Music of Iran

Film Music In Iranian Cinema
By: Saeed Kashefi, 1994


The history of film music in Iran can be divided into four eras, during each of which there were certain upheavals for the growing cinema of Iran. The first era extends from 1907 to 1941, when people still enjoyed silent films in Iran. Unfortunately all that is remembered from those days is that a couple of traditional music players used to accompany the film in the movie theatre. Later, pianists or small bands did the job for years. This manner of live music flavoring naturally lasted until sound films found their way into movie theatres in downtown Tehran. The production of the first sound films in Iran started at the same time.

The Storm of Life (1948), by Ali Daryabeygi, was the first Iranian quasi-musical. A few pieces of music and a couple of songs were incorporated into the story. They were played by the orchestra of the Iranian Music Council established by Rouhollah Khaleghi and Colonel Alinaghi Vaziri. Between 1933 and 1937, six films had been made by Abdolhossein Sepanta at Indian studios. They were also spiced with some songs. But even the music which accompanied Iranian films during the second era was far from its modern concept or application.

It consisted of no more than a few relevant or irrelevant songs. These films were by no means qualified to be classified as musical. You can find too few films from those days with music other than vulgar songs; they were rarely composed for dramatic or romantic purposes. In the same years, Esmail Koushan started the post-dubbing technique in Iran. This privilege made it possible for sound editors to make use of the music of foreign films. In those years you could easily expect to hear a part of the music of "Gone With the Wind" mixed with a sonata by Beethoven and suddenly followed by a piece of Spanish music. During that period, there were two outstanding musician to be remembered for their works. One was Morteza Hannaneh known for his "absolute music." He has, of course, composed some pieces for films, too, However, the only real original film music to be made in that era was that of Downtown (Farrokh Ghaffari, 1958). Hormoz Farhat, the prominent Iranian composer, who made the music for Downtown, later composed the music for Dariush Mehrjui's The Cow (1969). There were quite a few composers to put their efforts in films, but because producers used to fail to appreciate the role of music in their films those composers could not work for cinema professionally. Finally, in the 1970's after two decades of failure, new hopes shone on the Iranian cinema. That was when young educated film-makers came back to Iran to begin a new surge of serous film-making. Directors such as Dariush Mehrjui, Bahram Beyzai, Amir Naderi, Parviz Kimiavi, Naser Taghvaee, Ali Hatami and Massoud Kimiaei came up with valuable works in the 1970's. Their serious, academic attitude toward their career required all the ingredients of their films to be optimized and applied accurately. Composers were among those who contributed to the creation of films. This was how music came to appear in the qualities of Iranian films.

There were several musicians to compose for films including Varoojan, Farhat, Ahmad Pejman, Loris Cheknavarian, Shaida Gharachedaghi, Hannaneh and Esfandiar Monfaredzadeh. Farhat, for instance, held a Ph.D. in music. He insisted on using Iranian traditional instruments with modern forms of music. His works for The Cow and Tranquility in the Presence of Others (1970) by Taghvai turned out to be highly valued.

Tjeknavorian, who already had several records of his own conducting of London Philharmonic Orchestra also made good, though a bit unconventional pieces for Hajir Dariush's Bita, which starred Entezami and Googoosh (1971) and Naderi's Tangsir (1973). Other novelties were by Gharachedaghi, in Bayzai's Downpour (1971); Pejman in Bahman Farmanars's Long Shadows of Wind (1979) and Prince Ehtejab (1975). This new trend of "flavoring films with music," as vulgar filmmakers understood it, made them go for original music for their cheap films. So they sometimes resorted to uneducated "music-fabricators" to make up something for their films. For instance there was a vulgar, folkloric composer who could not even read notes, but he managed to outnumber all professional film music composers in that decade by adopting their styles and fabricating new pieces. They said he whistled his rhythms and recorded themes for his nephew who used to write them down and compose for the band. Not surprisingly, he made more pieces than the total output of all other composers. The main reason was that in those years, Iranian cinema was predominated by cheap films which naturally could not win the attention of reputable composers for cooperation. As a result, those composers left out of the "new wave" in the Iranian cinema felt free to make their own adaptations of Iranian or western pieces of music for those low class films.

With the Islamic Revolution in 1979, cinema fell into hibernation for a couple of years. Actually since the previous year there had been talk about the need for a substantial reform in the Iranian film industry to save it from an impending bankruptcy.

