Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah examining the musical notation manuscript proposal for the musical composition of the national anthem, possibly the one composed by Ahmed Ghulam Ali Chagla, who was later chosen after Mr Jinnah’s death to compose the national anthem by Premier Liaquat Ali Khan as part of a high-powered committee. This photograph was taken on February 21, 1948, during the inspection of an anti-aircraft regiment in Malir, Karachi. (Courtesy: Zarreen Baqir Collection) - Photo: Ziauddin Barani
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah examining the musical notation manuscript proposal for the musical composition of the national anthem, possibly the one composed by Ahmed Ghulam Ali Chagla, who was later chosen after Mr Jinnah’s death to compose the national anthem by Premier Liaquat Ali Khan as part of a high-powered committee. This photograph was taken on February 21, 1948, during the inspection of an anti-aircraft regiment in Malir, Karachi. (Courtesy: Zarreen Baqir Collection) - Photo: Ziauddin Barani

THE national anthem of Pakistan is an exquisitely composed musical arrangement, and this has generally been acknowledged internationally. After going through the archival documents related to the national anthem, it becomes increasingly apparent that any contemporary controversies that existed at the time were with respect to the language and lyrics that were eventually used, never with respect to its musical composition.

Before the National Anthem Committee was formed in December 1948 and tasked with the job of finding a suitable tune and lyrics for the anthem, the Ministry of Interior, Information and Broadcasting, through a public announcement, had invited artists to send in creative proposals for the anthem’s music and lyrics. An award of Rs5,000 was offered for each of the winning submissions.

The anthem committee, under the Chairmanship of Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, had among its members Abdus Sattar Pirzada, Chaudhry Nazir Ahmed, Rajkumar Chakravarty, Abul Asar Hafeez Jallundhri, A.D. Azhar, Z.A. Bokhari, Jasimuddin and S.M. Ikram.

The committee received a sizable number of entries, which compelled it to form two further sub-committees — one to review the ‘words’ of the anthem and another to review the proposed ‘tunes’. For a thorough assessment of all the submissions, area experts were co-opted into the two sub-committees. After the required due diligence and assessment of the tunes, the committee did not consider any musical entries for the composition as ‘satisfactory’.

ARSHAD MAHMOOD relates the story of how a rousing piece of music became an exquisite musical gem.

The committee, meanwhile, came under pressure. A foreign head of state was to visit Pakistan soon, and the need to unfurl the national anthem became critical. Ahmed Ghulam Ali Chagla, a member of the tunes sub-committee, was requested to compose the national anthem in consultation with Pirzada, who at the time was the minister for food and agriculture. Chagla was assisted in his endeavours by the Navy Brass Band.

Chaghla’s musical composition was played before Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and a few members of the National Anthem Committee. As a result, Chagla’s composition was selected to be played on the occasion of the Shah of Iran’s visit in March 1950. The same composition was also played on the occasion of the prime minister’s visit to the United States later that year.

The National Anthem Committee subsequently formally approved the musical composition as the national anthem on August 10, 1950.

Although an anthem is considered a musical work to be sung, it cannot be considered a ‘song’. A song may be sung by a single vocalist, but the general requirement for an anthem is that it be sung by a choir. The musical structure of a national anthem has its own qualities and characteristics: it is required to have an inimitable musicality because it must be ageless, invigorating and even militaristic.

The melody selected for our national anthem possesses all the attributes which such a work would normally be required to display. The composer ensured that all the desired characteristics of an anthem were embedded in his composition.

The national anthem score was originally written for a brass band, but it is worth noting that all the instruments used in the musical rendering, except the drums, were primarily wind instruments. In order to attain the desired musical effect, Chagla designed an extensive and detailed musical arrangement. The parts every musical instrument was to play in the new composite national anthem were clearly written and notated. Each notation sheet was individually signed by Chagla, the composer. A copy of this original score is available in the state archives. One wonders if the original manuscript of the score is also preserved in the National Archives.

Looking carefully at the notation sheets, it is apparent that only one person has written all the sheets for each instrument. One would do well to remember that minute care needs to be taken when writing notation sheets for each instrument because they need to be expressed in the internationally accepted transpositions for every instrument.

Our national anthem is written in the B-flat key, which is also a two-flat scale. The choice of this key signature was appropriate because the composer was aware that it needed to be sung by a choir, which would consist of both male and female voices. The B-flat scale (in desi terminology, the panchwan kala) is a note (sur) equally suitable for both male and female voices.

The structural form in which our national anthem is composed is referred to in technical musical terms as ‘ternary’. The ternary structure is a musical movement in three sections or parts. The first part is in the major mode, the second part is in the minor mode, and the third is once again in the major mode. The first line of the melody in the first and third parts are similar, but the orchestral arrangement in the third part is significantly different from that of the first part. The third part is dynamically grandiose and signifies the climax of the national anthem.

There are three significant features that make the musical score for Pakistan’s national anthem exceptional. First, it is musically designed for four voice types — soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Second, the composition contains all the ingredients to make it sound somewhat like a hymn, because the parts written for woodwind instruments may with relative ease be sung by a choir. It is apparent when you have a closer look at the sheets of parts to be played by clarinets, namely 1st, 2nd and 3rd, that although the notes played by the three groups are different, the rhythmic structure of each bar for all three parts is identical, so in all three parts, the words for the anthem fit very well. When these three parts are sung together it becomes a hymn.

The third significant feature of the anthem is that the parts written for brass instruments, including drums, make it both militaristic and invigorating. Though it is designed to be played in a brass band ensemble, it can easily be transposed to a larger symphony orchestra.

Thus, in spite of the brevity of our national anthem, which has a duration of only 80 seconds, its musical impact is comprehensive, majestic and quite magnificent.

The national anthem has a unique place in the context of our musical heritage. Chagla surely deserves to be acknowledged and honoured by the conferment on him of a posthumous Nishan-i-Pakistan in the 75th year of Pakistan’s statehood.

After the approval of the musical score, it took the national anthem committee almost four years of deliberation to finalise the words. The most significant aspect of for the lyrics of an anthem is that they should convey the unique characteristics of the relevant country it represents, yet it needs to have the quality of being ageless. It should be a prayer for the wellbeing of the people and the country. It should be uplifting. The biggest challenge for poets who were tasked to write the lyrics was to find words both suitable and meaningful which would fit well with the melodic and rhythmic structure of the approved tune.

The words written by Hafeez Jallundhri were eventually selected, and rightly so, because they fitted exceedingly well with the musical composition. Not many people know that Jallundhri, an acclaimed poet, also had a deep understanding of music. He followed the musical structure to find fitting and meaningful words, with the result that what he wrote did not fall into any conventional formulations of Urdu poetry or behers, which represent the poetic codes.

Departures from such codes and formulations notwithstanding, what Jallundhri wrote was a befitting formulation of lyrics for Chaghla’s outstanding musical composition. That is the remarkable story of the making of Pakistan’s national anthem.

The writer is a famed music composer.

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