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Revolutionary Dimensions in Music
Azadeh Nouri

The Constitutional Revolution of 1906 led to major political, social and cultural changes in Iran. When historians talk about Iranian music they often refer to its development during the revolution in which the young musicians sought new modes of expression in music to synchronize with the tide of social changes.

It was during this period that the form and mode of expression of Persian music began to noticeably change. The classical music was supported and enjoyed by the royalty, the aristocracy and the better off classes in cities such as Tehran, Tabriz, Qazvin and Shiraz. These groups often saw themselves as the only proprietors of such artistic form.

The music that the rest of society enjoyed was usually ethnic or folk music, or music played by street entertainers and comedians. These were often looked upon as devoid of well defined artistic merits.

Military music was the first form of western music that was taught in Iran’s Darulfonun or polytechnic in the late 18th century. But, it was during the constitutional revolution that western forms of music found popularity with composers such as Darvish Khan and Alinaqi Vaziri. They produced pieces influenced by western music which injected some of the much needed spirit into the body of tired Iranian musical modes.

Another character, noted for his strong and influential personality upon the artistic scene, was Aref Qazvini. Aref was a poet, singer, composer, calligrapher and writer particularly noted for his musical abilities. He held many concerts and performances for the public in these years. Sadly, no recordings are available of his concerts with his own voice, and it is therefore difficult to understand the true impact and ability of this revolutionary, if occasionally volatile, man. What is available, however, are recordings of his nationalistic and patriotic songs made some 30 years after the constitutional revolution.

As Alireza Mir Alinaqi, a historian and music expert has noted “Aref Qazvini played an inspiring role through his poetry and music, which conveyed a message to the masses that political figures were unable to put across. Unlike them, he was able to use a language which directly touched people’s feelings. In fact he acted as an effective bridge between the political currents and the ordinary people.”

A further achievement of the Constitutional Revolution was the gradual emergence of women upon the musical scene. Prior to this period, women were not permitted to perform or appear in the musical arena. It was only with the help of these leading revolutionary musicians that women were taught musical modes and notes in a systematic way.

During the Revolution two groups of musicians were noticeably active. The first were the ‘modernists’ such as Araf Qazvini, Darvish Khan and Alinaqi Vaziri, who studied with the traditional masters.

The second group were led by military musicians such as Salar Moazzaz, Minbashian and Soleiman Khan who studied western music at Darulfonun. They were also familiar with Iranian music, and therefore, were able to introduce western themes into Persian music.

Both groups used every opportunity to introduce their music by performing in public places.

Another impact of these musicians and their accompanying poets such as Aref and  Bahar, the famous poet laureate,  was to introduce in their songs and music terms such as freedom,  homeland, nationalism and national unity as new political concepts.  These concepts were part of the discourse of the politicised intellectual elites who wanted the revolution to lead to a modern and rejuvenated Iran and to involve various cultural and ethnic traditions.

Combining original music and revolutionary poetry in their songs and by performing in public, these artists brought about some changes in the debate over new national and social consciousness.

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