Flowers of Persian Song and Music: Davud Pirniā
and the Genesis of the Golhā Programs

Jane Lewisohn, SOAS

I. Introduction

The Golhā ('Flowers of Persian Song and Music') comprise 1400 radio programs consisting of approximately 886 hours of programs broadcast over a period of 23 years - from 1956 through 1979.1 These programs are made up of literary commentary with the declamation of poetry, which is sung with musical accompaniment, interspersed with solo musical pieces. For the 23 years that these programs were broadcast, all the most eminent literary critics, famous radio announcers, singers, composers and musicians in Iran were invited to participate in them. The programs were not only exemplars of excellence in the sphere of music but highly ornate and refined examples of literary expression, making use of a repertoire of over two hundred classical and modern Persian poets, thus setting literary and musical standards that are still looked up to with admiration in Iran today and referred to as an encyclopedia of Persian music and poetry.

Dāvud Pirniā (June 15, 1901 - Nov. 2, 1971) the founder and original producer of these programs, was the scion of a distinguished patriotic Persian family, which over generations had made varied and valuable contributions to Persian literature, history-writing and public and political life. Before examining Pirniā's career, assessing his seminal role in the creation of the Radio Programs called 'Flowers of Persian Song and Music' (golhā), and reviewing their effect on the revival of Persian music and song in Iran, at this juncture it will be helpful to provide a brief overview of the historical circumstances of Iran immediately after World War II.

In August 1941, Britain and the USSR invaded Iran. The Allies forced Reza Shah to abdicate and go into exile, and took full control of all Iranian communications and the railroad. In 1942 the United States sent a military force to Iran to help maintain and operate sections of the railroad. In January 1942, Britain and Russia signed an agreement with Iran to respect Iran's independence, agreeing to withdraw their troops within six months after the end of the war, which was reaffirmed at the Tehran Conference in 1943. However, in 1945, the USSR refused to leave Iran's northwestern provinces, supporting separatist movements in Iranian Azerbaijan.2

Given these tumultuous political circumstances in the 1940s and early 1950s in Iran, there is little wonder that the condition of Persian music during these decades was any less threatened. During and after World War II, with the increasing interference in Iranian affairs, firstly by the British, then by the Russians, and eventually by the Americans during the Mosaddiq crisis, Western, Arabic and Turkish influences began to penetrate into and affect the development of the course of Persian music in particular and Iranian popular culture in general. Unfortunately these influences did not generally hail from the high classical and sophisticated traditions of Western, Arabic or Turkish music, but were mainly derived from the vernacular and street culture traditions. As a result, a kind of tawdry vulgarity infiltrated Persian music, with the repertoire of classical Persian music and the lyrics of its canon of poets gradually being ignored and abandoned. From 1946 onwards in articles and editorials in contemporary journals, many of the great musicians, composers, song-writers and poets who flourished in Tehran during this period voiced their anxiety about the course of their national music (musiqi-ye milli), lamenting its decadence and decline, while underlining the lack of support and at times interference in the development of music by the Ministry of Culture.3

The critical situation was highlighted by an article written by Moshir Homāyun Shahrdār in the journal Radio Iran in 1956.4 Describing the contemporary degeneration of Iranian music, he claims that it was not only being subjected to cheap popular music from abroad, but that the influence of Arabic music had caused Persian music to decline as well. Singers and musicians on the radio were largely imitating international music, performing songs and tunes that not only had nothing to do with authentic Persian music, but did not follow the norms of international music. In a later interview, Shahrdār elaborated that influence-peddling, favoritism and nepotism had led the music broadcast on the Radio to suffer a chronic decline, effectively becoming an advertising platform for certain performers, enabling them to benefit from their fame financially by performing at private functions and weddings.5

Dāvud Pirniā and the Revival of Classical Persian Music and Poetry in Early to Mid-Twentieth Century Iran

Dāvud Pirniā's aristocratic family background, as well as his personal prestige and reputation as a politician and statesman was an important element in the success of the Golhā programs. His mother belonged to Qājār nobility and his father came from a line of prominent Persian political patriots. In order to understand the reasons underlying the cultural significance of the musical and literary success of the Golhā programs, it will first be necessary to take brief a look at the place of his family in Persian political history and the role played by his forbears in the history of early modern Iran.

Davud's grandfather Nasro'llah Khān, Moshir al-Dawla (d. 1907), had chosen "Pirniā" as his family name from the epithet of his famous ancestor Pir-e Nā'in, one of the last masters of the Kobravi /Nurbakhshi Sufi order.6 As the Grand Vizier, he played an important role in the establishment of constitutional government in Iran during the Constitutional Revolution and became its first Prime Minister.7 His role in the coronation of Mohammad 'Ali Shāh (on Jan. 25, 1907) was central, for he placed the royal crown on the monarch's head on ascension to the throne. When the monarch complained the crown was rather weighty, Nasro'llah Khān reportedly quipped: "Indeed for a head like yours, the crown would seem heavy." He retained the post of Prime Minister under the new monarch for only a few months, resigning from it on March 17, 1907.8 Shortly thereafter, on Sept. 13, 1907, he died suddenly in circumstances said to be suspicious.9

He was survived by three sons: 'Ali, Hosayn and Hasan Pirniā. 'Ali died young while abroad and was buried in Najaf. Hosayn Pirniā studied politics and law in Paris. However, it was Hasan Pirniā (1871-1935) who became mainly responsible for carrying on the Pirniā family tradition of civil service, public spirit and politics, and who inherited his father's title of Moshir al-Dawla.

Hasan Pirniā had been educated in military science and law in France and Russia, where he worked in the Iranian Embassy in St. Petersburg, having been appointed as the Iran's Minister plenipotentiary (Vazir-e mukhtar) to the Russian Court at age 27.10 Even at that young age, he had considerable experience as a diplomat, since he and his brother Hosayn (Mu'taman al-mulk) had been instrumental in the drafting of the Iranian Constitution-the Fundamental Law (qānun-e asāsi) of Dho'l-Qa'da 14, 1324/December 30, 1906 and its Supplement (motammem) of Sha'bān 1325/October 7, 1907.

