Pejman Akbarzadeh Official Website
Persian Choral Music : an Introduction


pejman.akbarzadeh [at] gmail .com 

Persian choral music in general is reffered to works by Persian (Iranian) composers for choir or works which have been written for choir based on Persian music/poetry.

Western "Choir" (as an aspect of Western art music) was introduced to the Persians in early 20th century; when the Tehran Conservatory created a choral group for the students. They later cooperated with Tehran Symphony Orchestra as well but the repertoire was totally Western classical works. 

1940s : Rubik Gregorian Arrangements

AY SAR KOTAL (Persian Folk Song) - Arrangement for Choir: R. Gregorian

It seems Rubik (Ruben) Gregorian (1915 - 1991) should be called the pioneer composer who wrote "Persian Choral Music" for the first time.

Gregorian was a gifted violinisted and composer who was the director of Tehran Conservatory of Music and Tehran Symphony Orchestra for few years. In 1951 he moved to the United States and continued his works mainly at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

In early 1940s Gregorian collected tens of folk songs from various regions of Persia (Iran) and arranged them for choir and voice and piano. His books in two volumes were published in Tehran in 1948. He has tried to be quite faithful to the original songs and do not change their authenic atmosphere. Since that time in a lot of choral concerts in Persia, Gregorian's arrangements of folk songs have been performed. 

In most of Gregorian's arrangements, we hear the song's melody with chords which are performed by SATB choir. Gregorian has tried to be quite faithful to the original melodies with no intention of changing or developing any part.

Gregorian's chromatics fit the character of Persian folk songs. Gregorian is inspired from choral version of Armenian folk songs, but as Persian and Armenian music are very close to each other, this idea works well. From the harmonization point of view, there is no movement between voices in his arrangements. Every voice sings one single note at the time. They are all vertical but it is of course depends on the taste of the composer and the effect which is going to be created." 

Here is a sample of Rubik Gregorian's arrangments which was performed by the National Choir of Persia in 1970s, conducted by Alfred Mardoian. The song is called "To Bio" (Come to Me) from Bakhtiari region in South-Western Persia: 

1970s : National Choir, Director: Alfred Mardoyan

In 1972 the National Choir of Persia (Kor-e Melli-e Iran) was founded under the direction of Alfred Mardoyan. He arranged both Persian folk and urban songs for this group.

Here is the Mardoyan's choral version of  "Rudaki's Lyre" [Chang-e Roudaki] which has been composed by Rouhollah Khaleghi in the 1950s. The lyric is written by Roudaki, 9th-century Persian poet. This work was originally performed by celebrated vocalists Marzieh and Banan at Radio Tehran (Listen to the original version). Choral version was performed in ca. 1976 in Tehran. The conductor is also Alfred Mardoyan:  

Tehran Choir & Farah Chore: Evlin Baghcheban

Since the 1950s the opera singer Evelyn (Evlin) Baghcheban had a key role to improve choral music in Persia/Iran. She was the conductor of Tehran Conservatory Choir for years and later in early 1967 she founded "Tehran Choir".  Evlin Baghtcheban conducted the choral presentations in the coronation ceremonies of the Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi in the same year with this group. 

Tehran Choir, conducted by Evlin Baghcheban, Rudaki Hall, Tehran, ca. 1969.

"Tehran Choir" was active for almost four years. Later in 1973 Evlin Baghcheban founded the 'Farah Choir", supported by the Farah Pahlavi Charity Foundation. This choir recorded two albums in Austria in 1978 but it was shut down during the 1978-1979 Islamic revolution in the Persia/Iran. (SeeFirst Ever Release of 1978 Farah Choir Recording)

Members of the Farah Choir were mostly the students of Farah Conservatory in Tehran. 

Here is a rare recording of Farah Choir which is the choral version of the folk song "Baboli Koreh". Evlin Baghcheban's husband, Samin, has arranged the song for the choir:


Samin Baghcheban has arranged various other Persian folk songs for the choir as well; one of them is "To Bio" which was earlier arranged by Gregorian. Baghcheban's style is much different. He shows more interest to use the folk melodies as an idea and develop them. Baghcheban uses imitation and dron in his arrangements as well.

Stephen Ackert, American musician, who used to work in Tehran in 1970s believes, Baghcheban has been inspired by Orthodox church music tradition, which he might well have encountered in works of Armenian composers. "Comparing to arrangements of Gregorian, Baghcheban's arrangement sounds more modern. What Gregorian did is what Western composers such as Brahms did with folk music in 19th century: using  four-part SATB choir and a wide variety of chromatic harmonies."

Here you may listen to Samin Baghtcheban arrangment of "To Bio":

Golnoush Khaleghi and Hamavazan : NIRT Choir

In 1974 Golnoush Khaleghi was invited by the National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT) to create a choral school and group in Tehran. She was the conductor of "Hamavazan" until 1979. The group was performing Western classical pieces and just in one concert they performed a Persian composition "Gol-Aman" with NIRT Chamber Orchestra. "Gol Aman" was a piece by Ruben Gregorian, based on two folk songs. It was performed in a concert in 1977 at the Golestan Palace. 

Golnoush Khaleghi has arranged and recorded three works of his father, Rouhollah Khaleghi, for choir: "Negah-e Ashegh", lyrics by Fereydoun Moshiri, "Bahar-e Delneshin" and  the worldwide known "Ey Iran" anthem.

- Other Choral Works by Persian Composers:

Sarbaz" [Soldier] (1966), on poems by Ebrahim Safaei, for choir and orchestra, by Hossein Dehlavi

"Chehreh-ye Gol" [Face of Flower] (1969), on poems by Jamshid Moayed, for Choir & Organ, by Mehran Rouhani

"Three Pieces on Khayyam Rubaiyat" (ca. 1970) for a cappella choir, by Mostafa-Kamal Pourtorab

"Matal" (1973) for Choir, Piano and Percussions, by Samin Baghcheban

"Azadi" [Freedom] (1979), by Golnoush Khaleghi

"Asrar-e Azal" [Mysteries of Eternity] (?), on poems by Khayyam, by Kambiz Roshanravan

"Persian Folklore" (1984), for a cappella choir, by Reza Vali

"We are One" (2011), on Poems by Sa'di, for a cappella choir, by Behzad Ranjbaran

"O! Friend" [Ey Yaar] (?) for a cappella choir, by Ahmad Pejman

- Persian Choral Pieces by non-Persian Composers:

- "Water of Kharabat", on Poems by Hafez, for a cappella choir, by Liselotte Sels (Watch)

TAGS: Persische chor musik / Iranian choral music / Musique chorale perse / persane / iranienne / Perzische koor / iranische / coro persa / persisk / persiska


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