Qanun Persian Zither

Qanun the Persian Zither

by Peyman Nasehpour

Abstract. In the contemporary music of Persia, Persian qanun is played by some Iranian musicians, though it was forgotten for a while till Rahim Qanuni (1875 - 1945) played it again. This is a brief introduction to Persian qanun.

Introduction. The "qanun" (also spelled as "ghanun") is a Persian zither. Throughout history, several kinds of zithers such as the "nozhat نزهت" (a rectangular psaltery invented by Safi al-Din Ormavi), the "qanun قانون", and the "santoor سنتور" have been used in Persian music. Today, the Persian qanun is a flat trapezoidal wooden box, with twenty-four sets of strings in triple fastened at its rectangular side on one end and to pegs on the oblique side on the other. To make slight changes in pitch, the player manipulates small levels lying below each course of strings. The strings are plucked with at least two horn plectra, one on each index finger. It is less popular than the santoor in Persian classical music.

A lexical discussion of the word "qanun". The word "qanun قانون" has several meanings in Persian including law, ordinance, and rule. In this sense, many authors and poets have used the word "qanun" in their writings and poems. However, the "qanun" in the sense of a musical instrument has been also mentioned in the works of Persian poets. For example, Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209) says:

قانون مغنیان بغداد     بیاع معاملان فریاد  

In a treatise on music, entitled "Kanz al-Tohaf" written by Hassan Kashani, the construction of some Persian musical instruments including the "qanun" has been illustrated.

In one of his verses, Hafiz (1325 - 1390) says:

خدا را محتسب ما را به فریادِ دف و نی بخش

که سازِ شرع از این افسانه بی‌قانون نخواهد شد

And this can be translated as follows:

O Muhtasib! for God's sake, pardon us for the clamor of the daf and the ney

For, with this idle tale without the qanun, the requirements of the shar' [= religious law] will not be.

Rumi (1207 - 1273) also mentioned the "qanun" in the sense of a musical instrument in his works. See, for example, the following one:

چنگ و قانون جهان را تارهاست     ناله هر تار در فرمان تو

Vahshi Bafqi (1532 - 1583) includes the musical instrument "qanun" in his works repeatedly. For example, in one of his verses, he says:

نواسازان نوا کردند آهنگ     سخن در پرده قانون گفت با چنگ

Saib Tabrizi (1592 - 1676), in Persian "صائب تبریزی", includes the musical instrument "qanun" in his poems several times. For example, Saib mentions the chang (harp), the oud (lute), the barbat (lute), and the qanun in the following verse:

چنگ و عود و بربط و قانون مکرر گشته است     نغمه از مرغان سیر آهنگ می‌باید کشید

The contemporary qanun players in Iran

Though, as explained above, the qanun has been used in Persian music since ancient times, we do not know when it was forgotten. The first known contemporary qanun player in Persia is Rahim Qanuni (1875 - 1945) and for this reason, I bring his short biography in the following:

"Rahim Qanuni رحیم قانونی" was born to a Jewish family in 1875, in Shiraz, Persia.  When he was 15 years old, with his father Ebrahim, he traveled to Beirut, Syria, and Egypt. In Syria, he saw the qanun and decided to learn it. He brought his qanun to Persia in c. 1893, performed Persian music pieces on the qanun, and gave a new life to the Persian style qanun. He trained a couple of students and among them, his son "Jalal Qanuni جلال قانونی" was a popular qanun player in Tehran. Later, Jalal moved to Shiraz and stayed there for the rest of his life.

The other contemporary qanun players are Ali Akbar Sodeif (a student of Jalal Qanuni), Mehdi Meftah (a student of Abolhassan Saba), Simin Agha Razi (a student of Meftah), Maliheh Saeedi (a student of Meftah), and Parichehr Khajeh (a student of Maliheh Saeedi).

Appendix. The qanun is quite popular in Arab-speaking countries, Greece (with the local name kanonaki) and Turkey (with the local name kanun). It is also used in Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Kurdish music. A kind of small qanun with the local name "qalun قالون" is popular in Uyghuristan.


[KH]: Ruhollah Khaleghi, Sargozasht-e-Musighi-ye-Iran, Tehran, 1974.

[M]: Hassan Mashhoun, Tarikh-e-Musighi-ye-Iran, Tehran, 1994.

[S]: Mehdi Setayeshgar, Vazhe-Name-ye-Musighi-ye-Iran Zamin, Tehran, Vol. I (1995) & Vol. II (1996).

[T]: Gen'ichi Tsuge. Musical Instruments Described in a Fourteenth-Century Persian Treatise "Kanz al-Tuḥaf". The Galpin Society Journal (2013): 165-259.

Keywords. qanun, qanoon, ghanun, ghanoon, zither, Persian, Iranian.

Also, check Santoor Persian Hammered Dulcimer.

Qanun the Persian Zither

Qanun the Persian Zither