Memories of Uzeyir Hajibeyov
by Vagif Samadoghlu

Interview with Poet Vagif Samadoghlu (1939- )
National Poet of Azerbaijan, Son of the famous poet Samad Vurghun
Member of Azerbaijan Milli Majlis (Parliament)
One of Azerbaijan's Parliament Representatives to the Council of Europe (2001-to present)

Conducted by Betty Blair, Editor of Azerbaijan International
and Jala Garibova in November 2001
Translated by Gulnar Aydamirova, Staff of Azerbaijan International

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Vagif Samadoghlu speaking:

I quite well remember the last time I ever saw Uzeyir Hajibeyov. I was a child of about eight or nine years old. It was in Yesuntuki in the Northern Caucasus, several months before he passed away [November 23, 1948]. Uzeyir bey was in a sanatorium there. He suffered from gastritis, colitis and diabetes. My father, Samad Vurghun [the well known poet], took my older brother Yusif, my sister Aybaniz and me there and introduced us to him. We were all sitting together. My father told us to go and kiss Uzeyir bey's hand, according to Eastern tradition. Yusif kissed his hand and then Aybaniz did the same. When I kissed his hand, Uzeyir bey put his hand on my head and ruffled my kinky, curly hair.

I've witnessed a total of three mass funeral processions in Azerbaijan during my lifetime. The first one was in 1948 when Uzeyir Hajibeyov died. The second took place when my own father Samad Vurghun, passed away in 1956. The third one was the funeral procession for Black January 1990, after Soviet tanks entered Baku and killed hundreds of civilians.

Uzeyir Hajibeyov left a tremendous legacy. He created a conservatory, an orchestra of national instruments, along with the genres of opera and musical comedy. He also dealt with publicity, literature, libretto and many, many other things. In addition he wrote two national anthems: the first for the Musavat government which was used by the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) in 1918-1920 and which was later readopted by the Azerbaijan Republic when it gained it independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and the second National Anthem for Azerbaijan which was used during the Soviet period (1920-1991).

In general, one thing can be said about Uzeyir Hajibeyov. He alone did the work of an entire generation. It would have taken an entire generation of people in Asia, Europe and maybe America itself to do as much as he did on his own. Probably such a generation has never even existed in Azerbaijan. Instead an individual was born who did the work of an entire generation.

Let me explain what I mean. For example, usually one person develops the genre of symphonic orchestra, another person establishes a music conservatory, another develops the genre of opera, another musical comedy and other people get involved with a national instruments' orchestra. But in Azerbaijan it was just one person who laid the foundation for all these things. Perhaps, he did it because there was no other person to do so. There was a huge gap and somebody needed to fill it.

He also worked in science, for example, by writing the scientific study called "The Principles of Azerbaijan Folk Music." This book has been our textbook for the past 40-50 years. Hajibeyov was the first to write down mughams. He was the one who introduced us to music notation and European music.

He used to carry out unimaginable experiments. For instance, take Mozart's Sonata in A Major. Hajibeyov converted an Azerbaijani mode into Mozart so that an Azerbaijani person could understand Mozart. So he rewrote Mozart's music based on the modal sequence of the Segah mugham. First, he would play Mozart for his students based on the Azeri mode so that they would hear something familiar. And only after that would he play Mozart in its original form. He used to carry out a lot of experiments like that.

He also established choral groups that performed in polyphonic harmony. This was new for Azerbaijan. And of course we should mention his political and satirical publications before the April Revolution in 1920. He wrote articles and social satires in Azeri and Russian, and the most critical articles in the history of Azerbaijan were his articles.

Uzeyir Hajibeyov had many female students. He always helped women. For ten years while Hajibeyov was there, the Rector of the Conservatory was a woman. He appointed Kovkab Safaraliyeva as a director.

As a psychologist I think the reason why Uzeyir Hajibeyov always helped the women move forward was because he wasn't what one would call a "ladies' man." He was a very honest man.


The Soviet government had a principle that came from Revin and Trotsky. Afterward Stalin also accepted this concept. They tried to make it so that the writers, composers and other intellectuals had to dealt with each other so they wouldn't be able to think about the nation. Famous intrigues and personal hostilities exist everywhere in the world. But in the former USSR it was especially bad.

For example, Gara Garayev was called to the Central Committee once a year and told: "Fikrat Amirov writes national music, his music can't go beyond Baku. You're the real composer." Then they would call Fikrat Amirov and tell him that Gara Garayev was a cosmopolitan, that he wrote bourgeois music and that Amirov was the real composer.

They would do the same with writers. What's more, they would do it on a very high level. Sometimes even the First Secretary of the Communist Party would do it. They did the same with my father Samad Vurghun and Rasul Reza. They would tell Samad Vurghun that Rasul Reza was a cosmopolitan. And then they would tell Rasul Reza that Samad Vurghun was an "ashug" [wandering minstrel].

So they did the same thing with Bulbul and Uzeyir Hajibeyov. They would call Bulbul and tell him: "'Koroghlu' is a weak opera, but you have raised it to such great heights with your own voice." And then they would tell Hajibeyov that if it weren't for him, nobody would even know who Bulbul was. So I mean those were very difficult times. That's why all those men looked old, even when they were just in their 30s and 40s. So there was hostility between them. The authorities did their best to create that hostility so that these great thinkers would not have time to think about more important things. Socialist Leninism had this ideology: "Divide and conquer." They accused imperialism of this, but they themselves used it very adeptly.

All of these writers and composers were ill, they were all very nervous people. But despite those difficulties, they accomplished a lot. Of course, there is no other person who succeeded in bringing as much innovation to Azerbaijan's culture in the 20th century as Hajibeyov did: literature, theater, narrative art-everything is part of the legacy of Uzeyir Hajibeyov.

My father Samad Vurghun wrote a poem on the occasion of Uzeyir Hajibeyov's death. It goes like this:

May death not rejoice
For the ones who lived loving and died being loved,
Did not waste their lives.
The ones who lived loving and died being loved
Will remain in this world as a sweet memory.

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