QAMAR-AL-MOLUK VAZIRI

(1905-1959), commonly referred to as Qamar, popular, pioneering Persian mezzo-soprano. Qamar’s first formal performance as a vocalist took place at Tehran’s Grand Hotel in 1924. 

 

QAMAR-AL-MOLUK VAZIRI (Waziri), commonly referred to as Qamar, the stage name of Qamar-al-Moluk Vazirizāda (b. Tākestān, circa 1284 Š./1905; d. Tehran, 14 Mordād 1338 Š./5 August 1959, FIGURE 1), popular, pioneering Persian mezzo-soprano, much revered for her mastery of the repertoire of Persian vocal music (radif-e āvāz) and her sensitive rendition of taṣnif or through-composed metered songs (taṣnif, tarāna). The date and place of her birth and the circumstances of her early childhood have been the subject of conflicting anecdotal and speculative accounts. Her existing birth certificate, however, issued in Tehran in 1925, legally records her first name as Qamar-al-Moluk and her last name as changed from Sayyed Ḥosayn Khan to Vazirizāda, the name she chose for herself in honor of the musician and theoretician of music ʿAli-Naqi Vaziri (see Ḵāleqi, pp. 19, 20, 21). It also indicates the place and date of her birth as Tehran, 1905. She was born to her widowed mother Ṭubā, who had lost her husband Mirza Sayyed Ḥosayn Khan shortly before Qamar was born. She subsequently lost her mother when she was around a year old and grew up in the care of her maternal grandmother, Mollā Ḵayr-al-Nesāʾ (Ḵāleqi, pp. 22-23).

Under her grandmother’s tutelage, Qamar grew up in central Tehran, in the then middle-class Sangelaj neighborhood (Ḵāleqi, pp. 19, 22-24). In her youth, Mollā Ḵayr-al-Nesāʾ’s melodic voice had gained her a position as a rawżaḵᵛān, a narrator of the tragedy of Shiʿite martyrs of Karbalā, at the religious gatherings of the women’s enclosed quarters (ḥaram) at the court of the Qajar king Nāṣer-al-Din Shah. The king had bestowed upon her the title of Efteḵār-al-Ḏākerin “the Glory of narrators” (Behruzi, p. 502). At age seven, Qamar began accompanying her aged, ailing, but still active, grandmother to her religious recitals during the ninth and tenth days of the month of Moḥarram, Tāsuʿā and ʿĀšurā, the period of mourning by the Shiʿites for the martyrs of Karbalā. She also would follow Mollā Ḵayr-al-Nesāʾ to less formal women’s religious gatherings, funerals, as well as birthdays and anniversaries. During these gatherings, the musically precocious Qamar was able to a learn a great deal by ear from her grandmother as a rawżaḵᵛān about the modal and tonal qualities of the Shiʿite religious elegies, lamentations, and meditations (marṯia). The marṯia, in its essential correlation with radif-e āvāz, the foundational and generative repertoire of unmetered modal arias in Persian traditional music, particularly its highly elegiac segments such as Ḥejāzin the mode of Abu ʿAṭāand Ḡamangizin the mode of Dašti, constituted Qamar’s first aural schooling in Persian traditional music. With her health rapidly failing, Mollā Ḵayr-al-Nesāʾ encouraged Qamar to perform along with her the marṯia repertoire at women’s religious gatherings. Qamar reportedly did so with a precociously confident and poised presence and an accurate, uncommonly projective, strong, and emotionally evocative voice. These performative characteristics were to become the signal traits of Qamar’s subsequent career as a simultaneously popular and esteemed Persian vocalist (Ḵāleqi, pp. 25-28).

Musical education. Qamar attended various elementary schools (maktab) and then Madrasa-ye Nāmus for girls in her Sangelaj neighborhood and learned how to read and write, which later enabled her to appreciate the subtleties and nuanced musical patterns of Persian classical poetry and to incorporate them into her recitations. Musically, Qamar continued to learn much aurally from well-known musicians of the time who frequented the festive musical gatherings held at the house of a relative and patron of music Majd-al-Ṣanāyeʿ (Ḵāleqi, pp. 33-34). The names of such musicians included tār (a lute with a long neck and six strings) players Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Darviš, known as Darviš Khan, and Musā Naydāwud in 1922-23 (Behruzi, pp. 507-8). Persuaded by the inherent purity, power, and the expanse of Qamar’s mezzo-soprano voice, Naydāwud offered her lessons in the tonal techniques and modal refinements of the traditional Persian voice repertoire. Qamar’s apprenticeship with Naydāwud led to the discovery of their mutual musical affinities and his later collaboration with the young singer as her first accompanist (Behruzi, p. 508).

