Mahmoud Zoufonoun (Zolfonoun)
Mahmoud Zoufonoun was born in 1920 in Abadeh, in the province of Fars, the second son of Habib Zoufonoun, who was a well-known builder of the tar. His love affair with music commenced at age five, when he began imitating his father's tar playing and taking lessons from him. At age twelve, he heard someone playing the violin and became enamored with this instrument. Unable to obtain an instrument of his own, the young Mahmoud used his knowledge and talent for fine woodworking to build his own violin.
In 1936 he decided to seek a violin teacher in order to refine his technique. Zoufonoun met Hosseinali Vaziri-Tabar, who encouraged him to move to Tehran to continue his violin studies under the tutelage of Rouben Gregorian. He also attended Abolhassan Saba’s studio for a short time. At the same time he attended the solfège and theory classes at the Tehran Conservatory, studying with Youssef Youssef-Zadeh
and Ahmad Foroutan Rad.
In 1944 Zoufonoun began an affiliation with Rouhollah Khaleghi that lasted until the latter’s untimely death in 1965. Zoufonoun played in the National Music Society Orchestra, various orchestras at the Radio Iran, and eventually the Golha Orchestra. He was one of the first musicians to be invited by Khaleghi to teach at the School of National Music. A dedicated teacher of music throughout his life, Zoufonoun also taught at a variety of prestigious institutions, such as the evening classes of the Conservatory of Music for adults, the Institute for the Arts, the University of Tehran, and the Danesh Sara-ye Honar.
Zoufonoun’s interest in Persian folk music goes back to his early days in Shiraz. At that time he began a life-long project of collecting and transcribing the folk tunes and melodies played by street musicians. When he met Gregorian, he provided him with some of the songs from his collection, which Gregorian arranged and later published. Zoufonoun has continued this monumental task and hopes to complete and publish in the near future a compilation of thousands of tunes from different regions of Persia.
Following his retirement in 1976 from the National Radio and Television, Mahmoud and his family immigrated to the United States, eventually settling in San Jose, California. Since then he has continued to teach, compose, record, and perform traditional Persian music. In 1979, he joined forces with Fereydoun Nasseri to establish the Somaee Orchestra, an ensemble of specialists in Persian traditional instruments dedicated to arranging and performing the works of the old masters. Zoufonoun’s most recent recording, Naqd-e Sufi, is a collection of compositions written on the lyrics of the Persian master poets. Arguably, it is the most complete and innovative musical exploration of the mode of rastpanjgah.
As the years have passed, Mahmoud Zoufonoun has dedicated himself increasingly to his family, instrument making, composition, scholarly research, and teaching. Through his calm, optimistic, and extraordinarily humble temperament and his wit, he has made a lasting impression on all who have come to know him. Revered as a violinist as well as a composer, arranger, and theoretician of Persian classical music, Mahmoud Zoufonoun has gained the love of thousands of students and lovers of Persian music, and his home has become a pilgrimage destination for the younger generation musicians.