My Memories of the Great Artist Uzeyir Hajibeyov
by Mammad Sayid Ordubadi

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Photo: Mammad Sayid Ordubadi, from his gravestone at Fakhri Khiyaban
(Cemetery of the Honored Ones in Baku), Photo: Blair.

From the book "A Word about Uzeyir Hajibeyov," (Russian), Baku, 1985. Compiler: Ahmad Isazade; editors: Fikrat Amirov and Gubad Gasimov.

The following excerpt is by writer, dramatist and publicist Mammad Sayid Ordubadi [1872-1950].

This article which follows was published in "News of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijani SSR" magazine (12th issue), 1948. Ordubadi wrote the libretto for Uzeyir Hajibeyov's opera, "Koroghlu" and is buried in the Cemetery for the Honored Ones [Fakhri Khiyaban] in Baku as is Uzeyir Hajibeyov. As Uzeyir Hajibeyov died in November 1948, this issue would be a compilation of commemorative articles written to his memory.

My acquaintance with Uzeyir Hajibeyov began in relation to the [political and social satiric] magazine "Molla Nasraddin." Since he himself had a strong satiric pen, Hajibeyov was eager to get to know other satirists better.

When I lived in Ordubad [Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan], I knew the artist Azim Azimzade and often wrote him. Once I received a letter that had been written by Azim Azimzade, Uzeyir bey and some other satirist. Uzeyir bey wrote in this letter:

"Sayid! I'm wondering why you're still stuck in Ordubad. If you came to Baku, you would find great opportunities for publishing your works, there would be opportunities for your growth. According to Azimzade, you don't come to Baku because of the "gochis." [Literally, this word means hooligan. "Gochis" were people who didn't like new ideas, such as those who became enraged when the first Azerbaijani woman performed on stage and wanted to kill her]. You don't have to be afraid of that. Believe me, the "gochis" themselves laugh at satire.

I really liked your article "The Geographical Position of United Islands of Pilaf" that was published in the "Molla Nasraddin" magazine. I always read the magazine when I'm really tired. Even these greedy mullahs also laugh hard at your creations despite their indignation. I advise you not only to make the teachers laugh but also to make them think when writing such poems!"

Your friend by correspondence,
Uzeyir H.

My close friendship with Uzeyir began after the October Revolution [1917]. In 1920 I came to Baku from Astrakhan. [Russia]

At that time I knew neither any members of the intelligentsia of Baku nor any writers. I had only met Azimzade [painter] and Hagverdiyev [Abdurrahim bey, writer] earlier. After some time I met Jafar Jabbarli [dramatist] at the editorial office of the newspaper "Akbar" but I still had not met Uzeyir. A few days later I was assigned as Deputy Editor of the "Akbar" newspaper. It was during those days that I met Uzeyir.

I remember our first meeting. Uzeyir shook my hand and smiling, he said: "Well, aren't you afraid anymore?"

Of course, you couldn't get to know such a master as Uzeyir completely during just one meeting. And during chance meetings, it was difficult to begin a conversation about art; sometimes other people would join our conversation and so we weren't able to speak about the most interesting subject.

Up to that time I had not seen any of Uzeyir's works on stage. I first heard his musical comedy "Arshin Mal Alan." I thought that I would get a chance to meet him during the performance, but he wasn't at the theater. The staging greatly influenced me. First of all, it was clear to me that in this work Uzeyir showed himself not only as a composer, but also as a talented dramatist and master of satire.

I remember thinking to myself: "Uzeyir bey is a man of his epoch. In this work he not only severely criticized the rotting aristocrats but he also has attacked some of the old-fashioned views that were being held about women."

My close relationship with Uzeyir began around 1929. At that time there was wide discussion going on about the development of Azerbaijani music. Uzeyir bey was worried about this question more than anybody. The future of our music worried him. Everyday there were more speeches that served to slow down the development of Azerbaijani music. And it was during that period that Uzeyir bey began organizing the Orchestra of Composed Music for National Instruments that was part of Azerbaijani Radio Committee. Both the Party and the government supported him in this.