In early '1980's, the Iranian cinema began to rise from its ashes once again in a totally new form. Fajr Film Festivals were also set up, to mark the beginning of a new serious era of filmmaking in a revolutionary society. Now, young directors such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Ebrahim Hatami-Kia showed up, and other directors like Mehrjui, Bayzai and Hatami resumed their career even more vigorously. In the beginning years of the 1980's, music was still in a state of confusion. But it soon recognized its identification at higher merit. It developed so firmly that after a few years, we can witness a record of 100 pieces of Iranian film music this year. Among the reasons and backgrounds for the film growth of music in the Iranian cinema at an artistic, professional level in the past decade are the following:

  1. The relative recess of music after the Revolution urged the Iranian composers to turn their attention toward cinema and in order to survive, they naturally tried to adapt their works for the films in a practical manner.
  2. Fajr Film Festivals granted an award to the best film music every year and this has been a strong motivation.
  3. Several magazines are now being published on film and cinema. They are also paying special attention to film music, interviewing composers and reviewing their works constantly for the first time in Iran.
People are, in their turn, showing great interest in recorded copies of film music, which has served both as encouragement and guidance for musicians. Of no less importance is the new department of film music at cinema faculties in Iran, where lecturers like Karim Googerdchi. Kambiz Roshanravan, and Shahrokh Khajenoori, all graduates from European and American academies, are offering courses on film music.

In their endeavor to reach this stage, professional musicians of Iranian cinema have experienced ups and downs since the Revolution. A review of this trend since 1982 gives new hopes despite the fact that quality is not yet as promoted as quantity. This is mainly due to scarcity of competent players. After all, so many music performers left Iran to reside abroad during the recess in the early years of Revolution. In those same years, Iranian composers tried different ways to make up for this shortage. Some even tried the over-dubbing method in which sextet bands played each instrument and they were all recorded on sound tracks. This method did not provide the same ambience as an orchestra.

There was also another problem. The sound equipment available at studios was out-of- date. How could the studios get furnished while they were all suffering from the recession and bankruptcy? In fact, even now, there is no studio in Iran equipped enough to synchronize an orchestra and a film tape playing together. Iranian film musicians usually use a chronometer to pace the shots and match their music, a very accurate job on an editing machine.

All the above-described hurdles caused nearly 90% of the musicians of the Iranian cinema to produce their works by means of advanced electronic synthesizers, samplers, and tone generators. In this way they were able to generate the sounds of Iranian instruments all by themselves at home.

Although Iranian composers usually have their own special style and music structure, they all share in one thing: melodic, lively rhythms. That might be because they often begin with folkloric songs and shift to film music. By now, there are, of course, other genres of music available for films, including jazz and pop, which are adapted according to the kind of film.

In the past few years, a few composers have emerged in the Iranian cinema with highly appraised works. Composers like:

Majid Entezami with the music for the Red Line (Kimiaei, 1982), The Peddler (Makhmalbaf, 1986), Avinar (Shahram Assadi, 1993) and From Karkheh to Rhine (Hatami-Kia, 1993).

Babak Bayat with his works for Yadollah Samadi's Bus (1985), Beyzai's Maybe, Some other Time (1988), and Varouj Karim-Massihi's Last Act (1991).

Pejman, who made pieces for Actor (Makhmalbaf, 1993) and Zinat (Ebrahim Mokhtari, 1994).

Naser Cheshmazar with his music for The Tenants (Mehrjui, 1986), Identification (Mohammad Reza A'lami, 1987), O' Iran (Taghvai, 1990), Hamoon (Mehrjui, 1990), and Eye of Satan (Hassan Hedayat, 1994).

Hannaneh: Hezardastan (1978-87) a TV series by Hatami and The Man Who Turned Into a Mouse (1985) by Ahmad Bakhshi.

Roshanravan has made music for Massoud Jafari's Frosty Roads (1985)and Pouran Derakhshandeh's The Little Bird of Happiness (1988).

Mohammad-Reza Aligholi with his works for Dowry for Robab (Siamak Shayeghi, 1987), Nargess (Rakhshan Banietemad 1992) and The Epic of Majnoon (Jamal Shoorjeh, 1994).

Farhad Fakhreddini has composed for Mohammad-Ali Najafi's Report on a Murder (1987) and Night Nurse (1988).

Hossein Alizadeh made a goof job in Hatami's Love Stricken (1991).

Googerdchi who composed for Reconnaissance Flight (Hatami-Kia, 1989).

Those were some of the most successful melody makers for Iranian films in the past decade. Looking in the catalogs of Iranian films, you will surely find several other names in the credit titles.

This report has illustrated the status quo of Iranian film music to some extent, but what would be more promising is to listen to the works of these composers.