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Fiftieth Anniversary of Azerbaijan Opera
Hajibeyov's "Leyli and Majnun" (1908)

by Jeyhun Hajibeyli (1891-1962)
Caucasian Review, Munich
Institute for the Study of the USSR (English), Vol. 7, 1958

Editor: Jeyhun Hajibeyli was the brother of Uzeyir Hajibeyov, who happened to be in Paris as one of the representatives of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) when the Bolsheviks took control of Azerbaijan in 1920. Jeyhun was forced to live out the rest of his life in exile outside of the Soviet Union. He feared for his life if he returned. Here he writes his memories 50 years after the premiere of Leyli and Majnun. Jeyhun was credited as co-author of Leyli and Majun on all the announcements of the work in 1908. Uzeyir had died 10 years earlier in 1948.


Article: The 50th anniversary of Azerbaijan opera should have been celebrated on January 12, 1958, to commemorate the first performance of the first Azerbaijan opera, "Leyli and Majnun", by the brothers Uzeyir and Jeyhun Hadjibeyov, in the Taghiyev theater in Baku on January 12, 1958. It soon became evident, however, from brief and intermittent announcements in the press that the Soviet authorities of Azerbaijan intended to postpone the celebrations until April 28, with the obvious desire of connecting the development of operatic art with the Sovietization of the country that occurred on April 28, 1920.

The first Azerbaijan opera, "Leyli and Majnun", was written by two brothers, Uzeyir and Jeyhun Hajibeyli. Jeyhun, the younger of the two, later entered politics and took an active part in the struggle against Communist domination, while Uzeyir continued his fruitful activities as a talented composer and librettist. Consequently the name of Jeyhun Hajibeyli is no longer mentioned as co-author of the opera. In an account given by Soviet reviewers of the first presentations of "Leyli and Majnun", not only was Jeyhun Hajibeyli's name omitted, but also the names of many members of the original cast who had taken an active part in the struggle against the Sovietization of the country. Their names were replaced by the Soviet authorities with others more acceptable to the regime.

Above: Jeyhun and Uzeyir Hajibeyov - brothers. Around 1908. Courtesy Clement Bailly, grandson of Jeyhun in Paris.

Below: Three Hajibeyov Brothers - Left to right: Zulfugar (1884-1950), Jeyhun (1891-1962) and Uzeyir (1885-1948). Photo in 1910s. Courtesy: Hajibeyov Home Museum.

In addition, various people who probably enjoyed the confidence of the Communists, wrote their memoirs posing as the sponsors of the production of the first Azerbaijan opera. As one who has been connected with the opera, "Leyli and Majnun", since its very inception, the author of this article [Jeyhun Hajibeyli and brother to Uzeyir Hajibeyov] is in a position to state that the composers of this opera never even heard the names of the gentlemen who are supposed to have encouraged their initiative.

The truth is, that in all Baku, on the cultural society, Nijat, and a certain Imran Gasimov, a member of the middle classes, supported and encouraged the composers in any way. Nijat was materially interested and Imran Gasimov was anxious to display his talents as a singer.

The rehearsals were held in the Hotel Islamia, the residence of the composers, and in Gasimov's home, much to the dismay of Imran's brother, Haji. Many people shook their heads in doubt and thought that the venture would end in utter failure, while the clerical, reactionary elements were disturbed and even hostile. In order to forestall any possible demonstration, the promoters asked Beshir Bey Ashurbeyov, a prominent notable respected by the people of Baku, to talk to the audience before the curtain was raised and ask them to sit quietly during the performance and not to disturb the performers in any way. This warning had an unforeseen effect. The audience not only sat quietly, but also did not even dare to applaud the pathetic scenes of the opera. Only deep sighs and moans were heard and tears were shed; the audience vividly felt the suffering of the principle characters as portrayed by the script of Nizami and Fuzuli and the musical interpretation of the Hajibeyli brothers.

The venture was a complete success and the opera was reproduced several times by public demand. This encouraged Uzeyir Hajibeyli to continue his create activities in new fields and during the six years following his production of "Leyli and Majnun", he produced four more operas, "Shah Sanan", "Rustam and Zorab", "Shah Abbas and Khurshid Banu", and "Asli and Karam" which were all based on legendary themes.

He also wrote three music comedies based on contemporary themes criticizing the attitude and the bearing of the bourgeois classes toward the lower strata of society. His musical comedy, "Arshin Mal Alan" was particularly successful; it was translated into many languages and like, "Leyli and Majnun", is still performed in many countries.

During the visit of the Egyptian President Kamal Abdul Nasser to Azerbaijan last spring [1957], Abdullayev, the Chairman of the Azerbaijan Supreme Soviet, while acquainting his guest with the culture of his country, told him that "Leyli and Majnun" was the first Azerbaijan opera and mentioned with pride the name of Uzeyir Hajibeyli. On the very day he arrived in Baku, President Nasser attended a performance of "Leyli and Majnun".

During the celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the Azerbaijan opera on April 27, 1958, a statue of Uzeyir Hajibeyli, by the talented sculptor Omar Eldarov [this is Omar Eldarov who is still alive and currently rector of the Art Institute in 2001] was unveiled. Now, after his death, many musical, cultural and other institutions, including a [home] museum, are named after Uzeyir Hajibeyov. The Soviet authorities are now trying to obliterate from the pages of history the 18 years of systematic persecution that the founder of Azerbaijan opera suffered.

The cult of Uzeyir Hajibeov may be explained by the fact that little of interest in the field of opera has been produced in the country since his death ten years ago. Several attempts have been made to write operas on historical subjects, but none of these has attained a high artistic standard, a fact that has been lamented by responsible elements in various congresses.


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