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A Survey on History of Innovation in Music (part1)

iranina instrumant: setar

A glimpse at the history of the current century seems to be indispensable to a survey on innovations taken place in the original Iranian music. The outset of modernization of Iranian music almost coincided with the growing trend of communication with Europe. By the end of Fat'h-Ali Shah Qajar's reign, such communication kept growing. The arrival of European music experts and consulting delegations in Iran prepared the grounds for impressing Iran's culture and art.

In particular, dispatch of growing number of students to France and other European countries, during the rule of Nassereddin Shah Qajar, facilitated development and innovation in literature, painting, music, architecture and other art fields.

 The Iranians were well familiar with European literature, given that they had been translating the works of European writers into Persian. Besides publishing newspapers and freedom-seeking thoughts towards the end of Nassereddin Shah's era were also effective in the development of the community's thinking trend.


1st Effective Steps Taken towards Innovation of Iranian Music

 Establishment of Dar-ol-Fonoun School in 1851 was actually a turning point in Iran-Europe cultural relations.

Major changes took place in the traditional teaching method in Dar-ol-Fonoun school  where teaching European sciences and techniques became common so far as the conditions allowed. On the other hand, a number of foreign teachers, specially French, arrived in Iran at the government's invitation to teach there.

Therefore, when in his third trip to Europe Nassereddin Shah observed that musical groups particularly those specialized in martial music played the national anthem of their country and marsh music, he ordered to employ the French musician Alfred Jean Baptiste Lemaire and he started teaching martial music in Dar-ol-Fonoun. After his arrival in Tehran in 1868, he started teaching martial music. This was the first time ever that martial music was being taught according to organized principles and by using internationally used written notes.


Under the supervision of Lemaire, the students majoring in music started to learn the basics of European music, notes and playing wind instruments as well as other instruments such as piano.

Besides Lemaire composed Masoud marsh and Isfahan Polka. He also rearranged a number of old songs for orchestra. They were performed by Dar-ol-Fonoun orchestra and Lemaire himself conducted it. The performed pieces have been gradually broadcast through radio programs over the past 30 years. Lemaire's musical group known as Monarchial orchestra, used to play during official ceremonies, ceremonial feasts such as Norouz (the New Iranian year starting March 21) most often held at Golestan palace at the presence of Nassereddin Shah and the passion plays arranged by the government. Thus, playing short European melodies became common in Iran through time. Also Iranian songs were written and sung.

After the demise of Lemaire in 1909, the general music branch was separated from marshal music and a music school was established.

 Gholam-Reza Khan Salar Moazzez, who had studied music at Saint Petersburg Music School, started teaching music there. In addition to teaching, Salar Moazzez arranged musical pieces including marshes and fantasy music in the division of notes known as Isfahan to be played in accompaniment to piano. His trainees were gradually introduced to some of the European instruments and started playing short pieces from Beethoven and Tchaikovsky among others.

Players of Iranian traditional music, among whom Mirza Abdollah and Aqa Hossein-Qoli were the most famous, continued to follow the old style of seven major divisions of the Persian tunes. They hardly made any changes either in the common structure or performance of Iranian music. Meanwhile, music was mostly performed in private.

The political and social developments taking place towards the end of Nassereddin Shah's reign and the early days of Mozaffareddin Shah, the growing trend of publication of newspapers, promotion of freedom-seeking thoughts, issuance of the Constitution decree in 1906 as well as Mohammad Ali Shah's intrigues and failure in fulfilling his commitments to proponents of Constitution led to a movement aiming to campaign against despotism.


Meanwhile, formation of numerous associations and freedom-seeking groups paved the way for gatherings and holding concerts.

Figures Oriented towards Seeking Development

In this period, one of the players of tar, Gholam-Hossein Darvish (1892-1926), who had been trained on playing drum and trumpet in Dar-ol-Fonoun as a child and was later given lessons on tar by Aqa Hossein-Qoli, managed to compose a number of songs, melodies and preludes and started writing new pieces of Iranian music. This was an unprecedented measure. His good taste and acquaintance with the European musical meters he had learned at Dar-ol-Fonoun Music School were the assets which helped him to improvise and make such pieces as Darvish Polka and the Republic Marsh. He was the one who added one more cord to tar, which until then consisted of five.

One of the impacts of the campaigns of freedom-seekers was the changes taking place in the content of melodies to national-patriotic themes including campaign against atrocity, lauding courage and the militants sacrifice.

One of the impacts of such movements was to release the musicians and singers from the influence of aristocracy. For several centuries, the social conditions and the policy of dictatorial governments in Iran had been such that the players of music and singers most often had to seek the sponsorship of a powerful ruler in order to secure earning their lives and protect themselves against the biased believes of the general public. The exercise was common up to the past century.


By: Dr. Sassan Sepanta, March 2004

Other links:

A Brief History of Persian Literature (part 1)

Early Literature (part1)

Early literature (part2)

Brief History of Islamic Art

History of Ta'zieh in Iran

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