Abdolqader Maraghi (1360? – 1435) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Mohsen Hajarian   
Friday, 03 June 2011 05:04

Abdolqader-e Maragheh-ey

His Life and his Theory of Intervalization of a Monochord and Organology

By Dr. Mohsen Hajarian

 Abdolqader ibn Ghaibi al-Hafiz al- Maraghi (d. 1434) was the last great theorist-composer of the pre-modern era in the history of Iranian music. He was the author of Maqased al-Alhan, Djami' al-Alhan and Sharh-I- Adwar as well as other books and treatises like Kanz al-Alhan, a treatise on Chinese instruments or Chinese Music. The translations of Adwar into Turkish that have survived are also attributed to him. His music flourished in the Ottoman empire for more than five centuries. We know little about his childhood.

His place of birth, Maraghah, in Azerbaijan, was the capital of Halako Khan a century before his birth. His father, Safieddin, taught him music and the sciences, as is mentioned in his Maqased al Alhan and Djami' al Alhan. "When I memorize the Quran," he says, “my father wants me to glorify my voice with the Quranic chants."

Iranian Il-khani (a branch of the Mongol Empire) came to power after the collapse of the Il-khanian at the end of the thirteenth century. They ruled for a century over Azerbaijan, Kurdestan, and parts of Iraq. They were Shiite, and their capital was Baghdad and patronized art, music and poetry. Abdolqader spent a few years of his  artistic life in the court of Ahmad and Houssin Jalayer in Baghdad. In 795 AH (1393 AD) Baghdad was occupied by Temore (Tamerlane 1336-1405), and sultan Ahmad Jalayer escaped to Egypt. Abdolqader was among those artists who had to be sent to Samarqand by Temore’s orders. Some historical evidence indicates that he remained in Samarqand until 800 AH(1398  AD); therefore he participated in the marriage ceremonies that Tamore ordered in 799 AH (1397 AD) for his relatives in Khan Goul near Samarqand.

During 798 (1397 AD), Miranshah, Tamore's son, became the governor of Azarbayjan. Abdolqader accompanied him in Tabriz, his capital. Miranshah was spent most of his time hunting, drinking and listening to music, and paid scant attention to his  responsibilities. Hence, Tamore decided to remove him from power and ordered  most of his advisors and companions punished. Among them, musicians like Qutb al-din Naie, Habibollah Udi, and Abdolmomen Gouyendah (vocalist) were hanged on the gallows. Abdolqader escaped to Baghdad to the court of Sultan Ahmad Jalayer. In 803(1401), when Tamore was returning from his victorious battle of Sham and Syria, he once again conquered Baghdad and ordered a massacre of the people. Abdolqader was captured, and while he was sentenced to death he cried and chanted Quran in his best voice, as Khonde Mir, a Persian historian, indicates. Tamore heard Abdolqader voice and pardoned him from death.

After the death of Tamore in 807(1405), Abdolqader traveled to Borrsse, the capital of the Othoman empire. It is not clear how long he stayed in that country. Based on a copy of  Maqased al-Alhan found in the library of Boudalian and written (824 AH) (1422) for Sultan Morad the second, Farmer claims that Abdolqader had dedicated this book to Sultan Morad the Second, emperor of empire. However, this contradicts the existence of an original copy in the library of Mashhad written by Abdolqader himself in 821 AH(1419). Nothing in this original indicates that Abdolqader had dedicated this book to Sultan Morad the Second. He spent the last years of his life in Herat, the capital of Shahroukh, Tamore’s son. He died as result of epidemic pestilence in 838 AH(1436).

Three of his books are available in Persian: Djame’al-Alhan, Maqased al-Alhan and Sharh-e Adwar. There are lot of similarities in the content of Maqased al-Alhan and Djami' al-Alhan. With few exceptions, it seems that Maqased al-Alhan is the abridgement of Djami' al-Alhan. There are  four old manuscripts of Djame'al-Alhan (a comprehensive book of melodies) in different libraries: one in Boudelian, two  in Nuor Othmani, and the last one in Paris. Their dates  are different. The style of writing in Djame’al-Alhan  is very technical and complicated. The usage of the old expressions, especially those of Arabic and Greek, make it uncomfortable for contemporary readers.

Djame'al-Alhan, without any doubt is the only extant document to contain appreciable information about the modal structure of Iranian music in the pre-dastgah system. However, the definition of musical categories, the intervals of Maqam-s and their cycles,  the tunning systems, the instrumentation and organological classification, and the rhythms are included in  this very valuable text. For the definition of musical terms, he respectfully refers to Farabi, Ibn Sina and Safiedin Ormavi. However, he challenges Qutb al-Din Shirazi (owner of Dorratottaj), accusing him of being a theorist and not a musician. The main aspects of his discussion are presented below.