Returning back from Russia to Tehran, he worked both as director of the Cabinet Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as special secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He founded a school for political science in Tehran, which opened on the 19th of December 1899. This school had a great influence on determining the direction and thought of the later constitutionalist movement11 and eventually became the foundation for the School of Law and Political Science at Tehran University.12 Hasan Pirniā acted as Mozaffar al-Din Shāh's official translator on the latter's trip to Europe.13 During his first week at work in the job of Minister for Foreign Affairs the text of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 31 August 1907 between the governments of Russia and England,14 which had declared that Iran would be divided into to zones of influence of these two governments, along with some official notes on the treaty, landed on his desk. He responded by declaring that the Convention to be null and void, insofar as the Iranian official who signed it had not been an official government appointee.15

Altogether Hasan Pirniā 'Moshir al-Dawla' held twenty-four ministerial posts during his political career, and served four times as Prime Minister. On one occasion, in 1915 when he was nominated to be Prime Minister by the Majlis, under his leadership "there was greater than usual cooperation between the cabinet and the Majles," so much so that he was successful along with the parliamentary deputies in repealing the law of June 1911 which had granted Shuster and then his successor, full powers as treasurer-general of Persia.16 In 1924, Hasan Pirniā assumed the post of Prime Minister for the last time, appointing Mosaddiq as his Foreign Minister, and retaining Rezā Khān as his Minister of War.17 When in October 1925, Rezā Khān became Reza Shah (reg. 1925-1941), Moshir al-Dawla completely retired from active politics. 18

During his retirement from political life, he wrote a three-volume history of Iran from the most ancient times, totaling 2866 pages, which was later published under the title of Ancient Iran (Irān-e bāstān). The first modern scholarly account of ancient Persian history written by an Iranian in the twentieth century, for this work he became known as the 'Father of History' in Iran. Since most of the sources that he relied on for these historical works were originally in Greek and Latin, in order to access these he referred to French, Russian, Arabic, English or German translations of those Greek and Latin sources in his bibliography.19 He was also instrumental in setting up and supporting the establishment of an Institute for the Preservation of the National Heritage (Anjoman-e āthār-e melli).

Having grown up in a family atmosphere of patriotism and dedication to civil service, Dāvud Pirniā was inspired with a great sense of public duty and a desire to serve his country and further the advancement of Persian culture. After studying law in Switzerland, he returned to Iran to work in the Judiciary, where he made several important contributions. He established the first Lawyers Guild in Iran in 1931 and wrote its bylaws. He also founded the first occupational school for girls, which he established after Reza Shah decreed the mandatory removal of the veil from all females in Iran. This school was intended to teach trades to young women so that they could make a living, including various crafts, such as sewing, embroidery, and making artificial flowers. He also worked at the Ministry of Finance where he established the first Office of Statistics. He served as Assistant (mo'āven) Prime Minister as well as legal adviser and Chief Inspector to Prime Minister Ahmad Qavām (1946-7). His political activities led him to play a major role in the emancipation of Azerbaijan when it was under Russian occupation. He had been sent to Azerbaijan by the Shah to form alliances with the leaders of the Resistance in order to combat Russian propaganda and help alleviate the famine caused by the Russian occupation.20 Following the resignation of Prime Minister Qavām in 1947, according to his son, he was asked to take over as PM but declined and retired from government service.21 At this juncture, just as with his father who had turned all his energies towards history-writing upon retirement from political life, a new chapter in Dāvud Pirniā's life began.

From his birth, Dāvud Pirniā had been living in his ancestral family's residence located in the neighborhood of Lālehzār-e naw in Tehran. In the 1940's and 50's this neighborhood was the center of the 'Theatre District' in Tehran, full of theatres, concert and music halls, cabarets and fashionable coffee houses.22 Needless to say, as Dāvud Pirniā paced the streets of Lālehzār-e naw during these years, he too had been acutely conscious of these negative outside pressures on the Iranian musical and literary heritage, which caused him great concern. He had strong mystical leanings and believed in the power of music and poetry to provide spiritual guidance and insight.23 The degenerating state of Persian music and lyrics was a common topic of conversation among his friends who included many of the famous writers, poets, composers and scholars of his day, such as 'Ali Dashti, Badi' al-Zamān Foruzānfar, Lotf-'Ali Suratgār, Hasan Shāhbāz, Rahi Mo'ayyiri, Kiyāmarz Vothuqi and Abo'l-Hasan Sabā. One day during the early 1950s, after returning from a visit to the home of his friend Kiyāmarz Vothuqi, Dāvud Pirniā concluded there was something he could and would do to combat the increasing corruption of classical Persian music and the continuing decadence of literary traditions. He would establish a series of radio programs devoted to classical Persian poetry and music.24

II. The Golhā Programs

Although the concept of these programs was an idea original to Pirniā, it should be mentioned that the major inspiration and model behind what later became the Golhā programs-long before the first recorded program (the 'Immortal Flowers', Golhā-ye Jāvidān series of 157 programs) was broadcast on Iranian National Radio on March 21, 1956-came from dervish séances and gatherings of Sufi musicians held by Iran's ex-ambassador to Italy, Khwāja-Nuri (Nizām al-Soltān) in a villa in his garden in the village of Qalanduyak, today located in Lavāsan in northeastern Tehran. Khwāja Nuri was himself of dervish persuasion and a great patron of all the Sufis in Iran. In these weekly gatherings, a number of eminent musicians, singers, as well as many notable men of letters and scholars participated. These included such notables and luminaries as Mortazā Mahjubi, 'Ali Tajvidi, the Intizām brothers, Abo'l-Hasan Sabā, and Hosayn Tehrāni. Of course, Dāvud Pirniā himself regularly attended and participated in these séances. Dervishes from all paths and orders were invited to participate in these gatherings. A great sense of egalitarianism and unity prevailed among its participants, with generals or viziers, as well as their wives, sitting shoulder to shoulder with servants, wandering dervishes, and working people. The gatherings were devoted to listening to music, singing and declamation of poetry, as well as the discussion and interpretation of the meaning of classical Persian poetry. The participants in these gatherings wanted to somehow broaden or make the fruits of these gatherings more widely available. Many different solutions were fielded, from writing a book, to taping the gatherings, to putting on live concerts and performances. Eventually the idea of using the national radio was chosen.25

