Darvish Khan


DARVĪŠ KHAN, ḠOLĀM-ḤOSAYN (b. Tehran, 1289/1872, d. Tehran, 2 Āḏar 1305 Š./23 November 1926), master musician, renowned teacher, and innovative composer of Persian classical music. He was a transitional figure, both a guardian of tradition and an innovator, introducing changes in style of performance, composition, and construction of instruments.

Ḡolām-Ḥosayn’s father, Ḥājī Bašīr Ṭālaqānī, was a postal official and an amateur musician; it was he who first called his son Darvīš, apparently a habit of his. The boy was enrolled in the band at Dār al-Fonūn, directed by the Frenchman Alfred Lemaire (Mallāḥ, 1333 Š./1954, p. 68). There he learned to play trumpet and drum; he also played the drum in a children’s band formed for the young ʿAzīz-al-Solṭān, a favorite of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah (1264-1313/1848-96). He became interested in the setār and received his first lessons from his father, later studying the tār with the master Āqā Ḥosaynqolī, whose best student he is considered to have been (Ḵāleqī, pp. 300-03).

Darvīš Khan was introduced to Prince Šoʿāʿ-al-Salṭana, a son of Moẓaffar-al-Dīn Shah (1313-24 /1896-1907), by Kamāl-al-Salṭana, father of his own later student Abu’l-Ḥasan Ṣabā. One night Āqā Ḥosaynqolī was playing for the prince and, after starting a particular dastgāh, asked permission for his pupil Darvīš Khan to finish it. The prince was so impressed with the performance that he invited Darvīš Khan to join his retinue of musicians, which also included Nāyeb Asad-Allāh and Āqā Jān (Mallāḥ, 1333 Š./1954, p. 70). After several months the prince was sent to Shiraz, taking his musicians with him. There Darvīš Khan married Nowrasīda, daughter of Badr-al-Salṭana, a military adviser, and eventually they had a daughter named Qamar (Mallāḥ, 1333 Š./1954, p. 71; Ḵāleqī, p. 303). After his marriage Darvīš Khan began to supplement his income by playing at the parties of local princes. Šoʿāʿ-al-Salṭana became angry and ordered his fingers severed, but Kamāl-al-Salṭana interceded to prevent this misfortune.

After returning to Tehran Darvīš Khan started a small music class. He also asked other princes to help free him from his commitment to Šoʿāʿ-al-Salṭana (Mallāḥ, 1333 Š./1954, p. 71). The infuriated prince sent a servant to summon Darvīš Khan to his presence. The latter asked the servant to wait while he changed his clothes, then escaped through the back entrance and sought refuge with ʿAbbāsqolī Khan, chief custodian of the British embassy. After Darvīš Khan had explained his predicament and played a European piece on the tār for the ambassador’s wife, the ambassador wrote to the prince, asking him to free Darvīš Khan from his commitment, which the prince agreed to do (Ḵāleqī, pp. 303-05) Darvīš Khan expanded his music classes and continued to play at private gatherings, one of which was described by the poet ʿĀref Qazvīnī in his Dīvān (pp. 128-32). He joined the Sufi order Anjoman-e oḵowwat, led by Mīrzā ʿAlī Khan Ẓahīr-al-Dawla, and became director of its orchestra. Ẓahīr-al-Dawla encouraged musical performances, and in 1324/1906 the society sponsored what is considered to have been the first public concert in Persia. It was held in a garden on the outskirts of Tehran and reportedly lasted twenty-four hours (Zonis, p. 144). Darvīš Khan also gave concerts in the hall of the Grand Hotel (Gerānd Hotel).

Traditional performance of a dastgāh usually began with a nonmetric āvāz or a čahārmeżrāb, an improvised instrumental solo. Musical ensembles were small, and solo instrumentalists took turns playing alone or accompanying a singer; in the taṣnīf (rhythmic song) and reng (a classical dance form) they might also play as an ensemble at the end of the dastgāh. The classical radīf (repertoire) itself included only a few metric pieces, most of them short. The influence of Western music, with its large orchestras and concert format, was growing in Persia, however. Musicians like Darvīš Khan organized larger orchestras, which encouraged the composition of more ensemble pieces. At one concert rehearsal of the Anjoman orchestra the composer Rokn-al-Dīn Khan Moḵtār introduced a new, metric opening piece. As it came before the darāmad, it was called pīšdarāmad (prelude). Both Moḵtār and Darvīš Khan composed many pīšdarāmads, and Darvīš Khan is credited with having popularized them both through perfomance and through teaching them to his students. Although at first the pīšdarāmad was a short piece based on the darāmad, Darvīš Khan expanded it to include sections in the major gūšas of the dastgāh. His pīšdarāmads are known for their variety of rhythm and melody (Mallāḥ, 1337-38 Š./1958-59, 16, p. 22; Khāleqī, pp. 309-13).

At some unknown time Āqā Ḥosaynqolī was invited by His Master’s Voice to bring an orchestra to London to record traditional Persian music. Apparently because of the growing popularity of the pīšdarāmad, however, these more old-fashioned recordings sold badly in the Persian market (Mallāḥ, 1333 Š./1954, pp. 74-75). Later Darvīš Khan himself made two recording trips with another group of musicians, one to London and one to Tiflis in 1332/1914.