A performance of "Nasim e Sobhdam" by Maraghi Ensemble & Sepideh Raissadat at the International Mugham Festival in Baku, Azerbaijan (2008).


The Intervalization

The length of  AM, a single dastan ( string) is 59cm. This monochord has been divided into eight equal parts. The name of the pitches assigned is based on the  abjd letters with their numerical values. If we divide this monochord into three parts, we come to the first Zolkhams (pentachord). If we divide it into four parts, we come to the first Zolarba' (tetrachord). If we divide it into half, we come to the Zelkoll (octave). Based on the same calculation, Abdolqader finds the rest of the pitches. The intervals are whole tones, semitones and microtones. The names of the pitches by their abjd in the first octave are:

abjd            number       western name

A                       1                    Du

B                       2                    Re b

J                        3                    Re -

D                       4                    Re

H                       5                    Mi b

V                       6                    Mi -

Z                       7                    Mi

H'                      8                    Fa

T                       9                    Fa +

Y                      10                   Sol -

Ya                    11                   Sol

YB                   12                   La b

YJ                    13                   La -

YD                   14                   La

YH                   15                   Si b

YV                   16                   Si -

YZ                   17                   Si

YH'                  18                   Du


In order to show the intervals between the pitches, he uses the term Baqiah (B)  for a small half tone, Mujanab (J) for a large half tone, and Tanini (T) for a large whole tone. These musical terms are not in use of Iranian contemporary  music. In Turkish classical music the terms are used, but the intervals do not exactly corresponded to those referenced by Abdolqader. For the tunning system, he divides the instruments based on the number of strings ranging from two to five strings . For the two stringed instrument (Zowlwatarein), the conventional tunning is that the 4th finger (khinsir) on the upper string should create a sound as clear as the lower free string.


Second string  A B J D H V Z H'

First  string   H'  T Y Ya Yb Yj Yd Yh


For the three, four,  and five  stringed ud, he indicates the position of each note on the strings of the ud, while the strings themselves have their own names. The tuning for this instrument is that the third of the upper string should be equal to the lower free string. Therefore, the relation of all five strings is based on the perfect fourth.

Based upon those alphabetical numbers (abjd) he illustrates and explains structures and  the forms of the adwar (cycles, single dwer). These cycles are classified as first and second class modes. Based on their importance they are: 1- maqam, 2- awaz and 3- shu'bah. According to the Arabs, he says, the main maqam-s are twelve. For more clarification, the cent system is applied here for the intervals of the maqam-s  as follows:


 Ushaq (204, 204, 90, 204, 204, 90, 204)

 Nawa (204, 90, 204, 204, 204, 90, 204)

 Busalik (90, 204, 204, 90, 204, 204, 204)

 Rast (204,180, 114, 204, 180, 114, 204)

 Houssieni (180, 114, 204, 180, 228, 90, 204)

 Hejazi (180, 114, 204, 180, 204, 114, 204)

 Rahawi (180, 204, 114, 180, 114, 204, 204)

Zangulah (204, 180, 114, 180, 204, 114, 204)

Araq (180, 204, 114, 180, 204, 114, 180, 24)

Esfahan(180,204,114,204, 180, 114, 180, 24)

Zirafkand (204, 180, 114, 180, 204, 114, 204)

Bozorg(180,204, 114, 180, 24, 204, 180, 114)

There are six  avaz-s ( song) as following:

1- nowrouz, 2- salmak, 3-kurdania, 4-kawasht, 5- maye, 6-shahnaz, and twenty-four shu'ba (“sub-section”). 1- dugah, 2- segah, 3- chahargah, 4- panjgah, 5- ashira, 6- mahour, 7- nourouz -e arab, 8-nourouz -e khara, 9- bayati, 10- hesar, 11- nahouft, 12- uzal, 13- ouj, 14- nayriz, 15-mobarqa', 16- rakb, 17- saba, 18- homayoun, 19- zavouli, 20- esfahanak, 21- basteh nagar, 22- nehavand, 23- khuzi, 24- muhayer.



