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Igha' (Theory of Old Rhythms)

Peyman Nasehpour © 2002

A Brief About Rhythm Cycles (Advar-e-Igha'i)

Introduction

Safi al-Din Ormavi, one of the most celebrated Persian theorists and musicians, was born in Orumiyyeh city of Azerbaijan province in Iran. He has written two important books about theory of Persian art music of his time, which they are Al-advar and Al-sharafiyyeh. In the past music was divided into two important chapters: 1. Talif-e-Negham 2. Igha. Talif-e-Negham (literally means composition of notes) is in fact the same as melody. Igha is the same as rhythm.

Theory of Rhythm

Safi-al-Dins approach to rhythmic analysis is traditional: much of the terminology used to describe the various rhythmic cycles is derived from prosody. Each cycle is divided into feet (vatad, sabab and faseleh), these being defined in terms of long and short syllables. A short syllable is equivalent to one time unit, a long syllable to two. The syllables and feet are represented either by prosodic methods or by the syllables ta and tan (both always initial in a foot), na, nan. Thus the rhythmic cycle Al-saghil-al-sani, for example, is given as:

Tanan Tanan Tan Tanan Tanan Tan

The time units are therefore to be divided:

/1 2 3 /1 2 3/1 2 /1 2 3 /1 2 3 /1 2/

In each foot the first time unit is marked by a percussion, the last in general not, while any other may or may not be so marked, the performer being in some cases bound by convention and in others able to choose.

Thus if we symbolize the first time of a foot as X (an obligatory percussion), the final one as o (generally omitted), and others as x (generally an optional percussion), this cycle becomes:

/X x o X x o X o X x o X x o X o/

It will be seen from this that the rhythmic cycles are distinguished not only by the numbers of the time units but, equally important, by an accentual pattern also which the performer may embroider within certain limits, but in theory not alter.

 

The rhythmic cycles described by Safi-al-Din in his book Al-advar may be represented as follows:

Al-saghil-al-avval: /X x o X x o X x x o X o X x x o/

Khafif-e-saghil: /X o X x/

Saghil-e-ramal: /X x x o X x x o X o X o X o X o X o X o X x x o/

Al-ramal: /X o X o X o X o X x x o/

Khafif-e-ramal: /X o X x o X o X x o/

Al-hazaj: /X x x o X x o X x o X o/

Al-fakhti: /X x x o X o X x x o X x x o X o X x x o/

 

The rhythmic cycles described by Safi-al-Din in his book Al-sharafiyyeh may be represented as follows:

Al-saghil-al-avval: /X x o X x o X x x o X o X x x o/

Al-saghil-al-sani: /X x o X x o X o/

Khafif-al-saghil: /X x x o/

Al-ramal: /X o X o X x x o X x x o/

Khafif-al-ramal: /X o X x x o/

Al-hazaj: /X x o X x o/

Al-fakhti: /X x x o X o X x x o X x x o X o X x x o/

Reference

[W]: O. Wright, The Modal System of Arab and Persian Music A.D. 1250-1300, Oxford University Press, 1978.