Persian classical recordings such as this might seem beguiling to the uninitiated. On the one hand, they could put some listeners in a familiar musical vicinity, with the recognizable, hallowed sounds of a solo piano performance. Yet, on the other hand, what’s being played on the piano is not a Chopin prelude.
This June 1933 recording was one of the closing recordings made in Tehran until after World War II. Some of you might remember another from these sessions that I posted ages ago. These releases were a combined effort by The Gramophone Company (HMV) and the Columbia Graphophone Company, both ubiquitous, international recording companies that had headquarters in London. These labels had actually merged in 1931 as a result of the Great Depression, yet they operated somewhat independently. According to historian Michael Kinnear however, the ’31 merger created a surplus of engineers who were laid off, and the remaining engineers often traveled to sessions across the globe recording for both companies. In 1933, a man named Horace Frank Chown recorded 275 discs’ worth of music in Tehran for both HMV and Columbia. He’d just finished recording in Baghdad.
The discs sold poorly, and apparently this was a near 30-year trend. Again, according to Kinnear, all the companies active in Iran during these years were not local (a pretty common situation for the times), and had difficulties establishing themselves. Still according to early Persian music historian Amir Mansour, over 3200 disc sides of Persian music were recorded prior to World War II, thus middling sales were only part of the reason for this break in onsite recording in Tehran until the late 40s.
Moshir Habibollah Homayoun Shahrdar (often spelled in several variants) was born into a wealthy merchant family in 1886. He is widely credited as being the first Iranian pianist, and judging by his appearance as a frequent accompanist on 78s (credited and uncredited), the Persian repertoire greatly benefited from his expertise. It looks like he made his earliest recordings in London in 1909, although if that is true, he was credited under the name Habibollah Khan. Outside of his classical musicianship he apparently had a checkered career, of which one can read about in-depth only in a wildly unsourced Wikipedia article (thus perhaps in part apocryphal?), which states that he was the mayor of Shiraz, the Chief of Police in Tehran, that he was the CEO for a steel company contracted by the Shah to build a railroad line for the Nazis, and later escaped to Shiraz in fear of Russian retribution.
This performance is merely titled by its modal system, or dastgāh – in this case, dastgāh Rāst-Panjgāh, which is one of the 12 primary dastgāhs of the radif. The radif is a complex system of over 400 classical melodies (gusheh) in a structure which I could hardly explain properly, except that these gusheh define a performance in a given dastgāh. There is documentation stating that early Persian pianos were retuned to better reflect the sound of the santur, the hammered dulcimer of Iran. Conversely, the santur was apparently rebuilt to better reflect the performance of a piano.
In any case, this is both sides of a lovely 12″ disc featuring Homayoun, who is noted as “Colonel” in the Gramophone Company ledgers. A digital copy of this is floating around, but I believe this is a far better transfer.
Moshir Homayoun – Rāst-Panjgāh
Issue Number: PPX 1
Matrix Number: 0X-9-1 / 0X-10-1