The Art ofTanbur

The Music of Ostad Elahi

Ostad Elahi

Ostad Elahi (1895–1974) was a master musician, thinker, and jurist whose transformative work in the art of tanbur—an ancient, long-necked lute—paralleled his innovative approach to the quest for truth and self-knowledge.

It was very sensitive, very powerful music, and at the same time very precise and pure. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, its refined power, exactly like some sort of laser. . . .

Yehudi Menuhin

Master Violinist and Conductor

He played music . . . and I cannot convey through words what I lived or experienced . . . this encounter induced a great change in my life, in my existence, and in my thought.

Maurice Béjart

Dancer and Choreographer

I heard the tanbur of a great spiritual man who had achieved perfection in this art. His music so overwhelmed me that I felt as though I no longer belonged to this world . . .

Musa Ma’rufi

Tar Master and Musicologist

What is paradoxical about Ostad Elahi's music is that on the one hand it is continuous, not allowing for periods of silence, and yet the effect is to create a great silence within oneself.

Theodore Levin

Professor of Music, Dartmouth

This music beautifully represents the dynamic interface between order and chaos, between light and dark . . . to have all these components in a composition really represents the apex of creativity and human consciousness.

Jay L. Lombard

Neurologist and Author

He basically believed something from which the music flowed, and that . . . way of approaching music . . . is fantastic.

Christopher Theofanidis

Conductor and Composer

Ostad Elahi's approach to music corresponds to one of those events whose existence one may legitimately suppose in the history of Eastern music but which nonetheless remains difficult to locate in the past.

Jean During

Ethnomusicologist, CNRS



Tanbur is a term used to describe long-necked lutes of all sizes. It has existed in antiquated forms since the third millennium b.c., and has been utilized for both secular and sacred music. Ostad Elahi revolutionized the tanbur by introducing significant modifications to the instrument and its playing technique, while greatly elevating and expanding its repertoire.