In Semi-mythical tales, invention of music has been attributed to the Great Iranian king, Jamsheed. The disperse but well documented history of music during Hakhamaneshian empire (550-331 BC) attests to the significance of this art. From Greek historian's manuscripts, we can decipher some information about the-early period of music. Herodotus points to the religious rituals of Zoroastrians. In Koroupdya, Gaznofan discusses martial and folk music in Iranian Empire. In Sassanian's court musicians were highly praised and some names such as Barbad, Nakeesa, Ramtin, Azad, and Sarkash have been recorded. Different stories have been relayed about Barbad in Khosrow Perviz's court and his marvelous virtuosity in performing and creating songs (Tasneef). It is believed that Barbad established a musical format consisting of seven structural scales and melodic pieces (Magham) known as Khosravani, 30 Lahn, and 365 Dastan corresponds to the number of days per year, but its application has been unspecified In the advent of Islam in the 7th century, Iranian music among other cultural elements, became one of the most prominent milestones in pervading Islamic music. We will refer to a few well-known musicians and the ones whose legacies perpetuate:
1- Iberahim Mousali (742-803 A.D) born into an Iranian family based in Koufeh. Singer and Barbat player in Mehdi's and Haroun-Alrashid'scourts. He has improvised more than 900 vocal variations (Avas). He studied music under the supervision of a Zoroastrian mentor named Javanovi in Ray (Iran).
2- Ishagh Mousali (766-849 AD) Ibrahim Mousali's son, well known in the genres of singing and poetry, author of a few books on music.
3- Abu-Nasr Farabi (872-950 AD) from Farab (Khorasan), famous musical theorist whose writings on scale, rhythm, and instrumental arrangements have been rich scientific musical studies on Greek classical theories and became a pioneer in revival of such research. His book "Ketab Al-Musighi Al-Kabir" (The Great Book of Music), still remains a great masterpiece.
4- Abul-Faraj Esfahani (896-966 AD) musical historian whose famous book "Aghani" is a biography of famous musicians in the early period of Abbasi's rule.
5- Abu-ali Cina (980-966 AD) philosopher, physician, and musician. He based his research on Greek theories and extended Farabi's empirical findings.
6- Safiodin Ormavi (death, 1294 AD) great theorist whose works are "Resaleh-ye-Sharghieh" (Eastern Dissertation) and "Ketab-ol-Advar" (The Book of Eras). His teachings on scales have been widely accepted and recognized to be a fundamental basis for identifying Maghams.
7- Ghotbodin Mahmoud Shirazi (1236-1312 AD) the author of an original encyclopedia on music which included teachings of Farabi and Safiodin. Also his significant share in generating a complex vocal transcription methodology should be acclaimed.
8- Abdoul-Ghader Maraghei (death, 1434 AD) the last theorist before the modern era, the author of several books on scales and Maghams, and musical instruments. With Islamic Modernity, two schools of Arabic music surfaced. The school of Baghdad which was closer to Persian music and the school of Kordoba, which resembled Flamenco and North African music. Unfortunately, until the beginning of 20th century, Persian music had been suffering from stagnation and had solely been presented as a decorative art.
In this atmosphere, creative growth and scientific studies had impeded evolution. The forbidding attitude of religious figures and their tremendous interest in manipulating the social aspects of the culture had mainly been responsible for such predicament. Royal patrons and aristocrats under Safavieh (1501-1722) and Ghajar (1785-1925) sovereignties had endorsed music as a performing art. In fact, the emergence of a twelve-scale system during the Ghajar era, by Ali-Akbar Farahani, was a novelty, but in the periods previously mentioned, music had been reduced to a means of gaining personal pleasure. Since the third decade of the 20th century, music in Iran gradually developed a notable propensity towards creativity and curiosity in research.
In the Pahlavi era (1925-1979) reformative movements towards modernization and westernization of Iran took place. Until the middle of 1930's Tehran music conservatory included several European instructors who taught musicians and also performed at western or traditional events. Also, a Symphonic Orchestra was assembled and a Chorus group was established. Due to Ali Naghi Vaziri's endeavors during this period, traditional music concerts were promoted after World War II until the 1970's; the westernization of Iran was of highest priority.
Since the revolution of 1979 and the resurgence of religious authority, music has been swayed in another direction. Despite all, what can be known as national music today, is a traditional and classic art comprising two genres: folk and urban music. Various native groups-supplying a diverse pool of folk music comes together in a vast country such as Iran, with a population close to 80 million.
Urban music, on the other hand, is a tradition, which has remained only with a few. This music is a compilation of various melodic pieces passed down from one generation to the next. Each piece revolves around an undetermined central core of melodies and performers may acquire competence only through extensive training and experience. The identifying factors on each musical piece, noticeably different from one performance to the next relies on the artist's sense of freedom in improvisation. The richness of this music is not due to complex rhythmic patterns but an exploration of melodic possibilities and the production of beautiful textures through the art of improvisation. This music is personal, imaginative, sensual, and deep.