Maryam Farshadfar

An overview of the creativity process in the practice of Persian piano

Piano, a western musical instrument has a unique historical position in Persian music. Iran has its own music as part of its culture, a classical canon with an enduring repertoire and characteristic techniques handed down for generations with some improvements along the way. When the first keys were played on a piano in Tehran in the 1870s, the members of the Qajar imperial court were the exclusive audience. The practice of Persian piano is a fountainhead of creativity and individuality that had its roots in one specific area but was allowed to develop independently of those roots. In this way it is an evolutionary adaptation reflecting the ability of Persian musicians to form something entirely new out of the old.

At initial glance, based on my interviews with the Persian piano masters and also based on my own experience in performance, it could be stated that the techniques and the tuning systems utilized for Persian piano are different from those of western classical piano. Persian piano is an original form of piano musicianship with its own infinite variability. The piano is the only western keyboard instrument that is used as a local musical instrument in classical Persian music. For over a century, the art of Persian piano has been nourished by the inventiveness of native musicians in the country. Persians adopted and evolved piano musicianship within their own paradigms, initially independent of any western influences and based on improvisation principles. This was due to the absence of western music education in the country at the time. This paper studies the process of musical creativity in the art of Persian piano. For much of this research, I engaged in fieldwork with a group of informants, musicians, collectors, and elderly masters. A primary concern in the research was the lack of data on the practice of Persian piano as a traditional trend in the realm of piano performance. My solution to this problem was to pose the same questions to different interviewees in order to find a commonality in the practice principles. These methods, along with my investigative approach – interviews, acquired recordings and literature, in addition to historical archives and collections on the piano in Iran, have created a complete research model.

Based on original research into the piano music distinctive to Iran, I analyze the notable repertoire created there. I explore the techniques, forms and melodies of the country and delve into the history of the Persian piano masters who tuned their pianos in accord with Persian microtone intervals, and who designed a different tuning for each set of Dastgah. I compare the tuning systems and a number of performances by pianists spanning a period of more than 60 years

A new generation’s efforts to awaken interest, and to train a group of performers in Persian piano practice means that this unique form of piano art will be known and played alongside other pianistic trends on into the future. It is my hope that this paper contributes toward that end.


San Jose Evergreen Valley College, USA

Has a passion for piano since the age of six that has taken her across the world to play and to share her love of music. She holds a Masters degree in piano performance and has performed in solo recitals and with chamber ensembles at prestigious concert halls including Tehran Niavaran Hall and Konzerthaus Freiburg. Maryam is a PhD in ethnomusicology from University of Montreal (2017) where she was the recipient of the Bourses d’ E!tudes Supe!rieures for her dissertation. Her dissertation “The Practice of Persian Piano in Iran from 1879 to 1979” breaks ground in the vibrant world music cultural debate about the traditional practice of Persian piano. She enjoys an active career as a piano performer, scholar, and lecturer. She is currently a full-time music faculty in San Jose Evergreen Valley College and the music director of Evergreen Valley College Choir.