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The modern sociopolitical structure of Iranian music during the Reza Shah period

In this section we shall review the formation of modern institutions for Iranian music during the Reza Shah period. It must be noted that the phrase “during the Reza Shah period” is not limited to the period of his reign, but includes the period of his premiership, beginning from October 26, 1923 as well. Indeed, here we shall examine the foundation of modern musical institutions in imitation of the Western world. Some of these modern institutions were created by the intervention of the government, a process I refer to as governmental modernization. Other institutions were established through the efforts of the middle class, which I call non-governmental modernization (modernsazi-ye gheyr-e hokumati).

Non-governmental modernization

Prior to being implemented through governmental policies, musical modernization was initiated by the middle class and took place in two forms: teaching music, and the advent and expansion of gramophone records. It was also sparked by a musician named ‘Alinaqi Vaziri, who re-opened Tehran’s open school of music (Madraseh-ye ‘Ali-ye Musiqi) in 1924. This non-regular school was the first educational institution where both Iranian and European classical music were taught. A study of Vaziri’s life and thoughts shows that he was a product of the same ideas that played a crucial role in putting

Reza Shah in power and in explaining the shah’s cultural policies during his reign.

‘Alinaqi Vaziri’s life (1886-1979) can be divided into two periods: before visiting Europe and after visiting Europe. He began to learn techniques of playing tar with his maternal uncle when he was 15 years old. He was a trainee of some of the abovementioned celebrated tar players of that period, including Aqa Hoseynqoli and Darvish Khan.20 At the age of 17 he joined the military service. His presence in the army proved quite fruitful as during this time he became further acquainted with European classical music. While learning violin and piano, he was introduced to European classical-music notation with the help of an army officer, which was followed by a deeper learning of European classical-music theory with a French priest in Tehran.21

One of his important musical activities prior to travelling to Europe was the transcription of the Iranian musical repertoire on the basis of performances by Mirza ‘Abdollah.22 In addition to his musical activities, he was a political activist in the real sense of the word. He was in charge of the military committee of the Iranian Social-Democratic Party (Hezb-e Ejtema‘iyun-e ‘Ammiyun) during the post-Constitutional Revolution period.23 ‘Alinaqi Vaziri left the army in 1918 and went to Paris to continue his studies in music, theatre, and aesthetics. He then moved to Berlin to complete his studies. The years of ‘Alinaqi Vaziri’s stay in Berlin deserve a deeper consideration, as it was during this same period that he established connections with certain Iranian cultural and political activists residing in Berlin and became deeply influenced by ideas that provided the impetus for the majority of cultural policies of the Reza Shah period. Hoseyn Kazemzadeh was the editor and publisher of the monthly magazine Iranshahr in Berlin during those years. Kazemzadeh had also founded a literary society where the main topics discussed included different aspects of politics and culture. ‘Alinaqi Vaziri established and maintained close relations with Kazemzadeh and his magazine during his stay in Berlin.24 Published from 1922 until 1927, Iranshahr was one of the magazines that promulgated the demands of the Tajaddod (Modernity) political party.25 Recruiting its members mainly from among young people educated in the West, the party was the main supporter of Reza Shah in his efforts to seize power, and most of its members such as ‘Ali Akbar Davar, ‘Abd al-Hoseyn Teymurtash, and ‘Ali Forughi became major political figures during his reign. The subjects dealt with in Iranshahr, which had a relatively considerable influence in Iran and was distributed in 40 towns, can be categorized as follows:

Of the total of 236 articles published in the journal, 73 stressed the importance of public and secular education, 45 emphasized the need to improve the status of women, 30 described - in favorable terms - pre-Islamic Iran, and 40 discussed aspects of modern technology and Western philosophy.26

Most of the ideas discussed in these articles were actually realized during the reign of Reza Shah. In addition, two other articles appeared in Iranshahr

during ‘Alinaqi Vaziri’s stay in Berlin that specifically touched on Iranian art and music. One article, entitled “Sanaye‘-e Zarifeh” and addressing different aesthetic aspects of the art and the artist, was written by ‘Alinaqi Vaziri himself.27 The second article, entitled “Music and Theatre in Iran,” was written by Morteza Moshfeq Kazemi, a student of sociology in Berlin, the contents of which indicate the opinions of Iranian music ‘Alinaqi Vaziri had been exposed to while in Berlin and provide a background for the musical modernization campaign he launched upon return to Iran. In parts of the article, the author introduces Iranian music as a saddening and boring music:

