e musiqi-e sonnati wa novin-e Irān I, 4th ed., Tehran, 1991.

Dāriuš Ṣafwat, Pažuheš-i kutāh dar bāra-ye ostādān-e musiqi-e Irān wa alḥān-e musiqi-e irāni, n.p., n.d., pp. 64-66.

Sāsān Sepantā, Čašmandāz-e musiqi-e Irān, Tehran, 1990, pp. 175-76.

(Morteżā Ḥoseyni Dehkordi and EIr)

Originally Published: July 20, 2009

Last Updated: July 20, 2009

Cite this entry:

Morteżā Ḥoseyni Dehkordi and EIr, “SOMĀʿI, ḤABIB,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at (accessed on 19 May 2016).