In a radio interview re-broadcast in 1975 (originally broadcast on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the Iranian National Radio), Dāvud Pirniā described the history of the Golhā programs. He related that the Iranian National Radio formally invited him to come to the Radio, where he proposed the idea of a program called Golhā-ye jāvidān (Immortal Flowers [of Song and Verse]) to his friend Dr. Parviz 'Adl. The idea was readily accepted and accordingly, the first program was broadcast on March 21 (Nawruz), 1956, with the collaboration of setar player Ahmad 'Ebādi, the composer and violinist 'Ali Tajvidi, the singer Banān, and the singer and composer 'Ali Naqi Vaziri. As he relates, this first program, which was only ten minutes long, consisted of a short discussion of the poetry of Hāfez, followed by declamation and singing of two ghazals by Hāfiz, the first verses of which were:

Salāmi chu buyi khush-e āshinā'i/ bar ān mardān-e didih-e rushanā'i
Darudi chu nur-e dil-e pārsāyān/ bidān sham'-e khalvatgāh-e pārsā'i

I send salutations like a fragrant, pleasant friendly breeze
to the eyes of all enlightened men!
I give greetings, like the light in pious hearts
to that candle burning in the hermit's retreat!26

Nimibinam az hamdamān hich bar-jā'i/ dilam khun shud az ghuseh, Sāqi, kujā'i?

None of my friends do I see alive and still in place.
My heart is gutted with grief. Cupbearer, where have you gone?27

In the second program of the 'Immortal Flowers' series that was broadcast, Gulam Hosain Banān sang Rumi's famous ghazal beginning with the verse:

Man mast u tu divāneh, marā kih barad khāna

I am drunk and you are mad - Who shall bring us back to home?

This was preceded by a discussion and description of Rumi's Divān-e Shams, which at that time was not well known in Iran, the announcer clarifying that it was composed by Jalāl al-Din Rumi, not by a separate author named Shams. The third program was devoted to Sa'di, the fourth to 'Irāqi, containing the following verses from a ghazal by him:28

Hama shab bar āstānat shudih kār-e man gedā'i
Beh khudā keh in gidā'i nadaham beh pādeshāhi
Sar-e barg u gol nadāram, zeh cheh ru ravam bi-golshan?
Keh shinideh-am ze golhā hama bu-ye bivafā'i.
Beh kudām millat-ast in, beh kudām mazhab-ast in
Keh koshand 'āshiqi rā, keh tu 'āshiqam chirā'i?

Each night I lie upon your threshold like a beggar,
By God, I'd not renounce this beggary for a kingdom.
Why should I go to the garden? - I care nothing for any leaf of grass.
For from every rose I've only heard the scent of faithlessness.
Which state is this and what faith is this that advocates
A lover be slain? Why then therefore am I your lover?

Dāvud Pirniā concludes by remarking that 'Irāqi's Divān, just like Rumi's Divān-e Shams, was not particularly well-known in Iran during the 1950s, and in fact only a few members of the literary elite had any idea of who 'Irāqi was.29

Each program of the Immortal Flowers of Song and Verse (Golhā-ye jāvidān) began with a signature tune played on the clarinet by Mohammad Shir-khodā'i in the musical mode of Mokhālef-i sehgāh, followed immediately by these verses from Sa'di's Golestān that appropriately served to set the mood:

Be-cheh kār āyadat ze gul tabaqī?
Az golestān-e man bebar varaqi.
Gol hamin panj ruz u shish bāshad
V'in golestān hamisheh khvush bāshad.

What use are trays of flowers?
Take a petal or two from my garden.
Flowers last but a few days, yet this garden
Of mine will stay perpetually in bloom30

Each program concluded with the words: "This has been an immortal flower from the from the peerless garden of Persia Literature-a flower that shall never perish. Good night' (In ham goli bud jāvidān az gulzār-e bi-hamtā-ye adab-e Irān, goli keh hargiz nimirad. Shab khvush). In this fashion, verse by verse, song by song, poet by poet, these programs served to reintroduce the heritage of Persian poetry to the entire population of Iran. In this respect, the first series of radio programs, the Golhā-ye jāvidān, which were largely intended to introduce the literary and poetic heritage of Persian literature to the general public, did achieve their aim. Although these programs were well received and appreciated both by modernist intellectuals, un-lettered general public, and traditionalist Sufi mystics, after some time Dāvud Pirniā came to realize that they were so-to-speak too 'heavy' - too 'intellectual' for the broader taste of the general public. As a consequence, he decided to produce another program called 'Multi-colored Flowers' (Golhā-ye rangārang) with more diversity in literary content, that would contain not only classical Persian singing (āvāz) and poetry, but also modern poetry, popular romantic ballads (tarāna) as well as tunes and songs (tasnif).

It was in this rangārang series of programs that most of the great classical singers of the last half of the twentieth century, such as Marziya, Gulpāyagāni, Shajāriān, Nāhid, Ellahi, Parvin, Irāj, and Simā Binā, made their debut, and as a consequence of which they later became acclaimed. As the name suggests, 'Multi-colored Flowers' contained a diverse repertoire of the classical poets such as Hāfez, Sa'di, 'Irāqi, Rudaki, 'Attār and others, as well as contemporary poets like Rahi Mo'ayyiri, Mo'in-e Kirmānshāhi, Bizhān Taraqqi, Monireh Ṭāhā, Simin Behbahāni, Torāj Negāhbān and many other giants of contemporary Persian literature. The Golhā-ye rangārang contained not only classical dastgāh compositions but also some of the most memorable tasnif compositions composed by the likes of Ruho'llāh Khāleqi, Mehdi Khālidi, 'Ali Tajvidi, Parviz Yāhaqqi, Hosayn Yāhaqqi, Homāyun Khorram, Jahānbakhsh Pāzuki and many more. In addition to this, the Golhā-ye rangārang preserved and revived the works of composers and poets such as 'Āref Qazvini, 'Ali Akbar Shaydā and Darvish Khān, to name but a few. The rangārang series thus combined classical and contemporary poetry and musical compositions, featuring some of the most memorable songs of the twentieth century.