At that time I was heading the Literature Department at the Radio Committee. I met Uzeyir bey very often and sometimes expressed my interest in his work with various performers. From what I heard and saw from spiteful critics about the depravity of Uzeyir bey's venture, I came to the conclusion that the pessimistic attitude towards the fate of the national orchestra had no basis. It was at that time that I developed a great confidence in the victory of Uzeyir bey's ideas.

It was at this period that Uzeyir bey began talking about his interest in working with some of the poetry that I had written. As a result of this, he based some of his music on a number of my poems. Once he sat next to me and began talking business in the department of literature programs. Later he told me: There's no use of doing little things! These days I'm busy with the orchestra, but in a bit, I'll let you know about one of my ideas. I hope that you'll get on like my idea and work with me on it. Don't worry: the thing I want to talk to you about has to do with art.

When he left, I spent a great deal of time thinking about what he had said. At last I figured it out that probably he was going to write an opera. And, indeed, a month after this conversation, I was called to the Opera Theater and asked to sign a contract about writing the libretto for an opera based on play called the "Blacksmith Haveh". After that, I met Uzeyir bey quite often and discussed matters related to the choir and arias. Sometimes he would point out the rhythm of the poetry that I was to write in; from this I figured out that most of the arias and choral work had already been composed by him.

It was a whole year that we met together about writing this libretto. Finally, the libretto was finished, read and accepted. The next thing was to get down to joint work. We worked together for several days but we didn't seem to get anywhere. I had the feeling that Uzeyir had a lot of doubts about something.

Then he told me: "You have worked hard on the libretto of "The Blacksmith Haveh" and I myself have not done any less work. However I've changed my mind. Sometimes you need to sacrifice a lot of things for a good deed.

Instead of "The Blacksmith Haveh" opera, we should create a work of art that would encourage our nation to heroic actions. I have a dream to create such an opera based on a saga of "Koroghlu." You know that the heroic appearance of Koroghlu somehow is becoming dissipated because of all the variants of the story that exist out there. The determined and unshakeable rebel Koroghlu is described as a robber, an idea that was accepted during the Middle Ages. That's why in the opera, we have to try to penetrate and elaborate about the social-political content of the epic of Koroghlu. Our nation has to see a real, famous hero on stage who organized the people in a rebellion against the domination of feudal lords.

In a few days the management of the Opera Theater invited me to sign a contract to writing the libretto to the "Koroghlu" opera.

A few days later we started working on the plan of the opera. Uzeyir bey determined the metres of the arias, choral works and the recitatives and the opera started taking on a tangible shape, gradually, part by part. By the time the libretto was finished, the music had been written, too.

We decided to work from 1:00 to 4:00 pm everyday. Of course, sometimes we couldn't adhere to the schedule. While working together with him, I observed one of his unique characteristics. Before settling down to work, he used to ask me how I was and if I was in the mood to work. If he detected any kind of depression in me, he tried to distract me from it and cheer me up. He did this by telling jokes and funny anecdotes. Only after that, did we settle down to work.

There were days when we spent a lot of time arguing about the content of the work. At those occasions, we never succeeded in writing even a line. Actually, only after long arguments did we settle down to writing each act. We paid special attention to the scene where Hasan khan meets Eysan Pasha as this scene was going to determine the political content of the opera.

We also had a big argument on the scene of "Chanlibel". I didn't agree at all on the interpretation of heroic character of Koroghlu as a gullible, trusting person. I thought that the scene where they allowed Bald Hamza into the stable with Koroghlu's permission was irrelevant to the development of the opera. However there was no other way to show the theft of Girat. He rejected my reasons and began showing many examples of interpretation of heroes who were naïve and simple-hearted people:

He insisted that gullibility and simple-heartedness were the natural characteristics of heroes. Besides he felt that this action was organically connected with the plot line of the work, so we had no other choice.

Uzeyir didn't like to rush with his work. I recall once saying that we were holding up the completion of the opera. To this, he answered the following: "You shouldn't aim to just finish some work quickly. The more time we spend on it, the longer its stage life will be."

