ʿĀREF QAZVĪNĪ, ABU’L-QĀSEM (ca. 1300-1352/1882-1934), poet, musician, and singer during and after the Constitutional Revolution.
i. Life and Poetry
ʿĀref was born in Qazvīn, where he studied Persian language and grammar and also some music. His father Mollā Hādī earned his dislike by forcing him to go in for pā-menbarī in order to learn rawża-ḵᵛānī (martyrdom-recitation) and join the ranks of the mollas. About 1316/1898 he went to Tehran, where thanks to the “beauty of his voice,” he was introduced to some of the capital’s leading men, including Mīrzā ʿAlī-Aṣḡar Khan Amīn-al-solṭān, Atābak-e Aʿẓam; later he came to the attention of Moẓaffar-al-dīn Shah, who had him enrolled in the ranks of the royal valets (farrāšān-e ḵalwat); he found this distasteful and finally managed to obtain release. In private life, ʿĀref became “a rogue, an arak-drinker, and a profligate,” a condition aggravated by the failure of his marriage. His rash utterances led to a takfīr (excommunication from Islam) being issued against him. In his last years he became withdrawn and suspicious and was described by some who met him as ill-natured and hot-tempered. A bronchial disorder which finally prevented him from singing added to his despair. Despite his fame and the success of his concerts, which yielded a substantial income, he spent most of his life, and especially his last years, in such misery that he longed for an early death.
ʿĀref “devoted his art to the people” (Āryanpūr, Az Ṣāba tā Nīmā II, p. 357) and used poetry as an effective means of expressing political ideas and stirring emotions. A whole-hearted supporter of the constitutionalists, he left Iran for Turkey with other militants in 1334/1916 and stayed at Istanbul for some time. A single qaṣīda is all that survives from before this journey. A few years later he joined Colonel Moḥammad-Taqī Khan Pesyān who had rebelled in Khorasan (1339-40/1921). When Pesyān died in a clash with Zaʿfarānlū Kurds, he mourned his death in several poems including a famous taṣnīf. He also supported Sardār-e Sepah, the future Reżā Shah, in his call for abolishing the monarchy and the establishment of a republican state. His poetry totals about 150 in the ḡazal, taṣnīf, qeṭʿa, and maṯnawī forms. A fine calligrapher, he studied and copied the poetry of Saʿdī and Ḥāfeẓ. He sometimes wrote melodious verses in a literary style, but, elsewhere he introduced slang that accorded well with the subject and mood; thus Malek-al-šoʿarāʾ Bahār described him as a “poet of the common people.” His most important and impressive works are his taṣnīfāt (song lyrics), which he composed in response to political events of the day and sang to large and enthusiastic audiences. The taṣnīf had sunk to banality in wording and content, but he was able to impart a poetic quality to it. He had little knowledge of formal music but possessed an extraordinarily keen ear; he was both a good judge of music and an original composer. Despite his boasts of mastery, he owed his fame mainly to the mood of the time and the revolutionary content of his poems. His autobiography and some letters are preserved. He eventually went, or according to one source was banished, to Hamadān where he spent his remaining years in solitude and poverty. He died on 1 Bahman 1312 Š./21 January 1934 and was buried in the courtyard of the Ebn Sīnā mausoleum.
ii. ʿĀref’s Music
ʿĀref was the most influential taṣnīf (song) composer and performer of the period of the Constitutional Revolution. His works are among the best representatives of the classical taṣnīf style of the late Qajar period and are considered an important part of the currently performed traditional repertoire of Persian classical music. In responding to the economic and political events of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, ʿĀref mainly composed political taṣnīfs, which he used as effective vehicles to mobilize pro-revolutionary sentiment.
At the age of thirteen, ʿĀref studied music with Ḥāǰǰī Ṣādeq Ḵarrāzī for a period of fourteen months. Under pressure from his father to become a rawża-ḵᵛān(professional reciter of the martyrdom of Ḥosayn b. ʿAlī) ʿĀref sang nawḥa(religious threnodies) for two to three years, accompanying the sermons of Mīrzā Ḥosayn Wāʿeẓ Qazvīnī, his religious instructor. This period of training gave ʿĀref a background in both classical music and traditional rawża-ḵᵛānī. In his compositions he used traditional themes and forms in order to reach his audience, make them cry, and persuade them to act on whatever event or situation he set out to portray. In a nation attuned to the poetic theme of the lover-and-his-beloved, he portrays the nation as the beloved and the people as its lovers.
After moving to Tehran in 1898, ʿĀref found favor as an entertainer in aristocratic circles. He eventually joined the supporters of the constitutional movement. At the time of the granting of the constitution (1324/1906), however, he had not yet written songs for the revolution. It was the events following Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah’s bombarding and closing of the parliament (1908) that precipitated ʿĀref’s political song writing. When in 1909 revolutionary forces entered Tehran and deposed the shah, he composed his first song “Ey amān” with political overtones. Often accompanied by Šokrallāh Khan on the tār (long-necked lute, q.v.), he began to sing his ḡazals and taṣnīfs in demonstrations and in revolutionary meetings, traveling from town to town.
One of his best-known taṣnīfs, “Az ḵūn-e ǰavānān-e waṭan,” was written in the mode of Daštī during the period of the Second Parliament (1909-11). This particular piece combines traditional metaphors with an emotional call to action. In form it is typical of many of ʿĀref’s taṣnīfs, which are stanzaic with a recurring refrain.
The Kollīyāt-e dīvān attributes twenty-nine taṣnīfs to ʿĀref, although at least two were actually composed by others (Ḵošẓamīr, pp. 21-22). These taṣnīfs reflect the events of his life—his fluctuating causes, loves, and moods. Exhortative revolutionary taṣnīfs are mixed with those which complain bitterly of defeats and injustice. They portray and react to events of the first years of the constitutional period; pointing out conditions of oppression, injustice, corrupting foreign influence, imperialism, and loss of national pride. For example, “Nang ān ḵāna” (1911) was written because of the Russian ultimatum to dismiss the American Morgan Shuster, who had been hired by the Second Parliament. ʿĀref wrote “Če šūhrā” (1917-18) to warn Iran of Turkey’s intention to annex Azerbaijan. “Gerya kon” (1921/22) commemorates the death of Colonel Moḥammad-Taqī Khan Pesyān whom ʿĀref considered to be the last real defender of the rights of Iran (Kollīyāt-e dīvān, p. 394).