Musical career. Qamar’s first formal performance as a vocalist took place at Tehran’s Grand Hotel in 1924. The first public appearance of a Persian female vocalist without the obligatory veil (ḥejāb) signaled an immensely significant development in Persian music. It was an event that set a precedent and affected the musical life of future generations of Persian female vocalists prior to the Revolution of 1979 and eventual establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. On this consequential occasion Qamar sang Morḡ-e saḥar (The Dawn bird), a through-composed song in the mode of Māhur composed by Mortażā Naydāwud with lyrics by the poet Moḥammad-Taqi Malek-al-Šoʿarāʾ Bahār. Until the establishment of musical broadcasts on Radio Tehran in 1940, Qamar’s frequent concerts continued in formal venues such as movie-theaters Sepah and Palace in Tehran and less formal festive, charitable, and commemorative musical events both in Tehran and provincial cities such as Mashad around 1928-30 and Hamadān in 1931 (Ḵāleqi, pp. 92-93).

Performances on Radio Tehran. Qamar’s inaugural weekly participation as a vocalist on Radio Tehran’s musical programs was in 1941 with a song written by pianist Musā Maʿrufi and lyrics by Hedāyat-Allāh Nayyer Sinā. After suffering a stroke, she retired from her weekly radio participation as a singer. In her farewell radio performances in 1956, Qamar sang in a drastically diminished voice in the modes of Abu ʿAṭā, Afšāri, and Māhur for Radio Tehran. In the first two sessions, she was respectively accompanied by violinist Abu’l-Ḥasan Ṣabā, tār player Esmāʿil Kamāli, and żarb (chalice drum) player Amir Nāṣer Eftetāḥ, and in the final session by tār player Arsalān Dargāhi (Ḵāleqi, p. 162).

Collaborations with master Persian musicians and lyricists. Many accomplished musicians found proclivities between Qamar’s stylized, lyrical vocalization of the repertoire of radif-e āvāz and her affective phraseology of songsand their own instrumental style. They collaborated with her as accompanists, soloists, ensemble leaders or members in live performances and recordings. Chief among such musicians were pianists Mortażā Maḥjubi, Ḥabib-Allāh Mošir Homāyun (Šahrdār), Musā Maʿrufi; tār players Arsalān Dargāhi, Esmāʿil Kamāli, Mortażā Naydāwud, and ʿAli-Akbar Šahnāzi; violinists Abu’l-Ḥasan Ṣabā and Rokn-al-Din Moḵtār, and violin and kamānča (four string spike fiddle) player Ḥosayn Yāḥaqqi; and żarb player Amir Nāṣer Eftetāḥ.Contributors of lyrics to Qamar’s songs also included well-known poets and lyricists of her time such as Moḥammad-Taqi Bahār, Pežmān Baḵtiāri, Ḥasan Waḥid Dastgerdi, Mirzāda ʿEšqi, Iraj Mirzā, Rahi Moʿayyeri, Moḥammad-ʿAli Amir Jāḥed, Jahāngir Nur, ʿĀref Qazvini, and Moʾayyed Ṯābeti (Behruzi, p. 509; Ḵāleqi, pp. 360, 364)

Recordings. Beginning in 1927-28, accompanied by tār player Arsalān Dargāhi and violinist Ḥosayn Yāḥaqqi, Qamar did various 78 rpm recordings of songsfor the German company Polyphon. Her career as a recording artist and as a performer of āvāz and songs continued with the recording company His Master’s Voice (1933), with collaboration of pianist Mortażā Maḥjubi, her musical mentor and tār player Mortażā Naydāwud, his brother violinist Musā Naydāwud, and flutist Yaʿqub Khan Rašti. Among Qamar’s lasting legacies as a vocalist are her āvāz recordings for Red and Yellow Seal Polyphon records in the modes of Abu ʿAṭā, Afšāri, Čāhārgāh, Dašti, and Šur, in which she was accompanied by Arsalān Dargāhi. She made a number of song recordings for Yellow Seal Polyphon records such as Mawsem-e gol (Flower season), Ruzgār-e goḏašta (Bygonedays), Māh-e man (My beauty); and Qalb-e mādar (A mother’s heart), Ḥāṣel-e zendagi (Life’s harvest), and Sirat-e zibā (Inner beauty) for His Master’s Voice.