When a group of Iranians reside for a while in Europe and gradually acquaint themselves with different aspects of European life, individually, they acquire certain information consistent with their approach and taste. If allowed, today, I am willing to give a description of European and Iranian theatre based on a comparison of the same. ... Iran has destroyed her soul with her ruinous music, aimed at nothing but laziness. Music composed after having a pipe-full opium and some bottles of spirit, cannot think of arranging opera. . Having seen and heard several European operas and indeclinable music, I already dare to state my hatred towards the contemporary Iranian music. It is unfair to call it music when it brings nothing but crying and dozing for this sorrowful nation. . What should one say when Europeans, including the Germans, upon hearing the contemporary Iranian music verify that it is something defective, monotonous, and boring.28

In another part of the article, the author complains of the impotence of Iranian music to raise national feelings and create such excitements:

So far, the Iranian music has not arranged an exciting national anthem for us. If Iranians listen to the famous German hymn (Germany! Germany! Above all!) as a sample anthem reflecting the Germans’ national pride and self-importance, they will understand the real meaning of music.29

In still another part of the article the author equates musical literacy with knowledge of Western music, referring to Iranian musicians as a number of musically illiterate performers:

With the exception of few Iranian musicians having completed their studies in Europe or at least in Tehran school of music (military music school), all contemporary Iranian musicians are far away from a real knowledge of music and cannot be changed for the better by way of encouragement because they know nothing of the principles of composing musical pieces.30

From this intellectual context, which pushed for modernization in all aspects of social and cultural life in Iranian society, including music, ‘Alinaqi Vaziri returned to Iran and in the winter of 1924 - a few months after the appointment of Reza Shah as the prime minister - took the initial steps towards establishing his own school named Madreseh-ye ‘Ali-ye Musiqi in Tehran. In the same year, he established a musical society called the “Musical Club” (Klup-e Muzikal); most of the intellectuals and men of letters applied for membership. In addition to the performance of music by the orchestra of the musical school, in this musical club ‘Alinaqi Vaziri began to explain and elaborate on his ideas concerning art and music as well. A study of Vaziri’s lectures shows that he was under the influence of an intellectual trend that was supporting modernization in the form of opening Iranian society to the Western world. On the necessity of modernization in Iranian music, ‘Alinaqi Vaziri suggests:

In aesthetics (art) as a whole, change is a factor of progress. If change doesn’t take place, art becomes stagnant. Old people used to say: art imitates actual life, and takes it as an example. If this logic is considered as a principle and with a view to the changes taken place during the recent decade, our music has to go through a complete phase of change.31

In a lecture delivered in 1924, ‘Alinaqi Vaziri describes the situation of Iranian music prior to the establishment of the musical school as follows:

Contemporary music consists of a series of shoddy musical compositions used as pishdaramad, tasnif,32 and reng (dance tunes). Song was already referred to as a kind of mourning. That’s why our music has been restricted to the repetition of memoirs of misery plus a section of reng and tasnif, which is absolutely sensual and leads to nothing but immorality ... Iranian music is founded on a very strong and extensive basis. However, as an inexpert mason will construct a very bad building despite using high-quality construction materials, the edifice of Iranian music during the recent decades, too, has been built by inexpert musicians. Why? The reason is that we couldn’t find expert and educated musical masters - particularly in most recent centuries that the world was taking huge strides along the path of progress - who could make the utmost use of such firm foundation and high-quality construction materials.33

‘Alinaqi Vaziri and Morteza Moshfeq Kazemi, the author of “Music and Theatre in Iran,” are of the same opinion in most cases. ‘Alinaqi Vaziri, too, believes that parts of Iranian music are saddening and detrimental to the human soul and morality; he considers the Iranian musician as an illiterate person because of his non-familiarity with Western music. In contrast to Morteza Moshfeq Kazemi, however, ‘Alinaqi Vaziri believes that Iranian music has a sound foundation. He embarked on modernizing Iranian music through the establishment of his music school, following his belief in the necessity of introducing changes in it. He began to teach Iranian music from his own perspective, which challenged prevailing standpoints in Iranian music of the day. The most significant change sought by ‘Alinaqi Vaziri was to harmonize Iranian music. The main problem here was the existence of rob‘-e pardeh (a quarter note) in Iranian music. ‘Alinaqi Vaziri managed to realize his objective by introducing a 24-part chromatic scale.34 But the scale did not conform to a number of intervals in Iranian music. With the intention of reinforcing the orchestral performance of Iranian music, in addition to his efforts towards solving the problem of harmony, he proceeded to invent a number of new instruments as well, such as soprano tar, tuned a fifth above tar; alto tar, which tuned a quarter lower than the ordinary tar; and bass tar, which together with the ordinary tar formed a tar quartet.35 Indeed, ‘Alinaqi Vaziri’s innovations in all aspects of Iranian music including teaching, methods of playing, singing, and composing were oriented towards European classical music.