The first program in the series of 481 programs that began with number 100 opens with a poem by Rumi, followed by some verses by Sā'eb Tabrizi. Then came a poem composed in a classical manner by the contemporary poet 'Emād Khurāsāni (d. 2003), before concluding with a famous song composed by 'Ali Akbar Shaydā and sung by Marziya.

Suratgar-e naqāsh-e chin!      Row surat-e yāram bibin
Yā surati barkesh chinin      Ya tark-e kon suratgari.

Oh painter of those Chinese beauties,
Gaze at my love's comely portrait.
Either paint an image as good as hers,
Or leave off all pretence to portraiture.

The signature line of each of the rangārang programs concluded by invoking blessings upon the listener: "This then has been a few mulit-colored flowers from the peerless garden of Persia Literature. May joy and cheer always be with you.' (In ham chand goli bud rangārang az gulzār-e bi-hamtā-ye adab-e Irān. Hamisheh shād va hamisheh khvosh bāshed).

The next two programs which Dāvud Pirniā set up were entitled: 'A Green Leaf' (Barg-e sabz) and 'One single flower' (Yek shākh-e gol).

The 'Green Leaf' (Barg-e sabz) programs featured 312 programs each ranging from 20-45 minutes, consisting solely of declamation of mystical poetry from the great classical poets, followed by the formal singing (āvāz) of their poetry, without any popular rhythmical songs or ballads (tasnif / tarāna). In terms of profundity of Persian Sufi themes, erotic and theo-erotic images and ideas, the 'Green Leaf' programs comprise a veritable treasury of classical Persian poetry; as a collection, the Barg-e sabz programs form a kind of classical 'Canon' of Persian mystical song and verse that have yet to be rivaled in their wide-ranging literary and musical diversity, in arrangement of theosophical and erotic topics, and in tasteful selection of poets and poetry.

Each program opened with the following mystical verses from the famous tarji'band of Hātef Esfahāni (d. 1198/1783-4): "Open your eyes so you may see the epiphany of the Beloved displayed upon each wall and door. When you behold this vision, you will declare: 'He alone is Lord in all the land'." (Chesh bogshā keh jilva-e deldār dar tajalli'st az dar u divār. In tamāshā, chu bingari, gu'i: laysa fi'l-dār ghayrahu diyyār).

The first Green Leaf program featured Hasan Kasā'i (ney), Sayyed Javād Zabihi (vocals) and Jalil Shāhnāz (tār), with poetry by 'Attār and Rumi. It opened with a declamation of 'Attār's celebrated ghazal beginning: "Tonight, I will set out tipsy and dancing, in hand a pitcher full of wine dregs, and go down to the street where the wild man is, and there gamble away all existence" ('Azm-e ān dāram keh imshab nim-e mast/ pā-y kubān kuzeh-e dordi bi-dast// sar be-bāzār-e qalandar dar naham/ pas be-yek sa'at bebāzam har cheh hast).32 The main part of program was comprised by Zahibi's powerful singing of a ghazal by Rumi, before concluding with a Sufi apology: "This then was a green leaf, a humble dervish's gift. May the All-Transcendent One watch over you." (In ham barg-e sabzi bud, tohfeh-e darvish. 'Ali negāhdar-e shumā). The same two sentences continued as the regular signature of all the other Barg-e sabz programs produced under Pirniā's direction, with the declamation of Hātef's above-mentioned verses always comprising the program's prelude.

As its name suggests, the 'One single flower' (Yek shākh-e gol) programs concentrated on one individual theme for each program; these were shorter programs, each of 12-18 minutes' duration, with 465 programs being broadcast in all. Thematically they were devoted to the introduction of a particular poet, whether classical or modern, or a particular composition, event or musician. In particular, they introduced such poets as Vahshi Bafqi, Parvin Itesami, Amir Firuzkuhi, Naziri Nayshabori, Mālik al-Shu'arā Bahār, Āzar Bigdeli, Mansureh Atabaki (Zoreh), Parvin Dawlatābādi, along with their bio-bibliographical data to name just a few.

Finally, there were the 'Desert Flowers' (golhā-ye sahrā'i), 64 programs of 10-30 minutes of traditional folk tunes from the various regions and ethnic groups of Iran. These tunes had been first collected and then orchestrated by great musicians such as Ruho'llāh Khāliqi and Javād Ma'rufi.

All of the Golhā programs were highly acclaimed by both the intelligentsia and the general public. Thousands of fan letters were received on a weekly basis from listeners throughout Iran, so Pirniā was even forced to convene a special committee at the Radio to compose replies and respond to their comments.33 Several factors lay behind the extraordinary success of the Golhā programs.

Firstly, there was Dāvud Pirniā's eminent standing in Persian society and the respect that he and his family name and reputation commanded, which made it possible for him to attract musicians, singers, composers and songwriters who might not have been willing to participate in public performances otherwise.34 Dāvud Pirniā was not only a master diplomat and statesmen who had held some of the highest posts in the Iranian state during his lifetime in public service, but a supremely refined connoisseur of Persian music who was able to create a genuine atmosphere of comraderie, respect and appreciation among all the participants in the Golhā programs and their co-workers at the Radio.35

The second important factor behind the Golhā programs' success was the support, complete confidence and respect shown Dāvud Pirniā by Nosrato'llāh Mo'iniyān, who was both Minister of Information and Head of the National Radio at the time. Without his support, Pirniā would not have had the independence-whether culturally, intellectually or financially-to produce programs of such high quality and lasting calibre.

Thirdly was the matter of his own economic independence. During the eleven years that he worked on the Golhā programs, Dāvud Pirniā survived on his own independent income and was never paid a regular salary for his service at the Radio. Often, in the spirit of Persian chivalry (javānmardi) he would have lunch brought to the Radio from his home for the musicians, singers and other guests.36 In fact, the creation of the Golhā was completely separate and independent from the rest of the operation of the Radio in Iran during the 1950s and 60s under Pirniā's direction, both in respect to content and budget (both of which unfortunately became a bone of contention after Mo'iniyān left the Radio).