Following this advice, I never felt tired because of the fact that sometimes I had to rewrite some of the sections of the opera over again.

Once I asked him: How is it that you can compose some musical sections without even sitting at a piano?

He answered, laughing: "A composer must 'hear' the sounds so clearly and feel the keyboards of musical instruments so well that he can compose works even without a piano."

In the process of working on the Koroghlu opera, I was able to hear in its entirety only the parts that were to be performed by Chanlibel choir. He played the music of this choir several times on the piano so that I could feel the rhythm of the music and find the suitable poetic meter. I could see that Uzeyir himself showed great interest in the music of this choir; I could sense his excitement when he performed that melody.

He kept saying: "So far our music is only able to satisfy the inquiries of our nation on a small scale because little attention has been paid to it. It needs to be dragged out from stagnation and raised to a new cultural height. Even if I can't reach this goal in Koroghlu, at least I want to lay the foundation. Our composers have to learn that this is the right way to get the music to a large mass.

One of the main goals in writing the Koroghlu opera was to free Azerbaijani music from chains that had slowed its progress, to give it stimulus to develop to a stage life. That's why the composer paid great attention to the melodic development of the music and succeeded in carrying out his task in a superb way.

Among other matters that we argued about, he was concerned about the role of the tar. He used to say: "I have a special opinion about the role of tar in this opera. Think for yourself: if I was aiming to single out tar as a national instrument, then it would be reasonable for me to single out kamancha as well. However you shouldn't do that.

In a work based on Eastern music, a violin can play the kamancha role with success. However, it's a different matter when it comes to the tar. The timbre of tar creates an innovative sound within the orchestra, and its gentle sounds are quite well accepted. That's why I think it's important to include the tar in the orchestra.

I based my own creative work on Uzeyir's thoughts and observations on the essence of the creative process. Uzeyir didn't pay attention to the slander and one-sided criticism. He used to say: "Slander and absurd criticism have to strengthen a person's creative impulse and his belief in self confidence. An answer to such attacks should be the creation of a work of great value." I still remember these words: "We have to summon others to follow this path in their creative work as well."

One of Uzeyir's main characteristics was to live modestly, to have a simple way of life. I used to think that a creator of many operas and operettas and such a talented composer should live an idle and care-free life. However when I spent several years with him working on "Koroghlu" opera, I understood that I was very wrong. The life that he led was almost no different than the life of a simple person. As he himself was a very generous person, he gave most of his salary to those in need.

In his work Uzeyir never stopped in the middle, even in summer when he had the opportunity to take a vacation, he never left for any place. He wrote Koroghlu opera in the hottest days of summer.

In keeping with his modest life, Uzeyir was noted for the simplicity of his language. He used to say: "You shouldn't estrange the language from the nation or the nation from the language." That's why he asked to pay attention to the simplicity of the libretto. He thought it would be wrong to overload the work which was devoted to the events of 17th century (especially musical) with words of modern vocabulary. That's why in Koroghlu he replaced the word "muhariba" (war) with an older word "jang" (war) - somewhat older term and the word "goshun" (troops) with the older word "lashkar" (squad). He thought this principle should also be applied to poetic meter as well.

Uzeyir was absolutely right when he used to say over and over again:

"Just like the characters of the opera differ from modern people with their clothes and appearances, their language should also differ from the language of people of our times.

Figuratively speaking, the content and the theme of the opera Koroghlu is a mirror of Uzeyir's political and social world outlook. I tried to get to know not only the talent and the mastership of Uzeyir, but also to know him well as a person.

He used to say: "I can't make friends with everybody as friendship is a social truth that is raised by the community of thought and persuasion. It's impossible to share this truth with every person you meet."

That's why he deeply appreciated the people he made as friends. Especially he couldn't tolerate swaggering and arrogant people. In his opinion swaggering was just a mask to hide behind and to cover up creative weakness and laziness. He used to say: "This is the kind of student I don't want to deal with."

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