The Father of Azerbaijan's Musical Legacy
New CD Collection Preserves the Operas of Uzeyir Hajibeyov
Listen to Jacki Lyden's interview.
May 26, 2002 -- A new collection of music CDs is helping to preserve the work of Azerbaijan's most famous modern composer, Uzeyir Hajibeyov -- work that was almost lost forever.
In 1908, Hajibeyov debuted the first opera of the Muslim world, Leyli and Majnun. It was based on a 1,000-year-old Arabian legend, and incorporated traditional "mughams," the distinctive, improvisational music form of the region. Hajibeyov was the first Azerbaijani to write down the melodies and complement them with the string and brass instrument arrangements of traditional European symphonies.
The operas weaved ancient oral tales of the country with Western styles of composition. The end result, Hajibeyov fans say, are operas equal to those created in Europe. His themes were love and struggle against tradition, especially love that defied the social structure.
His is a legacy of firsts: the first use of multi-part harmony (mughams typically had just one melody line), the first to allow a woman to perform on stage, author of the nation's first national anthem, founder of the Azerbaijan Musical Academy.
Hajibeyov's operas flourished -- and then the Communist Red Army conquered the capital Baku in 1920, and his great operas fell silent. Hajibeyov would not write another opera until the 1930s, and his music remains largely unknown to the outside world.
Betty Blair and her husband, Pirouz Khanlou, are hoping to change that. They have published all of Hajibeyov's classic works in a seven-disk CD collection. In a conversation with Weekend All Things Considered guest host Jacki Lyden, Khanlou says the collection shows Hajibeyov as an innovator, unafraid to introduce radical ideas to a deeply traditional society. His ideas often met with resistance from both the Azerbaijanis and the new Soviet landlords.
"Some of his work... reflects a breaking with tradition, looking more toward Europe as a way out of the traditional feudal society," Khanlou told Lyden.
The English-language Hajibeyov Music Index is an authoritative Web site devoted to Azerbaijan's most famous composer, created by Azerbaijan International, publisher of the seven-disk CD set.