Monday, February 20, 2006


In harmony with rebirth of nature, the Persian New Year, Norooz, always begins on the first day of Spring, March 21st of each year. Norooz ceremonies are symbolic representations of two ancient concepts: End and Rebirth, light and darkness, Good and Evil. A few weeks before the New Year, Iranians clean and rearrange their homes. They make new clothes, bake pastries and germinate seeds as sign of renewal.

But the celebrations start on the last Wednesday Eve of the old year, and ends on 13th day of the new year (April 2nd.)

On last-Wednesday-eve of the year (Chahar Shanbeh Soori = Rouge Wednesday Eve,) bonfires are lit in public places and people leap over the flames shouting: May your beautiful red colour be mine, and my sickly pallor be yours! With the help of fire and light symbols of good, people hope to see their ways through the unlucky night, into the arrival of Spring’s longer days.

The new year is not supposed to start at mid night every year, but it is rather calculated precisely on the basis of Omar-Khayyam calendar, measured 365 days, 6 hours and fractions from last Norooz. So it may happen in the morning, afternoon, or evening.

Minutes before the clock strikes New Year, all the members of the family in their clean and new outfits gather around the Norooz table called Haft-Seen, which means seven articles the names of which start with the Persian letter seen (=s.) These are (1)Sabzeh or sprouts, usually wheat or lentil representing fertility and rebirth; (2)Samanu, a pudding in which common wheat sprouts are transformed and given new life as a sweet, creamy pudding and represents the ultimate sophistication of Persian cooking; (3)Seeb which means apple and represents health and beauty; (4)Senjed, the sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree representing love. It has been said that when a lotus tree is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love and become oblivious to all else; (5)Seer which means garlic in Persian, and represents medicine; (6)Somaq or sumac berries, representing the colour of sunrise when the sun appears and Good conquers Evil; and (7)Serkeh or vinegar, which represents age and patience.

The family begins the New Year with a prayer for health, happiness and prosperity. After the initial celebration to welcome the New Year, the members of the family hug and kiss each other, eat the bounties prepared for the New Year and wish each other the best. Then all family members present the New Year's gift to each other.

The two-week-long Norooz celebrations end with 13-Be-Dar, which is the process of getting over with or passing over the thirteenth day of the New Year. This day is usually celebrated outdoor in a picnic style.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fikret Amirov

Fikret Meshedi Jamil oglu Amirov, great Azerbaijani musician, was born on November 22nd, 1922, in Ganja, Russia. He was a prominent Azerbaijani composer. His music perhaps has been heard outside of Azerbaijan more than that of any other Azerbaijani composer.

Fikret Amirov grew up in an atmosphere of folk music. His father, Meshedi Jamil Amirov, was a famous singer from Shusha, who composed and played tar.

During his childhood and early adolescence, Fikret began composing pieces for the piano. After graduating from Ganja Music College, Fikret entered Baku State Conservatory. But when World War II broke out in 1941, Amirov, who was only 19 at the time, was drafted, and his studies at the Conservatory interrupted. He was wounded and hospitalized and then demobilized from the military service and returned to Baku to continue his studies at the Conservatory.

Amirov's music was strongly influenced by Azeri folk melodies. His symphonic music were performed by many renowned symphony orchestras throughout the world, such as Houston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

Amirov was a prolific composer. His most famous pieces include symphonic works such as "Shur" (1946), "Kurd Afshari" (1949), "Azerbaijan Capriccio" (1961), and "Gulustan Bayati-Shiraz" (1968.) His ballets include "Nizami" (1947) and "1,001 Nights," which premiered in 1979. Amirov wrote the opera "Sevil" in 1953. He also wrote a number of pieces for the piano including "Ballad," "Ashug's Song," "Nocturne," "Humoreska," "Lyrical Dance," "Waltz," "Lullaby" and "Toccata." He also wrote numerous film scores.

Amirov was honoured as People's Artist of the USSR (1965) and awarded the USSR State Prize (1949, 1980). Fikret Amirov died on February 20th, 1984, in Baku.

Happy Valentine's Day

Every February, across the world, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday?

The history of Valentine's Day - and its patron saint - is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men, his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Monday, February 13, 2006


Today is the 196th anniversary of Chopin’s birthday.

Frédéric François Chopin (1810-1849), Polish composer and pianist (often called The Poet of the Piano) of the romantic school, is regarded by some as the greatest of all composers of music for the piano.

