A Musical Legacy of Azerbaijan

By Nancy Khalil, February 2001


Uzeyir Hajibeyov is one of Azerbaijan’s most cherished and memorable citizens. His impact on the musical and cultural society in Azerbaijan established the country in the artistic world. Current musicians in Azerbaijan consider him to be the father of music. His work was renowned at the time of creation and the legacy continues…

Born in Agjabedi, a city near Shusha, the former musical capital of Azerbaijan, it is not surprising Hajibeyov developed such talents with minimal musical training. Shusha used to be the home of the annual “Mugam Festivals.” In later years, these festivals of traditional music would be performed in front of a statue of Uzeyir. However, since 1992 the festival has been moved to Shaki due to Armenia’s occupation of Shusha. Hajibeyiv was born on September 18, 1885. By the age of 22 he wrote his first and one of his most prominent opera’s, “Leyli and Majnun.” This opera was not only the premier of Uzeyir’s genius, but it was also the first opera in Azerbaijan and in the entire Muslim community. Less than a year later Hajibeyov wrote his second opera, “Sheik Sena.” In contrast, this opera was not welcomed with such open

 arms. It told the tale of a Muslim sheik eventually giving in to love despite religious forbiddance. Uzeyir was trying to modernize the society with the current “love conquers all” theme that people live by today. However, he failed to realize at that time opera’s in general were just beginning to be accepted. His political message was too aggressive for a still old-fashioned society.

Hajibeyov is known not only as a great composer of his time, but he is also remembered for his intelligent ability to compromise. He lived during a very tumultuous political time. During his life were the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, an attack by the Soviets on Azerbaijan that led to Soviet control of the country, and World War I and II. From May 28, 1918 until April 21, 1920 Azerbaijan was an independent state. Before and after this time it was under Russian or Soviet control. In fact the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic Parliament met and discussed whether or not to give in to the USSR. A majority vote was given in favor of the communists. This is how the USSR regained control of Azerbaijan.

Despite Hajibeyov’s previous unsuccessful attempt, Uzeyir later managed to create satirical works and make light of difficult social situations. He tried to please and unite the people. He succeeded in winning the love of the people and of the government. A difficult thing to do at a time when the Azerbaijanis were being ruled by the USSR government against the will of most citizens. At the time of the Soviet takeover of Azerbaijan in 1920, Uzeyir was an active member of the Muscavat Party. This party opposed Soviet rule and most of its members were executed or imprisoned. Uzeyir not only survived, but, ironically, was the first Azerbaijani to receive the “People’s Artist of the USSR” award, proving his talent to keep the peace despite his personal beliefs.

In 1938, Stalin personally attended the Hajibeyov opera, “Koroglu,” in Moscow. He later congratulated Uzeyir on his work and told him to continue writing more. Hajibeyov received the Stalin Medal twice in his lifetime. In total, Hajibeyov wrote seven opera’s and three musicals. These works cleverly united traditional eastern music with the new modern western music. During Uzeyir's life, society was “westernizing,” and some musicians were trying to veer away from eastern styles, while other Azerbaijani artists were clinging to their musical roots. Hajibeyov taught people that both worlds could come together harmoniously. Once again, his compromising skills pleased all. People believe Hajibeyov is the father of Azerbaijani music because he helped save it. If it were not for him, music in Azerbaijan might have ceased in such hard times.

Hajibeyov left us many famous works. In 1921, along with a fellow composer, Muslim Magomayev, Uzeyir published “Collection of Azerbaijani Folk Songs.” Under the Radio Committee, he established an orchestra, “Note Orchestra for Traditional Folk Instruments,” that performed pieces by many famous composers. Five years later, in 1936, Hajibeyov created the first Azerbaijan Choral Group at the Philharmonia. In 1945 he wrote a book called “The Basic of Folk Music in Azerbaijan,” and there is currently an existing English version. However, Hajibeyov is remembered most for his achievements that have lasted throughout time. His most renowned one being the creation of a professional music school known as the Music Academy. This school, well known as Azerbaijan’s finest, has educated and trained almost all of Azerbaijan’s best composers. It teaches under the same method Uzeyir’s work revolved around, the method of harmonizing eastern and western musical philosophies.

In 1948, Hajibeyov passed on. Although his compromising techniques allowed him to survive in a lifetime where innocent people died in the name of politics, sickness was beyond his control. He lived with diabetes, and he apparrently suffered sudden severe problems that caused his heavily mourned death at the young age of 63. Despite the tragic loss of a brilliant mind and man, society continues to learn and teach his skills and talents. In fact, a 300 page book, “The Encyclopedia of Uzeyir Hajibeyov” was published in 1996 commemorating the unforgettable Azerbaijani musical legacy.






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