Iranian Jewish Culure
Morteza-Khan Nay-Davoud

Morteza-Khan Nay-Davoud


Iranian traditional music shall be indebted forever to the invaluable services of Morteza-Khan Nay-Davoud, a pioneering figure who stepped forward to save and enrich his art and gave it fresh new life. This sage of a song-writer was the de facto founder of an Iranian traditional music encyclopedia.

Morteza Nay-Davoud was born in 1900 C.E., 1279 of the Persian calendar, to an art-loving and artistic Jewish family of Tehran. His father Bala-Khan played “tombak”, the quintessential percussion instrument of Persian music, and many musicians of the time gathered regularly at his house. Thus, at a time in Iran when music was not seen as an art and musicians were hardly deemed as artists, Morteza grew up surrounded by those who were in love with music. At the age of seven, his talents were recognized by his father, who entrusted his child to Mirza Hossein-Gholi, one of the greatest and most renowned masters of the time. Too little to make the distance by himself, his father would accompany him on these short trips. When the master died, Morteza went on to study with his best student, Darvish-Khan. With Darvish-Khan, he completed the body of Persian musical material known as Radif. He learned the master’s lessons so affectionately that Darvish Khan opened up for him the doors to the entire nuances of his art. Darvish-Khan is himself remembered by posterity as one of the most renowned figures of music, whose lasting name shall shine for the revolution that he stirred in this art.

At the school of Darvish-Khan, the young Morteza earned the Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals, besides the Golden Tabar-Zin, i.e. the dervishes’ symbolic “axe”, which the master bestowed to his outstanding students. Before long, Darvish-Khan died, but Morteza, then in his 20’s, received a school permit from the Ministry of Culture and began to teach the late master’s students at the new Darvish School, thus named in his honor . Such artists as Ghamarol-Molouk Vaziri, Arsalan Dargahi and Molouk Zarrabi were taught at his school before they would enter the musical scene.

In 1940, Morteza-Khan Nay-Davoud began to collaborate with the newly established Iran Radio, and he continued working with this institution for the next 10 years, even as he taught at his school. In these broadcasts, he accompanied such artists as Hajavi, Ali-Akbar Shahnazi, Abol-Hassan Saba and Habib Samaei. He also composed songs based on the poetry of Maleko-Sho’ara Bahar, Rahi, and Pejman Bakhtiari, for such singers as Ghamarol-Molouk Vaziri, Molouk Zarrabi, Banan, Adib Khansari, Rouh-Angiz, and Javad Badie-Zadeh, all of whom he accompanied occasionally on tar, a Persian plucked instrument. He believed in the foundations of the Persian traditional music and its authentic performance; and he was strongly against attempts at mixing the Radifs of Persian music with the Western music.

In 1971, at the age of 71, the Ministry of Culture invited him to record on tape samples of the Iranian traditional music, i.e. the Radifs (organized sets or sequences) which mainly consist of the Dastgah-ha (the modes) and Goushe-ha (the tunes). Despite his age, he welcomed the invitation to preserve the vitality of the Iranian music. By the end of the project, he had recorded the musical Radifs in full on 297 tapes. He would first introduce the Dastgah and the Radif, then he would play his version of it. This de facto encyclopedia took about 18 months to be completed. At the end, the maestro refused to accept the payment offered to him for the job, as he considered it his duty and a service toward his country, to the Iranian culture, and to music. The collection has since become a reference source for scholars, and a precious treasure for the coming generations.

His memorable original works in part include the well-known songs Morgh-e Sahar (The Morning Bird), Mah-e Man, Shah-e Man (My Moon, My King), Morgh-e Hagh (The Bird of Truth, aka. The Owl), and Atash-e Del (The Flame of the Heart). Likely the best known of them, Morgh-e Sahar (The Morning Bird), was composed on a poem by Maleko-Sho’ara Bahar. His old lasting works also include An Introduction to Isfahan (a Persian mode), which was later adapted and orchestrated by Maestro Morteza Hannaneh, and was heard on the popular television series Hezar-Dastan, created by Ali Hatami.

For years, aside from music, Morteza-Khan Nay-Davoud had an electrical services and devices store on Ferdowsi Street. Awhile after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, however, he decided to emigrate from the country.

Morteza-Khan Nay-Davoud is a lasting name in the history of contemporary Iranian music. Throughout his prolific life, he was an example of a selfless person and took care of his fellow human beings. Not only he did not receive any financial gains from his school, he even helped his poor students. His concerts and other artistic programs were all offered to benefit charities and nonprofit causes.

Morteza-Khan Nay-Davoud married Mohtaram Afari in 1935. The couple brought two daughters and a son to the world. In summer 1990, the 9th of Mordad 1369 of the Persian calendar, after years of dedicated service to the Iranian culture, the maestro died in San Francisco, United States at the age of 90. May his name and his memory last forever.


Selected Titles by Maestro Morteza-Khan Nay-Davoud:

Shah-e Man, Mah-e Man (My Moon, My King) (Song), a.k.a. Hezar-Dastan

 An instrumental version of this song was adapted and orchestrated by Morteza Hannaneh and was heard as the title music of the 1980’s TV series, Hezar-Dastan.

Introduction to Mahour (Instrumental)

Systematic Organization of the Radifs of 300 Goushe-ha (tunes) of Persian Traditional Music

Morgh-e Hagh (The Bird of Truth, aka. The Owl) (Song)

Atash-e Del (The Flame of the Heart) (Song)

Morgh-e Sahar, (The Morning Bird)



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