Born Fryderyk Chopin in Żelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, of a French father and a Polish mother, he preferred to use the French name Frédéric. He began to study the piano at the age of four, and when he was eight years old he played at a private concert in Warsaw. Later he studied harmony and counterpoint at the Warsaw Conservatory. Chopin was also precocious as a composer: His first published composition is dated 1817. He gave his first concerts as a piano virtuoso in 1829 in Vienna, where he lived for the next two years. After 1831, except for brief absences, Chopin lived in Paris, where he became noted as a pianist, teacher, and composer. He formed an intimate relationship in 1837 with French writer George Sand (Lucile Dupin). In 1838 Chopin began to suffer from tuberculosis and Sand nursed him in Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands, and in France until continued differences between the two resulted in an estrangement in 1847. Thereafter his musical activity was limited to giving several concerts in 1848 in France, Scotland, and England. He died in Paris of tuberculosis.

Nearly all of Chopin's compositions are for piano. Although an expatriate, he was deeply loyal to his war-torn homeland; his mazurkas reflect the rhythms and melodic traits of Polish folk music, and his polonaises are marked by a heroic spirit. Italian opera composer Vincenzo Bellini also influenced his melodies. His ballades, scherzos, and études exemplify his large-scale works for solo piano. His music, romantic and lyrical in nature, is characterized by exquisite melody of great originality, refined—often adventurous—harmony, subtle rhythm, and poetic beauty. Chopin greatly influenced other composers, notably the Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt, German composer Richard Wagner, and French composer Claude Debussy. Chopin's many published compositions include 55 mazurkas, 27 études, 24 preludes, 19 nocturnes, 13 polonaises, and 3 piano sonatas. Among his other works are the Concertos in E minor and in F minor, both for piano and orchestra, the cello sonata, and 17 songs.

Click here for scores of a few of works by Chopin.
Click here to listen to his music.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

A. Hossein

In the history of human culture, Persian artists and scientists have a great share. Aminollah Andre Hossein is one of these Persians.

Hossein was born in 1905 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan (then part of Soviet Union), in a rich family of Persian descent who had emigrated from Iran. The first pieces of music Aminollah heard were vocals of the Persian master singers his mother often played on gramophone.

Soon the family moved to Moscow, looking for better educational opportunities for young Aminollah. There they experienced the Bolshevik Revolution of Russia in 1917. Aminollah was sent to Germany to finish high school and enter the medicine school. But variabilis fortuna (=ever changing fortune, from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff) made the young music lover move to Paris to study music, although he took precious lessons in piano and composition from the great German musician Artur Schnabel during high school years. It seems his father, disappointed from having a physician in family, stopped financial support after that, because he often suffered financially after entering France. “After the world premiere of Symphony Persepolis which was highly appreciated by the French audiences, on my way walking home, I did not have a penny in my pocket to have supper,” told me the maestro years after that in 1977. Matter of factly, the only source of income for Aminollah was movie music. Later in 1970s he composed original music for almost all of the pictures his son Robert Hossein directed.

Hossein was the first Persian to graduate from Conservatoire de Paris. His music is full of Persian melodies. Despite the fact he lived in Iran not more than 7 days, he loved Iran, and Persian culture. He spoke Persian fair well, and wrote it perfect. He even used Persian tonalities in most of his works. Two great symphonies “Persepolis” and “Aria” are amongst the best in twentieth century. Orchestral works such as “Persian Miniatures” and “Sheherazade Suite” were composed in 1975, and were then combined and added to more orchestral pieces to form “Sheherazade Ballet”, later performed At Tehran Roudaki Hall in 1977, when he traveled to Iran for the first and last time.

Aminollah Hossein played the Persian instrument Tar professionally, and composed four short pieces for it; two “Persian Rhapsodies” for Tar and Tombak in Persian tonalities, “Zarathustra’s Prayers”, and “I Love You My Country” for solo Tar.

Hossein’s music for solo instruments other than Tar, is limited to short piano pieces based on the poems by Omar Khayyam. And of course three superb piano concertos are brilliant works for his main beloved instrument, piano, and orchestra. Most of Hossein’s works were recorded in 1970s by the best recording companies of the time such as Philips.

Aminollah Andre Hossein died in 1983 in Paris.
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