Darvīš Khan was an open and generous teacher. He addressed everyone by a single phrase, “Yā Pīr Jān,” which became one of his own nicknames. Both Darvīš and Pīr Jān were appropriate to his association with the Sufis; he used to present his graduating students with the emblem of the Anjoman, two crossed hatchets (tabarzīn) and a begging bowl (kaškūl), in copper, silver, or gold, depending on the level reached (Maḥmūdī, p. 12). His classes were organized according to three levels of the radīf; completion of all three took approximately ten years. Students came twice a week to classes organized according to difficulty. Each had an individual lesson while the others waited and listened in the next room (Nettl, 1974, p. 168). Only about twenty students ever completed the full course and received the gold medal (Maḥmūdī, p. 12). The most talented included Abu’l-Ḥasan Ṣabā, Mūsā Maʿrūfī, Mortażā Ney Dāwūd, Ḥosaynqolī Ḡaffārī, Šokr-Allāh (Šokrī), ʿAlī-Moḥammad Ṣafāʾī, ʿAbd-Allāh Dādvar, Ḥosayn Sanjarī, and Arsalān Dargāhī (Khāleqī, pp. 430-42).

Darvīš Khan’s own playing on tār and setār was considered both technically masterly and artistically warm and melodious. The variety he introduced in his performance style is attributed to the European tunes he played on the tār (Mallāḥ, 1337-38 Š./1958-59, 22, p. 22), to which he added a sixth string, just before the lowest, doubling the low C string. In this innovation he followed Moštāq-ʿAlīšāh, who had added a resonating string to the setār. Both strings are thus known as sīm-e moštāq (Caron and Safvate, pp. 166-68).

Darvīš Khan’s twenty-four compositions, particularly his rengs, are considered among the finest works of his time (Khāleqī, p. 322). They are characterized by variety in both melody and rhythm. He particularly popularized the 2/4 meter in Persian music (Mallāḥ, 1337-38 Š./1958-59, 23, p. 22; for a list of his compositions, see Khāleqī, pp. 312-17).

Darvīš Khan died in 1305 Š./1926 as the result of a collision between a carriage and an automobile. He was a quiet and sensitive person, a great lover of flowers, known not only for hospitality to his friends but also for generosity to the needy, though he himself never had a substantial income. He organized benefit concerts for the poor, orphaned, and victims of fire or famine. His influence on the development of Persian music in the 20th century can be seen in the number, variety, and length of rhythmic pieces, as well as in larger orchestras and the expansion of the audience to include many levels of society. Contrary to the custom of his time, he functioned as an independent musician and paved the way for other musicians to perform with freedom and respect.

For a music sample, see Darviš Khān – Pishdarāmad.


A. ʿĀref Qazvīnī, Kollīāt-e Dīvān-e ʿĀref Qazvīnī, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968, pp. 128-32, 611-15.

Š. Behrūzī, Čehrahā-ye mūsīqī-e Īrān I, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1372 Š./1993, pp. 62-64.

N. Caron and D. Safvate, Les traditions musicales. Iran, Berlin, 1966, pp. 146-49, 166-68.

R. Ḵāleqī, Sargoḏašt-e mūsīqī-e Īrān I, Tehran, 1333 Š./1954.

M. Maḥmūdī, “‘Darvīš Ḵān,’ ḵāleq-e pīšdarāmad,” Rastāḵīz, 23 Mordād 2536=1356 Š./14 August 1977, p. 12.

Ḥ.-ʿA. Mallāḥ, “Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Darvīš,” Payām-e now 7/1, 1333 Š./1954, pp. 68-77.

Idem, “Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Darvīš,” Majalla-ye mūsīqī 3/10-11, 1336 Š./1957.

Idem, “Sargoḏašt-e Darvīš,” Majalla-ye mūsīqī-e Rādīō Īrān 15-23, Farvardīn 1337-Āḏar 1338 Š./April 1958-December 1959.

B. Nettl, “Nour-Ali Boroumand, a Twentieth Century Master of Persian Music,” Studia Instrumentorum Musicae Popularis 3, 1974, pp. 167-71.

Idem, “Persian Classical Music in Tehran. The Processes of Change,” in B. Nettl, ed., Eight Urban Musical Cultures, Urbana, Ill., 1978, pp. 146-85.

D. Ṣafwat, Ostādān-e mūsīqī-e Īrān wa alḥān-e mūsīqī-e Īrān, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971, p. 57.

S. Sepantā, Čašmandāz-e mūsīqī-e Īrān, Tehran, 1369 Š./1990, pp. 109-21.

E. Zonis, Classical Persian Music. An Introduction, Cambridge, Mass., 1973, pp. 144, 157, 192.

(Margaret Caton)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 18, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 1, p. 77-79

  • Birthday: 1872
  • Death: November 22, 1926
  • Birthplace: Tehran, Tehran, Iran

Musician and Tar Player



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