Fourthly, Pirniā's genius, intellectual acumen and educated literary tastes must be taken into account. He took great care in the production of the Golhā, sometimes listening to, editing, demanding changes and revisions in a program as much as thirty times over. One of his assistants told me that while working with Dāvud Pirniā, he had listened to most of the programs so often that he has most of them memorized to this day.37 On most days Dāvud Pirniā's office would be filled with the great and the good of Persian society who would come to listen firsthand to the latest Golhā programs, offering their remarks and opinions. They would bring along blank tapes in hope that if they were lucky, they might obtain a personal copy of a particular program for themselves.

In addition to attending to and responding to letters from listeners, Pirniā also enlisted the opinion of his friends and guests and took great stock in their comments in refining the production of the programs. He solicited the services of all the eminent scholars then living in Iran (Badi' al-Zamān Furuzānfar, Jalāl al-Din Homā'i, 'Ali Dashti, etc.) in composing program notes for individual poets.38

The Golhā orchestra performed only one public concert, which was held in the open air at the then Hilton Hotel in benefit of the earthquake victims of the Lar earthquake in 1960.39 Dāvud Pirniā famously even charged the performers for attending the concert. After 11 years of devoting himself to the Golhā, Dāvud Pirniā retired from his position at the radio for personal reasons. He continued to practice law and to write articles in various journals until his death of heart failure in 1971.

III. Conclusion: The Legacy of the Golhā Programs

Pirniā's Golhā programs marked a watershed in Persian culture, following which music and musicians gained respectability. However, their influence on the evolution of Persian musical culture needs to situated within the context of the religious society of traditional Iran. Heretofore, due to the conservative anti-music bias of traditional Islamic Shi'ite thought which dominated Persian society, music had been practiced behind closed doors. In the words of Ella Zonis, "the predominant trend in Islamic culture was anti-musical.... When music was practiced at all it was directly in the face of social and religious disapproval. As a result, art music was rarely performed in public."40 Where performed in public spaces, the performers were tarred with the same brush as popular street minstrels. Until the advent of these programs, it had been taken for granted that any female performers and musicians were less than respectable.41 However, due to the high literary and musical quality of these programs, public perception of music and musicians in Iran shifted forever, insofar as its participants came to be considered-virtually for the first time in Persian history of the Islamic period-as maestros, virtuosos, divas and adepts of a fine art, and no longer looked down upon as merely cabaret singers or denigrated as street minstrels.

In this respect, Dāvud Pirniā and the Golhā programs performed an immense service to both Persian literature and Persian music, by gathering together the most talented musicians, singers and literary figures of his day in an atmosphere of encouragement, comraderie and respect, these programs not only preserved, nurtured and fostered the future development of Persian classical music, but also introduced to the general public to over 250 poets from the ancients to the moderns.

There was an 80% illiteracy rate in Iran during the 1950s and 60s and there were only two types of mass media-the printed page and radio-the latter being the only form of mass communication that the majority of the general public could take advantage of. With the introduction of the transistor radio, the Golhā programs quickly penetrated into every village and hamlet throughout Iran. In accustoming the general public's ear to the highest quality of Persian music and musicians, the Golhā programs thus elevated general musical awareness and appreciation. They not only deepened the literary appreciation of the wider public by individually introducing so many poets and having their poetry sung and read on the radio but also raised the public profile of classical Persian poetry by giving descriptions and short biographies of hundreds of poets, many of which even literary historians today would be hard pressed to name.42 Bizhān Taraqqi, one of Iran's greatest living poets and song-writers, thus summarizes the legacy of the Golhā programs established by Dāvud Pirniā:

All the major names in Persian letters and poetry in contemporary Iran participated in these programs-all reputable musicians, radio announcers, famous song-writers, poets, composers, and scholars worked side by side with Pirniā, a man of incredible competence and ability, to make the Golhā orchestra and its programs a success. Abetted by them, Pirniā created a work that will be impossible to ever again duplicate, since all these cherished artists, aside from a handful, have now withdrawn themselves beneath the lids of the earth. Yet in the realm of Art their works of genius remain immortal just like the 'Immortal Flowers of Song and Verse' themselves.43

To conclude this survey of Dāvud Pirniā and the Golhā programs, I can do no better than offer three learned opinions about them gleaned from recent interviews with some of the greatest living figures in classical Persian music:

Farhad Fakhru'dini, at present (2008) Conductor of the National Orchestra, pronounced,

The Golhā programs were the most successful radio programs in Iran in those days.... They made people appreciate music much more and attracted people to good music because they gave people a taste for it. All those who participated in the creation of the Golhā program, such as Abo'l-Hasan Sabā, Mortazā Mahjubi, Tajvidi, Dāvud Pirniā and Rahi Mo'ayyeri, were people of high culture and extraordinary human beings. It should be emphasized that we didn't have any other entertainment at that time. One might go to the movies once a week, but there was no TV for us to watch. We would turn on the radio, and the best program of all at the time was the 'Program of Immortal Flowers'. Then came the 'Program of Parti-coloured-colored Flowers'. First, Messrs. Tajvidi, Mahjubi, and Sabā worked on these programs, and then Ruho'llāh Khāliqi, who had a good-sized ensemble (he was in fact the founder of the Golhā orchestra) appeared on the scene.44

Dr. Dāryush Safwat, founding member and former Director of the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Music (Anjuman-e hifz va āshayi-ye musiqi), recently opined:

The Golhā programs constituted an effort to perform authentic Persian music. They were inspired by private gatherings in which the best musicians participated. Many of these musicians were getting on in years and it would not have been appropriate to ask them to give public concerts. But they had a musical knowledge that was in danger of becoming lost forever, which they wished to put at the disposal of the people. Mr Pirniā performed an invaluable service in producing these programs. The Golhā not only had a great influence on Persian music, but significantly increased peoples' appreciation of Persian literature. When the Golhā were being broadcast, it was a common practice for people to drop whatever they were doing to listen to the radio.45

I shall leave the last word to Iran's greatest living classical vocalist Muhammad Rezā Shajāriān, who voiced his opinion about the legacy and significance to the Golhā programs as follows:

It is my belief that Persian music owes a huge debt to Dāvud Pirniā since at a crucial moment in the history of Iran he effectively rescued our music from perdition. If it wasn't for his efforts, Arab music, Turkish music, or Western pop music would have all but drowned out and obliterated Persian music. In establishing the Golhā programs, Mr Pirniā created a sanctuary where Persian music could survive and flourish amongst all these conflicting and corrupting influences, so that even today the Golhā programs are still cherished among the populace at large.46


'Attār, Divān-e 'Attār, ed. T. Tafazzoli, 3rd ed. (Tehran: Markaz-e Inteshārāt-i 'ilmi va farhangi 1362 A.Hsh./ 1983).

