Uzeyir Hajibeyov (1885-1948)
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Courtesy: Hajibeyov Home Museum, Baku.
by Betty Blair

If you really want to understand Azerbaijanis, listen to their music. You'll discover a unique synthesis of the old and the new, of the East and the West. You'll encounter a spirit of diversity, internationalism, tradition and improvisation, all combined with strong intellectual rigor. But above all, you'll discover a passion for life.

Left: Composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov in his home which has since been converted into the Hajibeyov Home Museum in Baku. Late 1940s.

Azerbaijanis credit Uzeyir Hajibeyov, whom they consider the "Father of Composed Music in Azerbaijan", with establishing the direction of contemporary music at the beginning of the 20th century. He did this primarily in two ways: first, by insisting that traditional modal music could and should be transcribed, and second, by fusing Eastern traditional elements (melodies, modes and the use of instruments like the tar, saz, kamancha and zurna) with Western genres such as opera, symphonic orchestra and choral music. What emerged was a unique synthesis of sound that can be recognized as distinctly Azerbaijani. Other pioneering accomplishments include:

First Opera (1908)
Hajibeyov is credited with composing the first opera in the Muslim East at age 22. The plot was based on a thousand-year-old Arabian legend, "Leyli and Majnun." It was the first example of traditional mughams being used in their unwritten, improvisational form, but within the broader context of the European opera genre and a symphonic orchestra.

First Use of Harmony (1908)
Azerbaijani music is traditionally characterized by a single melodic line. Hajibeyov introduced four-part harmony, which he used in his opera chorus. He later went on to write several choral works and cantatas.

First Musical Comedy Genre (1910)
Hajibeyov is credited with composing Azerbaijan's first musical comedy genre. He wrote three such comedies in a very short period of time. They include: "Husband and Wife" (1910), "O Olmasin, Bu Olsun" (1911) and "Arshin Mal Alan" (1913). In each comedy, he satirizes traditional feudal patriarchal beliefs, particularly as they relate to the veiling of Muslim women and itsimplications for choosing marriage partners.

Below: Uzeyir Hajibeyov with his wife, Maleyka Teregulova just a few days before Uzeyir's death in November 1948.

First Woman on Stage (1912)
Hajibeyov shocked Baku by inviting 15-year-old Shovkat Mammadova, recently back from her Italian musical studies, to sing at one of his performances. Not only did she
- a female - perform on stage, but she did so without wearing a veil. Many concertgoers were enraged, and Shovkat had to flee out the theater's back door. Prior to this event, men had always performed the female roles on stage.

First Azerbaijani National Anthem (1918)
Since he was active in the formation of the independent, but short-lived (1918-1920), Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Hajibeyov was invited to write the country's first National Hymn. When the Soviets came to power in Azerbaijan, they asked him to write another anthem for the Azerbaijan Socialist Republic (1945). The independent Republic of Azerbaijan officially readopted Hajibeyov's first hymn in 1991.

First Orchestra for Traditional Instruments (1931)
Hajibeyov was the first to establish an orchestra of traditional Azerbaijani instruments (tar and kamancha) that performed composed music as well as the more traditional improvised music. Their repertoire included compositions by Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Bizet and Glinka.

First to Hire Foreign Music Teachers (late 1920s­1940s)
As Rector of Baku's Music Conservatory, Hajibeyov invited luminaries of the Russian professional music world to teach in Baku. As a result, Azerbaijani musicians, who had had no tradition of even reading notes in 1900, were able to perform music at a world-class level within a very short period of time, a phenomenon that Hajibeyov witnessed even in his own lifetime.

First to Publish Music Theory (1945)
Hajibeyov systematically analyzed Azerbaijani modal music and wrote a fundamental theoretical work, "Principles of Azerbaijani Folk Music," setting forth his ideas about the basic logic and aesthetics inherent in traditional mugham music.

First Honors (late 1930s­1940s)
Hajibeyov was the first composer in the entire Soviet Union to be named "People's Artist of the USSR" (1941). He also received the coveted Lenin Award (1938) and two Stalin Awards (1941 and 1946). He was a Founding Member of the Academy of Sciences (1945) and among its first Academicians. He served as Deputy of the All-Soviet Parliament (late 1940s).

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