Such innovations by Vaziri faced reactions from traditionalist musicians. The most important criticism came from ‘Aref Qazvini, the celebrated poet and composer of tasnif during the late Qajar period and the first decades of the Pahlavi period, in the form of a letter addressed to ‘Alinaqi Vaziri, published in Nahid magazine on July 18, 1925.36

Popularization of the gramophone record was another aspect of nongovernmental modernization during the reign of Reza Shah. In fact, the emerging middle class in Iran prepared the grounds for the resumption of activity by gramophone record-producing companies in Iran. Gramophone recording developed during the Reza Shah period as follows:37

  • 1926: Recording by the Gramophone Company in Tehran, under the label of “His Master’s Voice.”
  • 1927: Recording by the “Polyphon” and “Odeon” companies in Tehran. 1928: Recording by the “Gramophone” (labelled “His Master’s Voice”), “Columbia,” and “Pathe” companies in Tehran.
  • 1929: Recording by the Gramophone Company (labelled “His Master’s Voice”) for two rounds, and the “Polyphon” Company for one round in Tehran. 1930: Recording by the “Baidaphon” Company in Tehran.
  • 1932: Recording by the “Parlophon” Company in Tehran.
  • 1933: The final recordings in Iran before World War II by the Gramophone Company under the label of “His Master’s Voice” and the Columbia Company in Tehran.
  • 1936: Recording of a number of Iranian musical works in Aleppo and Beirut by the Sodwa Company.
  • 1937: Recording of a number of Iranian musical works in Berlin by the Odeon Company.
  • 1939: Recording of a number of Iranian musical works in Aleppo by the Sodwa Company and in Baghdad by the Neayemrecord Company.

The expansion of gramophone-record production in Iranian society during the reign of Reza Shah can be classified as non-governmental because it was not instigated by the Iranian government. However, the grounds had been prepared indirectly by the government for the popularization of gramophone records. In fact, the willingness of foreign companies to produce gramophone records in Iran indicates that there already was a consumption market for musical products in Iranian society. As a result of such policies, there was a growing trend to construct hotels, restaurants, cinemas, and theatres, which needed music as a consumption commodity. However, the need for music was not only limited to modern places: gramophone records were played and heard in most of the teahouses (qahvehkhaneh) as well.38 Iranian society, with a growing need for the consumption of music, was considered as a suitable arena of activity for gramophone-recording companies. Although the government did not play a major role in the production of music, its importance was discovered gradually, and its influence corresponded to the ever-increasing popularization of this medium in Iranian society, leading to the adoption of new policies. The ratification of regulations on gramophone recording by the cabinet on May 6, 1928 was the climax of this process. According to the regulations, all gramophone-record manufacturing companies were required to obtain special permissions from the police department for their recording and the artists participating in it. Moreover, a report had to be delivered, accompanied by a description of the contents of the recording:

In the contract to be concluded between the companies and artists for submission to the police department, mention should be made of dastgah39 and the exact text of poems to be recited in the songs accompanied by the particulars of persons in charge of recording process attached thereto, so that the police department personnel do not run into any complications.40

With these regulations, from 1928 onwards the government pursued a policy of controlling and censoring recording, which was unknown in the past, when companies and artists could freely decide on the selection of artists and the contents of recording, respectively. Gradually and in proportion to the spread of gramophone records, the government decided not only to control this medium, but also to use it as a means of propaganda for its modernization policy. One important reform, which this medium was used to support, was the compulsory removal of the women’s veil in 1936. Murmurs related to an intended unveiling were first heard in 1929 and were reflected in gramophone recordings in the same year. The famous female singer Qamar al-Moluk Vaziri recorded a vocal work entitled Zan Dar Jame‘eh (Women in society) in defence of the idea of unveiling, which was produced in Tehran by the Polyphon Company and marketed in 1929.41 In the winter of 1936, and soon after the removal of the veil in January 1936, the Sodwa Company recorded another vocal work by Mr. Badi‘zadeh in Aleppo, entitled Be Yadgar-e Raf‘-e Hejab-e Nesvan-e Iran (In commemoration of the removal of the veil by Iranian women).42

84 Keivan Aghamohseni

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