E.G. Browne, The Persian Revolution 1905-1909, (reprt. Washington: Mage Publishers 1995).

Fatho'llāh Dawlatshāhi, "Pirniā va golhā-ye jāvidāna-e javānash. Part 3: "Tanavvu' dar āsār va yādgārhā-ye adabi va muziki Pirniā," Javān, Issue 611 (Los Angeles, February 1999), pp. 30, 109.

Mansoureh Ettehadieh, "Constitutional Revolution, iv. The Aftermath," in EIr, IV, pp. 193-99.

Zavin Hacobian, ed. Majāla-e Musiqi, (Tehran 1956-66).

Hāfez: Diwān-e Khwāja Shams al-Din Muhammad Hāfez, ed. Parviz Nātil Khānlari, (Tehran: Inteshārāt-e Khawārazmi 1359 A.Hsh./1980)

Ruho'llāh Khāliqi (editorial): "Hadaf va ravish-e Majāla," in Majāla-e Chang, No. 1, (March 21, 1946), p. 3

Ruho'llāh Khāliqi (editorial) "Yek pishnihād-e mufid," Majāla-e Chang, No. 4. (Jan. 21, 1947), p. 3

'Ali Mazhari, "Hājji Pirzāda, Darvish-e safi-zamir". Fasl-nāma-e Sufi (Persian edition; London, Fall 1998), pp. 7-16.

Muhammad Musaddiq, Musaddiq's Memoirs, ed. H. Katouzian, trans. S.H. Amin and H. Katouzian (London: JEBHE National Movement of Iran 1988).

Habibo'llāh Nasirifar, Gulbāng-e Golhā: Shi'r va musiqi, (Tehran: Nigāh 1377/1998), 2 vols.

Sa'id Moshkin-qalam (ed.), Tasnifhā, taranahā va surudhā-ye Irān-zamin (Tehran: Inteshārāt-e Khāna-e sabz 1378 A.Hsh./1999), 2 vols.

Bruno Nettl, "Attitudes towards Persian Music in Tehran, 1969," Musical Quarterly, LVI/2 (April 1970), pp. 183-97.

Bruno Nettl, "Persian Popular Music in 1969," Ethnomusicology, XVI/2 (May 1972), pp. 218-239.

Bāstāni Pārizi, Talāsh-e āzādi, (Tehran: Nashr-e 'Ilm 1383/2004).

Moshir Humāyun Shahrdār, "Qadamhā-ye keh barāyi bihbud-e musiqi-ye Īrāni Radio [sic.] bar dāshteh-shudeh-ast." Radio Iran (Sharivār 1335/1956), no.1. p. 13.

B. Tavakoli and M. Ghafary Ashtiany, (eds.), Seismic Hazard Assessment of Iran, (Tehran: International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology [IIEES] 1960).

Mansūreh Pīrniā, Ardashīr Zāhidī: Farzand-e Khānadān-i Zāhidī va Pirniā: afkār va andesha, ravāyat-i Ardashir Zāhidī (Maryland: Mihr-e Irān Publishing Co. 2004).

Daryush Pirniā with Erik Nakjavani. "Golhā, Barnāma-ye," in EIr, XI, pp. 92-95.

Sa'di. Golestān-i Sa'di, ed. Khalil Khatib-Rahbar (Tehran: Inteshārāt-i Safi 'Ali Shāh 1379 A.Hsh./2000).

Bizhān Taraqqi, Az pusht-i dīvārhā-yi khātireh (2nd ed., Tehran: Chāpkhāna-i Māh-i mihr 1386/2007).

Donald B. Wilber, Iran, Past and Present (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1967).

Ella Zonis "Contemporary Art Music in Persia," Musical Quarterly, vol. 51 (1965), pp. 636-48.

Dāvud Pirniā in his private office in Moshir al-Dawla's House in Lālehzār-e naw, Tehran

1-Dāvud Pirniā in his private office in Moshir al-Dawla's House in Lālehzār-e naw, Tehran

Rahi Mo'ayyeri and Dāvud Pirniyā at Maydān-i Arg Radio Studio Tehran.

2-Rahi Mo'ayyeri and Dāvud Pirniyā at Maydān-i Arg Radio Studio Tehran.

Adib Khwānsāri, Mortazā Mahjubi, and Marziya at Maydān-i Arg Radio Studio, Tehran.

3-Adib Khwānsāri, Mortazā Mahjubi, and Marziya at Maydān-i Arg Radio Studio, Tehran.

Abu'l-Hasan Sabā, 'Ali Tajvidi, Mortazā Mahjubi at Maydān-i Arg Radio Studio Tehran, circa 1955.

Abu'l-Hasan Sabā, 'Ali Tajvidi, Mortazā Mahjubi at Maydān-i Arg Radio Studio Tehran, circa 1955.

<em>Golhā</em> female singers. From left to right: Purān, Yāsamin and Elāha (seated), with Iren (the actress).<

Golhā female singers. From left to right: Purān, Yāsamin and Elāha (seated), with Iren (the actress).


