ḤOSAYNQOLI, ĀQĀ, Persian musician (b. Tehran, 1270/1853, d. Tehran, 1334/1916; Figure 1), the son of Āqā ʿAli-Akbar Farāhāni, who was the most famous tār (the chief Persian plucked instrument) player at the court of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96). The father’s radif (repertoire) passed down to his sons, and it is considered to be the wellspring of Persian traditional music. Losing his father when he was still quite young, Āqā Ḥosaynqoli was instructed by his elder brother, Mirzā ʿAbd-Allāh. Later both brothers were taught by their cousin Āqā Ḡolām-Ḥosayn, who married their mother, the widow of Āqā ʿAli-Akbar, and thus became their stepfather. Āqā Ḡolām-Ḥosayn was not a very giving teacher; he was reluctant to pass on to others all the intricacies of his technique. Yet the two brothers managed to learn from him the basics of the twelve collections known as seven dastgāh and five āvāz. It is the melody models (guša) in these collections, as taught by Mirzā ʿAbd-Allāh and Āqā Ḥosaynqoli, that constitute the radif of today’s Persian classical music (Ḵāleqi, I, p. 114; Caron and Safwat, p. 220).
Āqā Ḥosaynqoli started giving lessons together with his brother, and subsequently he organized a class of his own. He is reputed to have been an exacting teacher, who insisted on daily practice (ʿĀref Qazvini, p. 146; Ḵāleqi, I, p. 114). Both brothers played at the court of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, a great amateur of their art, which was not true of his successor, Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah (r. 1896-1907) who had no ear for music (Sepantā, 1990, p. 49).
Āqā Ḥosaynqoli was an outstanding tār player, reputed to be the greatest master of his time (Hedāyat, p. 10). His performances were considered both technically brilliant and artistically exquisite. The regularity and force of the down and up strokes (rāst and čap) of his plectrum were much admired (Ḵāleqi, I, p. 131). He used a five-string tār and disapproved of the addition of the sixth string (tuned an octave above the lowest string, acting as a drone)—an innovation which is attributed to Darviš Khan. The six-string tār is, in fact, the only kind of tār known in living memory (Caron and Safwat, p. 169).
Dust-ʿAli Khan Moʿyyer-al-Mamālek (q.v.) made the first recordings of Āqā Ḥosaynqoli’s music on a phonograph (dastgāh-e ḥāfeẓ al-aṣwāt) during the friendly gatherings in his house, before there were any commercial gramophone records in Iran. These are among the earliest works of the master, and they seem to have been made during the late 1890s (Sepantā, pp. 50, 54).
Āqā Ḥosaynqoli traveled to Paris with Bāqer Khan Rāmešgar, a kamānča player, Asʿad-Allāh Khan, a tār and santūr player, Sayyed Aḥmad Khan, a singer, and Moḥam-mad Bāqer, a drummer, to produce gramophone records of their work (Ḵāleqi, I, p. 133). The most famous of these are some guša of the dastgāh-e šūr, recorded on one side, and the moḵālef-e segāh, on the other. At the end of the šur, the master says: “May the art of these nimble fingers be preserved, Āqā Ḥosaynqoli” (Sepantā, 1987, p. 146). His music has indeed been preserved; in 1994 some of these records were issued on cassettes (Rajāʾi, 1994). On his return from Paris, Āqā Ḥosaynqoli spent a month in Istanbul, where the Iranian minister, Reżā Khan Arfaʿ-al-Dawla, encouraged him to give a concert. Half of the proceeds of this concert was awarded to the Iranian school in Istanbul (Ḵāleqi, I, p. 134).
Āqā Ḥosaynqoli married twice; his first wife, Sakina, gave him two daughters. She is said to have been a tār player, gifted with a mellifluous voice, and to have had a great knowledge of the whole radif. She seems to have exerted a great influence over her husband (Mašhun, II, p. 573). After her death, Āqā Ḥosaynqoli married again, and begot three sons—Moḥammad-Ḥasan (died in infancy), Akbar Khan Šahnāzi (died 1984), and ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Šahnāzi (died 1948). These two were the true heirs of their father’s and grandfather’s art. They played a major role in passing it on to the new generation of traditional Persian musicians.
During his lifetime Āqā Ḥosaynqoli instructed many disciples, among whom the most famous are: Arfa ʿ-al-Mamālek, Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Darviš Khan (q.v.), Mirzā Ḡolām-Reżā Širāzi, Bāṣer-al-Dawla, ʿAli-Naqi Waziri, ʿAli-Moḥammad Behzādi, Moḥsen Mirzā Ẓelli, and Mortażā Naydāwud.
The famous Persian poet and songwriter ʿAref Qazvini wrote in his Divān (p. 354): “After Mirzā Ḥosaynqoli, the tār has more or less lost its light . . . Its greatest master has disappeared, and it would take nature many centuries to create a comparable prodigy.”
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Originally Published: December 15, 2004
Last Updated: March 23, 2012
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Vol. XII, Fasc. 5, pp. 518-519