Close encounters of the musical kind: Persian vignettes in seventeenth-century european travel writings

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Seventeenth-century european visitors to Safavid Persia encountered, and at times participated in, music making during their Persian peripatetics, and their testimonies populate the numerous travelogues published in europe in the after-math of their journeys. Many of these visitors approached the sound and sights they encountered from an experiential angle and, in most cases, were apparently determined to gather empirical knowledge and describe what they witnessed ac-curately. Some of them seem to have observed, noted, and published their ob-servations at times in versions faithful to their original experiences, and at other times in forms altered for reasons of self-or outside censorship. While the sense of exotic or the antiquarian penchant often mark their reactions to the sounds, objects, and cultural contexts of musical events they record, there is also an in-clination to appreciate difference and often to forgo any overt projection of cultural superiority on their part. The musical vignettes chosen from primarily from the writings of Don García de Silva y Figueroa, raphaël du Mans, and Adam Olearius, while they yield organological and performative details that capture glimpses of the Safavid musical world through the eyes of europeans, stand wit-ness to the wide variety of musical phenomena different travelers found interest-ing, the musical shapes, materials, sounds, and performances that seized their at-tention, and also determined both the level of their ethnographic engagement and the preferred modes of processing their field-data for the benefit of their readers. Moreover, these vignettes demonstrate that many of these writings are documenting not only the Persian musical traditions and perceptions of european music, but also certain noteworthy aspects of european musical practices overlooked by other contemporaneous documentation. ultimately, this essay suggests that seventeenth-century travel writing on Persia embodies the episte-mological intersection of two musical worlds or roughly commensurate sophis-tication if not always cross-cultural appeal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-105
Number of pages29
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© SISMEL-Edizioni del Galluzzo 2021.


  • Europa
  • Musical vignettes
  • Persia
  • Seventeenth century
  • Travel writings


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