<em>Golhā</em> Benefit Concert for Lār Earthquake Victims at the Hilton Hotel, Tehran (1960)

Golhā Benefit Concert for Lār Earthquake Victims at the Hilton Hotel, Tehran (1960)

Seated (right to left): Ahmad Ebrāhimi, Bizhān Taraqqi, Hosayn Tehrāni, Parviz Yāhaqqi. Second row (right to left): Solaymān Amir-Qāsemi, Farhang Sharif, Zabih Malekpur, Mortazā Mahjubi, Ebrāhim Sahbā, Sādeq Sarmad. Above Mortazā Mahjubi: Nabizādeh (Toyuri).

Seated (right to left): Ahmad Ebrāhimi, Bizhān Taraqqi, Hosayn Tehrāni, Parviz Yāhaqqi.
Second row (right to left): Solaymān Amir-Qāsemi, Farhang Sharif, Zabih Malekpur, Mortazā Mahjubi, Ebrāhim Sahbā, Sādeq Sarmad.
Above Mortazā Mahjubi: Nabizādeh (Toyuri).


1 Thanks to a generous grant from the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library, I have been able to collect and digitalize the complete archive of the Golhā programs, which I have now deposited in the World Music section of the National Sound Archive in the British Library, where they are available and accessible to scholars and musicians for research purposes. I would like to thank Dāvud Pirniā's family, especially three of his sons: Daryoush (and wife Mansoureh), Bizhān and Farukh Pirniā for their encouragement and support for this project from the outset. I would also like to thank so many of Mr. Pirniā's other colleagues, associates and dear friends both in Iran and the West-there not being enough space to name them all here-who have been so generous with their time and sharing their memories with me. << Back

2 Donald B. Wilber, Iran, Past and Present (Princeton University Press 1967), pp. 105-06 << Back

3 See Ruho'llāh Khāliqi's two editorials: "Hadaf va ravish-e Majāla," in Majāla-e Chang, No. 1, (March 21, 1946), p. 3; and idem., "Yek pishnihād-e mufid," Majāla-e Chang, No. 4. (Jan. 21, 1947), p. 3. See also in general Majāla-e Musiqi, ed. Zavin Hacobian, (Tehran 1956-66). As Ella Zonis observed: "Once again, as in the time of her contact with ancient Greece, Persia is undergoing heavy cultural pressure from the West. This has greatly stimulated musical activity, and the long quiescence that preserved Persia's centuries old music has come to an end. However the danger exists here, as it does all over Asia, that native art music either will be replaced by Western Music or will be so westernized as to lose all connection with the native tradition." "Contemporary Art Music in Persia," Musical Quarterly, vol. 51 (1965), p. 647; see also Bruno Nettl, "Attitudes towards Persian Music in Tehran, 1969," Musical Quarterly, LVI/2 (April 1970), pp. 183-97. << Back

4 Moshir Humāyun Shahrdār, "Qadamhā-ye kih barāyi bihbud-e musiqi-ye Īrāni Radio [sic.] bar dāshtih-shudih-ast." Radio Iran (Sharivār 1335/1956), no.1. p. 13. << Back

5 From an interview with Shahrdār re-broadcast on Iranian Radio on August 25, 1999. << Back

6 Bāstāni Pārizi, Talāsh-e āzādi, (Tehran: Nashr-e 'Ilm 1383/2004), pp. 44-45; 'Ali Mazhari, "Hājji Pirzāda, Darvish-e safi-zamir". Fasl-nāma-e Sufi (Persian edition; London, Fall 1998), pp. 7-16. << Back

7 Mansūrih Pīrniā, Ardashīr Zāhidī: Farzand-i Khānadān-i Zāhidī va Pīrniā, afkār va andīsha, ravāyat-i Ardashīr Zāhidī (Maryland: Mihr-i Irān Publishing Co. 2004), p. 36. << Back

8 E.G. Browne, The Persian Revolution 1905-1909 (reprt. Washington: Mage Publishers 1995), p. 139. << Back

9 Pirniā, Ardashir Zāhidi, p. 37; E.G. Browne, The Persian Revolution, p. 155. << Back

10 Muhammad Musaddiq, Musaddiq's Memoirs, ed. H. Katouzian, trans. S.H. Amin and H. Katouzian (London: JEBHE National Movement of Iran 1988), p. 91, n. 1. << Back

11 Bāstāni Pārizi, Talāsh-e āzādi, p. 95 << Back

12 Pirniā, Ardashir Zāhidi, p. 38. << Back

13 Bāstāni Pārizi, Talāsh-e āzādi, p. 96. << Back

14 Pirniā, Ardashir Zāhidi, p. 38. << Back

15 Pirniā, Ardashir Zāhidi, p. 38. << Back

16 Mansoureh Ettehadieh, "Constitutional Revolution, iv. The Aftermath," in EIr, IV, p. 195. << Back

17 Musaddiq, Musaddiq's Memoirs, ed. H. Katouzian, trans. S.H. Amin and H. Katouzian (London: JEBHE National Movement of Iran 1988), introduction, p. 249. << Back

18 Musaddiq's Memoirs, introduction, p. 13. << Back

19 Pirniā, Ardashir Zāhidi, p. 45. He gave all of his notebooks about the history of ancient Iran (particularly that of the Sasanian period) to Sa'id Nafisi in the last days of his life to publish but the tumult of World War II prevented their publication. Ibid. << Back

20 Dāvud Pirniā later expressed his pride in and admiration for the courage and valor of the Azari Freedom fighters who he encountered during his mission to Azerbaijan under Russian occupation. (Radio Interview with Dāvud Pirniā broadcast on Tehran National Radio ND circa 1950) << Back

21 When asked why Dāvud Pirniā resigned from government service so unexpectedly at this "high point" of his political career, his son Daryoush Pirnia (Interview, Maryland, USA, October 11, 2007) informed the author: "After the resignation of Prime Minister Qavām caused by the Iranian-Soviet oil dispute, the Shah vacillated between implementing opposite policies of appeasement and confrontation with the Soviets. The Shah at that time asked my father to become Prime Minister, but on condition that he would agree to introduce a bill into Parliament which would give the Soviets a concession to develop the oil reserves in northern Iran, similar to the concessions that had been granted to the British in the south. This bill was supposed to appease the Soviets and so relieve Iran of the political pressure exerted by them. My father, being opposed to this policy, declined to accept the offer to become Prime Minister and subsequently retired completely from public office. Later, when Ardeshir Zahedi was Foreign Minister, the Shah invited my father to become a senator but he again declined the invitation." See also Fatho'llāh Dawlatshāhi, "Pirniā va golhā-ye jāvidāna-e javānash." Part 3: "Tanavvu' dar āsār va yādgārhā-ye adabi va muziki Pirniā," Javān, Issue 611 (Los Angeles, February 1999), p. 30. << Back

