His Own Writings


Bookmark this page
to read Hajibeyov's works!

| | | | |
| | |

Some Observation About My Work - “Arshin Mal Alan”
by Uzeyir Hajibeyov


This article was originally published in 1938, and later republished in the book, “Uzeyir Hajibeyov - Selected Works”, compiled by Mirabbas Aslanov. Baku: “Yazichi” Publishing House, 1985. pp. 216-219. Translated from Azeri into English by Farida Sadikhova. Edited in English by Betty Blair.

I wrote the Musical Comedy “Arshin Mal Alan” in 1914 while studying [music] at St. Petersburg Conservatory [Russia]. It was the last work that I wrote before the 1917 Revolution. Its plot was based on life in the town of Shusha in Karabakh [where I grew up]. After I had completed it, I had to spend a lot of time and effort and undergo a lot of hardships to get permission from the Czar’s censors to produce this work.

When the work was staged for the first time in 1915, it met considerable ridicule and hatred from the “Kaspi” (Caspian) newspaper which reflected attitudes of Baku’s bourgeoisie. I was severely attacked in their “critical review” of the work. They reprimanded the work for its efforts to “sending our girls down the wrong path.” They understood that this work was critical of the Moslem religion and its traditions. At that time, Azerbaijani girls were deprived of even the most elementary human rights. The comedy serves to help emancipate women, as well as to expose old traditions and customs via the medium of the musical stage.

Characters in the work are based on actual people who were living in that period, and who I considered to be real representatives of our society at that time. The bourgeoisie who ruled the society felt that they were being exposed in the work, and in order to deflect the criticism away from themselves, they tried to explain the ideas set forth in “Arshin Mal Alan” in a different way.

Some people idealized Asgar characterizing him as an open-minded person, and an advocate of culture. However, that is absolutely wrong; it’s a false idea. Asgar is a person who looks at everything through the eyes of a merchant. If he wants to see a girl before he marries her, it’s not because he is advocating modernity, it’s simply because he’s a merchant. He treats the situation equally: viewing his potential bride and considering a piece of 12-kopeck “arshin” printed cotton. (An arshin is an old measurement equivalent to 28 inches). Just as printed cotton can either be of genuine quality or defective, so a girl can be blind, pock-marked and undeserving of him. That’s why as a merchant he wants to see the “goods” first, and then make a decision to purchase them afterwards. And especially that is true when it concerns the daughter of a [wealthy] man like Soltan bey! So, it is absolutely wrong to expect any progressiveness from Asgar, and to show him as an open-minded representative of society. Asgar’s friend Suleyman is a merchant, too. But Suleyman is quicker, more cunning, and more talented as a trickster.

Soltan bey is a simple bey (noble man) from Karabakh. His every word, every action openly identifies his social status. Soltan bey’s conservatism has reached such a point that he doesn’t even like engineers, doctors and teachers.

Because he suspects that such people acquired their place in higher society due to their knowledge, are really of a lower class, Soltan bey avoids their company. He spends his day in a shop of Mirzahusein, a butcher. He only mingles with traders and merchants.

Gulchohra and Asya are illiterate, ignorant Azerbaijani girls hidden under chadors and confined within the four walls [of their courtyards and homes]. As such, they are deprived of the experience of loving and of being loved. Not knowing the delights of life (reading, culture, administrative duties and other such things), they are totally concentrated on the prospect of getting married. The ultimate question for them is: “Who will be my future husband?”

They were consumed with this question because of the many “husbands” who turned the lives of Azerbaijani girls into hell. Any good on the part of a man as the head of a family was regarded as happiness, and anything bad was considered to be misfortune. That’s why girls who were as clever as Gulchohra, were intent on seeing their future husbands. In contrast, Asya, Telli and the aunt totally depended upon chance and matchmakers.

The 1917 October Revolution really put “Arshin Mal Alan” into the archives of its time. Today, [1938] Azerbaijani youth identify such attitudes as history.

But the question remains: “Now that we no longer have cloth peddlers, why is ‘Arshin Mal Alan’ still interesting to the audience?” I think it is due to the reality and the content of the work. The reason why we include it in today’s repertoire is to acquaint the young generation with old life and to preserve, at least, some of our best works that were written before the Revolution.

A few months after its premiere, the work was translated and staged in Russian, Armenian, Greek, Persian, English, and French and later on Uzbeki and Tajiki. As Azerbaijani works were not valued in theaters prior to the Revolution, they were never staged as originally conceived. Broken, dilapidated stage sets which were kept in theater warehouses were used at that time.

The production of “Arshin Mal Alan” that was directed by the Honored Actor Hidayatzade was superior to all the previous productions. Since the director completed understood the content and the intent of the work, his interpretation turned out to be correct. Comrade Hidayatzade did a great job with the actors. He helped the vocalists master techniques of this dramatic work. Here the literary images took on real character. Superficial caricatures were avoided.

Artist Adham Sultanov made a significant contribution to the artistic arrangement of the new production. All his works are impressive especially the view of Shusha that he created which is both artistic, beautiful and accurate.

As far as our actors’ performances are concerned, I would have to admit that Bulbul skillfully managed to make the adjustment from the big opera stage [where he performed Koroghlu] to the role of Asgar in this musical comedy.

Our Honored Actor H. Hajibababeyov performed the trickster’s role of Suleyman exceptionally well. Because of his beautiful and charming voice, I think a few more musical selections should be added for Suleyman’s role. Sona Mustafayeva and Saltanat Guliyeva skillfully performed Gulchohra’s role. Aliya Teregulova and Elmira Akhundova performed Asya’s role. It’s difficult to say which actress was better than the other. All four of them deserve the equal appreciation.

Alakbar Huseinzade has performed Soltan bey’s role for more than 20 years now. In spite of his old age, he has held on to his original talent, which has made him very famous in that role. We must say the same about Anatollu who performed Vali’s role, because even now Anatollu continues to demonstrate the same talent and temperament in the role of Vali. Telli performed by Hagigat Rezayeva is the exact epitomy of maids of that time. It’s not really necessary for me to dwell on how well these people performed their roles.

I would like to thank the Party and our State for preserving the most valuable of my earlier works. This encourages me as well as gives me energy to create new works - national from the point of view of form, and socialistic from the point of view of content.

| | | | |
| | |