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Seemorgh and Zaal
Seemorgh and Zaal, 16th century Persian miniature





Instrumentation: 3(Picc.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.)-4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp., Perc., Cel., Hp., Str
Duration: 22 minutes
Commission Information: Written on a grant from the New Jersey Council on the Arts.
Premiere Information: Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, conductor; Long Beach, CA; March 27, 1993
Additional Information: part of Persian Trilogy
Recording: recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra on a Delos CD titled "Persian Trilogy", conducted by JoAnn Falletta
Score and parts: Available from Presser Rental Library
Preview and Purchase Score: Seemorgh
I. The Mountain (6")
                     II. The Moonlight (8:30)
                     III. The Sunrise (7:45)


Persian Trilogy
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About Seemorgh:



Seemorgh is the first work I composed in my Persian Trilogy. All three orchestral works in the Persian Trilogy were inspired by the stories of the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), the national epic poem of Persia/Iran. The Shahnameh was written by the poet Ferdowsi (c. 940-1020), recounting the mythological and legendary history of the country from the creation of the world up to Persia’s conquest by the Arab conquerors, who brought with them the new religion of Islam in the 7th Century. The main hero of the poem is Rostam, who spends much of his life fighting on behalf of the Persian kings, often saving them from situations in which their own pride and foolishness have entangled them.

Seemorgh is one of the most colorful and fascinating stories in Shahnameh. In the poem, a mighty warrior named Saam (Rostam’s grandfather), abandons his newborn son at Mount Alborz in fear of an evil curse. Zaal (Rostam’s father) was born with hair as white as an old man. The baby Zaal was found by a fabulous magical bird, the Seemorgh, who carries him in her enormous claws to her nest on the highest point of Mount Alborz. Seemorgh, through divine guidance, understands she is to become his guardian and raise him as one of her fledglings.

    Over the years Saam overcomes his fear and seeks his son, and with the help of the Great Cosmic Creator, he finds him. When it is time for Zaal to leave, Seemorgh cautions him of the evil ways of the world. It is then that Seemorgh plucks one of her multicolored feathers and gives it to Zaal telling him to stroke it when he needs help, and in a magic moment she will appear. From this time on, Zaal and his family, including his son Rostam, live under the protection of the magical Seemorgh.

    The three movements of Seemorgh are inspired by the three natural elements of the legend of Seemorgh: the mountain, the moonlight, and the sunrise, respectively. Having spent many days and nights on Mount Alborz in my formative years, I have developed a special affinity for the natural setting of the story. It is hard not to be inspired by the splendid images of young Zaal’s encounters with the gigantic Seemorgh and her fledglings under the moonlight at the peak of the mountain. The sight of the long, white-haired Zaal riding on the fabulously colorful Seemorgh, circling the mountain at sunrise, must have been thrilling! One only hopes that at the climaxes of each movement, the spirit of Seemorgh is invoked.

I. The Mountain      
    The horn section at the beginning of the piece is the harmonic and melodic basis of the piece. The close relationship between the outer movements creates an arch form in which the center movement carries the main emotional weight and is the focal point of the piece. In the first movement, the opening theme is varied continuously with changing textures and mixed meters. The unsettling character of the first movement, upon reaching a big climax towards the end of the movement, changes to an intimate and expressive adagio. A solo clarinet passage evokes the sound of Nây, a Persian traditional Shepherd flute. The muted trumpets restate a fragment of the opening horn theme, thus bringing a symmetrical balance to both ends of the movement.
II. The Moonlight     
    The second movement, The Moonlight, begins with a falling four-note motive, followed by the principal theme played by violins. An imitative section based on the four-note motive brings the movement to a massive climax in which it pronounces the principal theme. An expressive rendition of the four-note motive by the violins, immediately following a brief quotation of the first movement, brings the movement to a gentle ending.
III. The Sunrise       

    In the final movement, The Sunrise, the main theme is based on the opening theme of the first movement. The movement begins with a hush of drums in which it gradually builds up with the thematic fragments to a heroic statement of the main theme by the horns. In fact this heroic statement is juxtaposed with the mysterious and introverted nature of the opening of the first movement. A three-bar rhythmic pattern, introduced in the first movement, brings this movement to a massive climax. It gradually dies down to a soft section, reminiscent of the second movement. From this point onward, the rhythmic pattern repeats every three bars to the end. The use of this rhythmic pattern is similar to isorhythms of the middle ages. The final repetition of the rhythmic pattern by the whole orchestra brings this exciting and virtuosic movement to a euphoric end.

    Seemorgh was written on a grant from the New Jersey Council on the Arts and was premiered on March 27, 1993 by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, conductor. The score of Seemorgh is dedicated to my wife, Rita Melikian.




"...evocative three-movement piece…lush exoticism."

-Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide

"…The music is unmistakably graphic in its appeal. Dark, threatening, driving, splashy and brilliant… thoroughly accomplished…"

-Timothy Mangan, Los Angeles Times

"…sinuous melodic lines nestled in lush harmonies…extroverted and action packed, building to an epic scale."

Ronni Reich, The Star-Ledger (New Jersey)





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