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Mirza Abdollah

Mirzá Abdollah (1843 – 1918) was a noted court musician and master of the setar and tar. His radif is considered to be the main source of contemporary Persian classical music as taught in conservatories and universities in Iran.

Contents

Synopsis of his life

Mirzá Abdollah received his first musical instruction from his older brother Mirzá Hasan. He, in turn, taught tar to his younger brother, Mirzá Hossein Gholi, until he became old enough to study with Gholam Hossein. Despite Gholam Hossein’s unwillingness to teach, the two younger brothers were eager to learn to the point that they would secretly sit outside the door when their cousin was playing in order to learn the melodies. Their mother finally persuaded Gholam Hossein to teach them. They subsequently were to become the successors of Ali Akbar Farahani and Gholam Hossein.

Mirzá Abdollah learned music only with great effort and difficulty because of the secretive manner of the musicians of his time, and their jealousy of their skills. As a result, he resolved that whatever music he heard he would learn well, that he would memorize the dastgahs completely and without error, and that whatever he learned he would teach freely to his own students so that Persian music would be passed on to future generations. [1]

He eventually became a musician at the court of Nasiru’d-Din Shah and remained such until his death in 1918.

Notable students

Notability as a musician

Mirzá Abdollah’s contribution to Persian music is so important that Haji Aqa Muhammad Irani Mujarrad referred to him as the book of Persian music. Music was Mirzá Abdollah’s life profession, and he became an important musician in the court of Nasiru’d-Din Shah. He organized the classical radif, some say with the help of Seyyed Ahmad. Tsuge states that: “The radif which we practice today in Iran (or rather Tehran) is generally known as the one of the Mirzá Abdollah school.”

His open and generous nature, and his willingness to teach, transformed the image of music from a secret and jealously guarded tradition to an art available to all who desired to participate in its performance, expansion and development.

Origin of his title

Ahmad Ibadi, one of Mirzá Abdollah's sons, related a story of how his father was given the title Mirzá. One day in one of the buildings of the palace of the shah, some courtiers were eating lunch. After lunch they played ás, a card game. Mirzá Abdollah sat and played the setar for himself. Nasiru’d-Din Shah could not sleep and came into the garden. He went over to that building and heard the setar, put his foot on the door sill, and listened intently. Mirzá Abdollah did not see the shah as he played. The gamers noticed, and all got up flustered. Then Nasiru’d-Din Shah signaled them to sit down and said, “Mirzá Abdollah, do you have a handkerchief in your pocket?” “Yes.” “Put it down in front of you.” Then the Shah ordered gold and silver coins to be put in the handkerchief.[2]

Religion

Although he never explicitly stated so – given the adverse circumstances against Bahá’ís at the time – it is assumed that Mirzá Abdollah was a Bahá’í due to several historical events. [3]

Dr. Yunis Khan Afrukhtih has written about a Bahá’í meeting in Tehran to which Mirzá Abdollah brought one of the great Muslim clergymen of that era around 1899-1900. This man was later given the title Sadru’l-Sudur, and became a famous Bahá’í teacher.[4]

General Shua’u’llah Ala’i remembers seeing Mirzá Abdollah at an all-Bahá’í gathering when the General was sixteen or seventeen years old.[5] The gathering was a party, not a meeting. Mirzá Abdollah was present and played the tar while a singer sang Bahá’í poems and other poems.[6]

On several occasions, Mirzá Abdollah received praise and encouragement from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, then the head of the Bahá’í Faith.[7] These were in the form of special letters (or Tablets, in Bahá’í terminology) that were usually addressed to followers. Below are provisional translations of three of these tablets sent to Mirzá Abdollah from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá[8]:

He is God! O Thou divine Barbud [a Sassanid court musician]! Although those of former times excelled in the art of music, sang wonderful melodies, were celebrated throughout the world, and became the prince of lovers (`ushshaq), performed love poetry (abyat) to the tune of bayat, and raised a melody (nava) in the assemblages of the world, in the desert of separation wailed in `Araq to the tune of Hijaz—yet the divine song (naghmih) has a different effect and the heavenly melody another attraction and interest. In this age, the birds of amity must in the gardens of holiness raise the song (avaz) of shahnaz to bring the birds of the grass to ecstasy and flight. In this divine celebration and at this heavenly banquet so sound the oud and rud (lute and strings) and play chang and chaghanih (harp and bells) to give both the East and West gladness and joy and grant them happiness and felicity. Now raise the melody of that chang and play the song of that oud that will give spirit to the body of Barbud and grant Rudaki repose, make Farabi exultant and guide Ibn Sina to the divine Sina (Sinai). And upon thee be greetings and salutations. —‘Abdu’l-Bahá `Abbás[9]


While referring to traditional melodies, instruments and musicians, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá calls on Mirzá Abdollah to reform classical Persian music. The themes of the poetry used for this music centered on separation and longing. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asks Abdollah to bring an end to this separation and accomplish reunion — a condition that was always longed for but seldom, if ever, achieved in traditional poetry and song. He requests that Abdollah infuse hope and joy into his music, for the East and for the West. Referring to the existence of several levels of music in Islamic philosophy, He essentially asks Mirzá Abdollah to raise his music to the highest level, that of soul-stirring and inspiring music. In a play on words, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá exhorts him to guide Ibn Sina to the divine Sinai, to bring traditional music to a new, more spiritual level.[10]


‘Abdu’l-Bahá reinforces these themes in the second tablet:

He is the All-Glorious. O Thou Namesake of the Intended One! The melody of the Kingdom of light has been raised, and the song of the nightingale of faithfulness is reviving the souls of the enlightened ones from the rose of meaning. He will sometimes play the tune of Hijaz, sometimes the music of ‘Araq, perform the mode of ushshaq (lovers), and for a moment raise the sigh and moan of mushtaq (longing, desire). Do though also before the assemblage of the world of humanity raise a new melody (ahang-i badi’) that you may become the commander of the birds of the garden of holiness, and from the rose of unity sing the melodies of the stations of meaning. And upon thee be greetings and salutations. —‘Abdu’l-Bahá `Abbás[11]


In the third tablet, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states the position which music is given in the Bahá’í religion:

“O servant of Bahá! Music is regarded as a praiseworthy science at the Threshold of the Almighty, so that thou mayest chant verses at large gatherings and congregations in a most wondrous melody and raise such hymns of praise at the Mashriqu’l-Adkar as to enrapture the Concourse on High. By virtue of this, consider how much the art of music is admired and praised. Try, if thou canst, to use spiritual melodies, songs and tunes, and to bring the earthly music into harmony with the celestial melody. Then thou wild notice what a great influence music hath and what heavenly joy and life it conferreth. Strike up such a melody and tune as to cause the nightingales of divine mysteries to be filled with joy and ecstasy.”[12]

References

  1. ^ Safvat, Ustadan-i Musiqi, p. 54; Interview with Ahmad Ibadi
  2. ^ Interview with Ahmad Ibadi
  3. ^ Caton, Margaret. Baha'i Influences on Mirza Abdollah, Qajar Court Musician and Master of the Radif. In Juan Cole & Moojan Momen, "Studies in Babi and Baha'i History, Vol II: From Iran East & West," Kalimat Press, 1984, pp. 54-57.
  4. ^ Ibid., p. 56
  5. ^ Interview with Shua’u’llah Ala’i, conducted by Margaret Caton on October 16, 1976
  6. ^ Ibid.
  7. ^ Caton, Margaret. Baha'i Influences on Mirza Abdollah, Qajar Court Musician and Master of the Radif. In Juan Cole & Moojan Momen, "Studies in Babi and Baha'i History, Vol II: From Iran East & West," Kalimat Press, 1984, pp. 54-57.
  8. ^ Ibid., pp. 57-61
  9. ^ Ibid., pp. 58-59
  10. ^ Ibid., p. 59-60
  11. ^ Ibid., p. 60
  12. ^ Ibid., p. 61

Bibliography

  • Caton, Margaret. Baha'i Influences on Mirza Abdollah, Qajar Court Musician and Master of the Radif. In Juan Cole & Moojan Momen, "Studies in Babi and Baha'i History, Vol II: From Iran East & West," Kalimat Press, 1984, pp. 30-64.
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