22 Bruno Nettl's description of the situation a decade or so later was by and large typical of the 1940s-50s as well: "Western popular music is performed both by Iranian and foreign performers in nightclubs in Tehran of the same sort that one finds in large European and American cities. The language of the singing was normally English, French, or Italian. Popular music in the various Persian styles... is most typically heard in large music halls which in Tehran are concentrated in one district whose center is Laleh Zar Avenue. These music halls in contrast to the modern night clubs, are patronized almost exclusively by by men and each of them has a cliental by an occupation." "Persian Popular Music in 1969," Ethnomusicology, XVI/2 (May 1972), pp. 218-239. << Back

23 H. Nasirifar, Gulbāng-e Golhā: She'r va musiqi, (Tehran: Nigāh 1377/1998), Vol. 2, p. 529. << Back

24 Interview with Bizhān Pirniā (son of Dāvud Pirniā) in Tehran, Iran (September 12, 2005). << Back

25 Interview with Daryoush Pirnia, Maryland, USA, August 17, 2005. << Back

26, See Diwān-e Khwāja Shams al-Din Muhammad Hāfiz, ed. Parviz Nātil Khānlari, (Tehran: Inteshārāt-e Khawārazmi 1359 A.Hsh./1980), ghazal 483: 1-2. << Back

27 Ibid., ghazal 483: 3 << Back

28 Dāvud Pirniā, Special Program on the History of Iranian Radio (Bar-nāma-e tārikh-e Radio), re-broadcast on Iranian Radio, July 27, 1990. << Back

29 As Bizhān Taraqqi notes in his Memoirs: Az pusht-e divārhā-ye khātirih (2nd ed., Tehran: Chāpkhāna-e Māh-e mihr 1386/2007), p. 144, even though Dāvud Pirniā benefited from the collaboration of the greatest literary minds and talents of his day, it was he himself who wrote the introductory remarks and descriptions to the Golhā programs. << Back

30 Golestān-i Sa'di, ed. Khalil Khatib-Rahbar (Tehran: Inteshārāt-i Safi 'Ali Shāh 1379 A.Hsh./2000), p. 30. << Back

31 Sa'id Moshkin-qalam (ed.), Tasnifhā, taranehhā va surudhā-ye Irān-zamin (Tehran: Inteshārāt-e Khāna-e sabz 1378 A.Hsh./1999), vol. I, p. 45. << Back

32 Divān-e 'Attār, ed. T. Tafazzoli, 3rd ed. (Tehran: Markaz-e Inteshārāt-i 'ilmi va farhangi 1362 A.Hsh./ 1983), ghazal 55, p. 41. << Back

33 Interview with Prof. Shāh Hosayni (former Director of the Committee of Radio Writers and Editor of the Radio Iran journal under Dāvud Pirniā) on Nov. 3, 2007 in Tehran, Iran. << Back

34 All the musicians and singers in the Golhā programs who I interviewed during 2005-07 stressed this. << Back

35 While interviewing Mr. Haqiqi (who had been in charge of paying salaries (sanduq-dār) for the Golhā programs' musicians and singers during the 1950's and 60's) in 2006 at the Radio station at Maydān-e Arg in Tehran where he was working in the archive, the mere mention of Dāvud Pirniā's name was enough for him to burst into tears of nostalgia. Interview conducted by the author, Dec. 2, 2006. Maydān-e Arg, Tehran Radio, Tehran, Iran. << Back

36 Interview with Bizhān Taraqqi, Dec. 2, 2007 in his home in Tehran, Iran. << Back

37 Personal Interview with Mr. Qurbāni, Radio Tehran, Maydān-e Arg, March 6, 2007. << Back

38 Interview with Prof. Shāh-Hosayni on Nov. 3, 2007 in Tehran, Iran. << Back

39 "6.7 Earthquake Hits Lar Devastating the City," in Seismic Hazard Assessment of Iran, (eds.) B. Tavakoli and M. Ghafary Ashtiany (Tehran: International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology [IIEES] 1960). << Back

40 Ella Zonis, "Contemporary Art Music in Persia," Musical Quarterly, vol. 51 (1965), p. 637. In his article on "Attitudes towards Persian Music in Tehran, 1969," Musical Quarterly, 56/2 (1979), p. 186, Bruno Nettl points out that "the most devout [Iranian Muslims] rejected music. ... The effect of the religious prohibition has considerable impact on musical life. On religious holidays (most of which are days of mourning for the death of martyrs such as Ali, Hasan, and Hossein, early Imams of Islam), there is not music on the radio and no public musical events or rehearsals, even if these are days on which other sorts of business takes place. There appears to be a strong feeling on the part of the populace that even rehearsals should not be held, for example, some musicians (of Western music) have told me that while they themselves had no objection to rehearsing on at least minor holidays, they did not like to be seen carrying a musical instrument in public. Similarly, on such holidays the music department of the University of Tehran is closed, while other departments hold classes." (!) << Back

41 Today in revolutionary Iran it is still forbidden to broadcast female voices singing on the Iranian radio and television or in any public venues with mixed audiences. << Back

42 See also Daryush Pirniā with Erik Nakjavani, "Golhā, Barnāma-ye," in EIr, XI, p. 94f. << Back

43 Az pusht-i dīvārhā-yi khātireh (2nd ed., Tehran: Chāpkhāna-i Māh-i mihr 1386/2007), pp. 146-47. << Back

44 Interview conducted with the author in Tehran, Iran, on October 2, 2005. << Back

45 Interview conducted with the author in Karaj, Iran, on September 1, 2005. << Back

46 Interview conducted with the author in London, U.K. on Nov. 5, 2005. << Back