In the organological section of his Djami' al Alhan, he mentions forty-two instruments and describes about thirty-two of them. Geographically, they cover from China to Turkey and most of the Islamic lands of that time. However, he arranged them into three classes (chordophone, aerophone and ideophone)  whereas he neglected to remark the membronophones such as daf and duhul. Cohrdophones and aerophones are of two kinds: muqayedat (“simple-dependent”) and mutlaqat (“compound-independent”). Dependent refers to those  instruments that need something to make a sound. For instance, among the chordophones, kamancheh needs a bow and ud needs a plectrum. In aerophones, he mentions sefid nay and sornay as independent, and chepcheq (panpipe) and arghanun as dependent instruments. He defines the instrument according to their tuning systems.


1- chordophone (al-’alat- e zul’utar)

More than any other instruments, he mentions twenty-eight chordophones. He describes a tanbur with two strings which were tuned a fourth (3:4)  apart. This instrument has ten frets and produced a scale of one octave, proceeding by limma (90 cents), limma (90 cents), and comma (24 cents). He describes a tanbur of three strings which has seven frets and an ambitus of few notes more than one octave. Among two different ud-s, ud-e qadim and ud-e kamil (ancient lute and perfect lute), throughout his book,  he pays more attention to the ud-e Kamil. The range of this instrument is double octave plus a limma (90 cents). Both were played with a plectrum. They are tuned in perfect fourth. Tarab- al fath was a kind of ud with five or six single strings. It was tuned like ud-kamil. Shashtar is introduced in three different kinds: 1) a lute-like sound-chest with six strings in two or three with a fretted neck. 2) with a sound-chest half the size of the ud, with a double stringed and longer neck. 3) with thirty sympathetic strings which were tuned to the scale of instrument. Among the bowed instrument (majrurat), he mentions tanbur-e shervani and tanbur-e turkey, and nay-tanbur. Another bowed instruments are kamanche and gheczak. The sound-box of kamanche is made either from coconut shell or from wood. Those which are made from wood and apply silk for their strings sound better. The sound box of the gheczak is bigger than that of the  kamanche.

Chang has twenty-four single strings and sometimes thirty-five. The sound-box was covered by skin, on which a bridge stood to support the strings which passes over it. They are tuned in baqiah (half tune). Qanun with its trigonal (their recent form is trapezoidal ) shape had the same range as the chang and akri. Abdulqader does not mention the number of the strings, but he states that they were strung in threes.

The Saz-e dulab is described as a mechanical instrument in the shape of a drum. The free strings inside were contacted with a wheel resonator. The keys were outside, and by turning a handle they raised and lowered the pitches when the strings were touched [this instrument reminds one of a hurdy-gurdy].  Another mechanical instrument is saz-e murassa-e gha’ebi, which was not popular among the people.

Among the instruments that he mentions, a few belong to Khutay, the eastern part of China. One is the shederghu, a long-necked stringed instrument, where half of the belly of the sound box covered with skin or wood. It has four strings, three tuned like the ud and the fourth in conventional tuning. Abdulaqader indicates that the people of Khutay played the Iranian modes of ushaq, nava and busalik on this instrument. Beside, yatughan, a plucked instrument, the pipa was also played by the people of Khutay. It has four strings, the interval of the first and second was tuned in fourth. Similar tuning applied between the third and fourth string. Based on the recent researches on archeological material of Chines Turkestan (bas-relief, terra cotta), philology, literature and historical texts, Kishibe concludes that the origin of the pipa was Iran.

The shahrud is described as an arch-lute shaped with the twice length of the ud. It was mounted with five double strings. This instrument (or the tuning system for this instrument) was invented by Ibn ahwas [Abu Hafz-e Sughadi]. The complete list of chordophones are as followings:

  ud-e kamil, ud-e qadim, tarab al-fath, shishta, tarabrud, tanbour-e shervani, tanbur-e Mughuli, rouh afza, qopuz-e Rumi, ouzan, nay-tanbur, rubab, mughani, chang, akeri, qanun, kamanche, gheczak, yektay, turantay, saz-e dulab, saz-e ghaebi-e murassa, tuhfat-ul ud, shederghu, pipa, yatughan, shahrud, rudkhani.


2- Aerophones (zawat el- nafkh)

They are of two kinds: muqayedat, the simple reed or woodwind instruments such as nay; and mutlaqat, compound woodwind instruments, such as orghanun. Nay-e sefid has seven holes in the front and one in the back. By the force of the air stream one can produce two octaves (zil kul-e marratain). The length of the nay depended on the musician. Its length is generally between five to eight fist-hands. The smallest are used by children. The contemporary Iranian classical nay has five holes in the front and one in the back. A different instrument,  zamar-e siah nay is shorter than nay-e sefid, and its tone are more clear. The tones of the Surna is less clear than nay-e sefid, but it can create a range of an octave plus a pentachord. The nay-e chavoor is more common among the Turks, who play more in the mode of now ruz-e bayati and nava. The progression into different modes other than these is not common. The  Nafir is the longest among the wind instruments. It is about two meters (gaz), and whatever is longer it called burghu. If the lower part turns back upon itself, it is known as karnay.