Vocal style. Qamar’s mezzo-soprano voice had a wide expanse; it was powerful and lyrical, accurate and sensitive, faithful to the traditional values and emotive. The tone of her voice was elegaic and plaintive, the qualities she had learned in singing the moving lamentations at religious ceremonies as a young girl. She was respected among musicians for her mastery of the modal vocal repertoire of Persian music and its various modal segments (guša), and her nuanced declamatory delivery of them. Qamar also excelled in her execution of all the ornamental refinements of āvāz, known as riza-kāri, and was particularly noted for her extraordinary ability in performing of the taḥrir, a falsetto break between higher and lower notes in the melody line of the āvāz, a signal trait of Persian traditional music. Qamar also made a cameo appearance in the film Mādar (The Mother, 1951) with Delkaš, another Persian vocalist of high stature, in which Qamar briefly performed selections from the radif-e āvāz. No copies of this film are known to be extant.

Qamar’s place in Persian music. As a vocalist, Qamar was respected for her musical as well as her pioneering spirit as a vocalist in public concerts as well as her progressive social and political tendencies and legendary compassion for the poor and the powerless and her generosity to them. She was the first Persian vocalist to perform in public without the socially and religiously sanctioned dress code for women, the first recording artist, and the first female vocalist to sing and record highly charged political songs such as Abu’l-Qāsem Āref’s Constitutional Revolution song Mārš-e jomhuri. Qamar’s strong legacy as a vocalist preceded and became the exemplary foundation for the career of Persian female vocalists who followed her until the Revolution of 1979 and the advent of the Islamic Republic.

 

Bibliography:

Šāpur Behruzi, Čehrahā-ye musiqi-e irāni, Tehran, 1993, pp. 499-516.

Zohreh Ḵāleqi, Āvāy-e mehrabāni: yādvāra-e Qamar-al-Moluk Vaziri, Tehran, 2000, pp. 19-28, 92-93, 162, 362-64.

Partial Discography.

Audiocasette: Qamar-al-Moluk Vaziri, a collection of eleven songs: Māhur: “Ḵabar az delnadārad ka nadārad yār-i”; Māhur: “Gar konad-am sar bā sar-i”; Dašti: “Agar to fāreḡi az ḥāl-e dustān”; Afšāri: “Āḵer in nāma suzāndan aṯarha dārad,”; Maṯnawi-e Afšāri: “Jānā hezārān āfarin”; “Ey ka gofti hič moškel čun ferāq-e yār ništ” and “Amān ze hejr-e roḵ-e yār”; Segāh: Tā ʿešq-e to kard ḵāna dar ḵāna-ye del,” Ahangrooz, Canoga Park, California, 1991.

List of recordings selected from Zohreh Ḵāleqi’s Āvāy-e Mehrabāni. Red Label Polyphon Records (1927-28, p. 364): “Āvāz-e Dašti,” accompanied by Arsalān Dargāhi (tār); “Āvāz-e Abu ʿAṭā,” accompanied by Ḥosayn Yāḥaqqi (violin); “Robāʿiyāt-e Dašti,” accompanied by Arsalān Dargāhi (tār) and Ḥosayn Yāḥaqqi (violin); “ʿOššāq,” accompanied by Arsalān Dargāhi (tār).

Yellow Label Polyphon Records (1929, pp. 362-63). “Dar bahārān,” song in the Segāh mode,accompanied by Mortażā Naydāwud (tār) and Musā Naydāwud (violin); Āvāz-e ḡamangiz,” accompanied by Yaʿqub Khan Rašti (flute); “Āvāz-e Šur-e Salmak,” accompanied by Mortażā Naydāwud (tār); “Āvāz-e Bidād,” accompanied by Musā Naydāwud (violin); “Zan dar jāmeʿa,” in the mode Eṣfahān, accompanied by Musā Naydāvud (violin); “Āvāz-e Bayāt-e Zand,” accompanied by Yaʿqub Khan Rašti (flute).

His Master’s Voice (1933, pp. 362-63). “Āvāz-e Segāh,”accompanied by Mortażā Nadāwud (tār) and Musā Naydāwud (violin); “Qalb-e mādar,” song in the Segāh mode, accompanied by Mortežā Naydāwud (tār) and Musā Naydāwud (violin); “Āvāz-e Afšāri,” accompanied by Mortażā Naydāwud (tār); “Morḡ-e parbasta,” song in the Šur mode, accompanied by Mortażā Maḥjubi (piano).

(Erik Nakjavani)

Originally Published: December 15, 2008

Last Updated: December 15, 2008