The musiqar has different tubes and different lengths. The shorter produces higher pitch and the longer produces shorter pitch. Chebcheq is called the musiqar of Khutay people. Both are like panpipes. The nay-s are glued together, and their lengths are varied. Abdulqader refers to the arghanun as an European (farang) instrument. He considered them as a reed-pipes.  A pump of wind bellows the reed-pipes and creates sound. The list of aerophones he mentions follow:


nay-e sefid, zamar-e siah nay, surna, nay-e beleban, nay-e chavoor (nay-e javoor), nafir, burghu, musiqar, chepcheq, arghanun, nay-e anban. 


3- Ideophones (kassat, ...)


He mentions only three kinds of ideophone. Cups (tassat), instrument of bowls (saz-e kassat) and the slabs of metal or wood (alwah). Kassat are collections of bowls tuned to the varying amounts of water. “On this instrument”,  he confesses, “I heard from no one, but with the help of mighty God I assembled it.” Alwah are slabs of metal or wood like a xylophone hung by thread. The bigger slabs make lower sounds and the thinner slabs make higher sounds. He believes that these instruments can make a pleasant tone if they are made in China. In this classification, alwah remind the Gong family, and kassat the Indian Jalaterang.

The instrument tas perhaps might be different from what Curt Sachs mentions in his History of Musical Instruments. He indicates that, “The older one can be seen on a relief at Taq-I Bustan in Persia, carved about 600 A.D. and representing a drummer with a small shallow bowl drum which stands on the ground and is struck with one, or perhaps two, sticks. It may have been the tas mentioned in Persian texts of that time, as such as drum still exists in northern India under the name of tasa (Sachs 1940:250).

Abdolqader’s instrumentology first was introduced to West through the efforts of Dr. George Farmer in 1962. However, in his extracted translation, few words remained in ambiguity. For instance, Farmer wrote, “the yektay (sic! But possibly yektar)”, while later he is confronted with another instruments such as turantay (Farmer, “tarantay!”), burgwa (Farmer, “sic! usually termed the buru or buri”), karranay (Farmer, “sic! The modern karna”) and “kurga”. In Persian ta like tar as a suffix for the instruments means “string”. For example, yekta is the same as yektar (“monochord”), duta, dutar“double-chord instrument”, seta, setar “three-chord instruments”. Both karranay and karna refer to the same instrument. Burgwa is correct and not buru or buri. Perhaps this kind of mis-interpretation springs from the lack of vowel marks in the manuscript. Farmer indicates that, “Strangely enough the author includes the rubab among pandores (tanabir) which were long necked instruments.”  There are two kinds of  rubab-s, one played with bow, and another with a plectrum. This is why Abdulqader in his organology includes rubab among the tanbur-s family.


A'bd alqader ibn Ghaibi al Hafiz al Maraghi

1977    Maqased al Alhan. Edited by Taghi. Binesh. Tehran: Bongah Tarjomah Va Nashr-e Ketab.

1987    Djami' al Alhan. Edited by Taghi Binesh. Tehran: Cultural Studies and Research Institute.

1991    Shrh-I-Adwar Edited by Taghi Binesh. Tehran: Iran University Press.

Farmer, Henry G.

1962    “Abdalquader ibn Gaibi on Instruments of    Music,” Journal of the International Society for Oriental Research, Vol., 15.

Sachs, Curt

1940    The History of Musical Instruments. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.

M. Hajarian


Related article: CD > Anwar, on the foot steps of Abdol Ghader Maraghi



Note: This article was first published in "Iranian Music Newsletter" in 1997

About the Author: Born in Khoram-Abad, Iran, Mohsen Hajarian received his master of ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland at Baltimore County in 1995 and his doctor of philosophy in ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1999. Although Dr. Hajarian has an extensive background in the music of the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Arab world, his expertise lies in the areas of Iranian classical music and Iranian literature and history. His doctoral dissertation, "Ghazal as a Determining Factor on the Structures of the Iranian Dastgah," explains the formative influence of the Persian poetic form of ghazal on the music of Iranian dastgah, especially its vocal version. It explores the historical, political, and cultural context of Iran in the thirteenth century and onward. Dr. Hajarian has been the editor of the quarterly Iranian Musicology since 1999.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 June 2011 16:47