Uzeyir Hajibeyli is the eminent classical composer of Azerbaijani music. His creative work has played a foundational role in the history of the national music art. Hajibeyli stands at the roots of the formation and development of professional music in Azerbaijan, which also includes emergence of new music genres and creation of a number of professional music bands.
Despite that he was composing music and working under severe conditions of life, he managed to establish national musical theater in the entire Near East. Hajibeyli played an outstanding role in the development of Azerbaijani national culture. As a public figure, dramatist, scientist, folklorist and educator, he authored the first operas, musical comedies, mass songs, ghazals, cantatorium-oratorio music, pieces for orchestra of national instruments, as well as the first Azerbaijani classic opera – the masterpiece of the Azerbaijani music “Koroghlu”.
Uzeyir Abdul Husseinoghlu Hajibeyli was born on 18 September 1885 in a town called Aghjebedi into a family of a rural clerk Abdulla Hussein Hajibeyov. Soon after Uzeyir was born, his family moved to Karabakh, Shusha, which was called the conservatoire of Azerbaijan as we all know. The composer spent his childhood years there.
The Hajibeyli family was musically gifted. It is mainly due to the influence of the composer’s mother, Shirin Khanim Aliverdibeyova. It is noteworthy to also mention that Uzeyir’s older brother Zulfugar Hajibeyov also became one of the first composers in Azerbaijan.
Uzeyir had discovered and fallen in love with folk music since early childhood. By the age of twelve, he sang mughams and played tar wonderfully. Hajibeyli received his primary education at the Shusha two-year school. In 1899, Uzeyir moved to Georgia to study at the Gori training school, where he learned to play the violin and the baritone and studied the elementary theory and solfeggio. He participated in the choir and orchestra of the school. Hajibeyli made his first recordings of folk songs and developed them for the choir at the school as well. Gori also introduced him to the pieces of European classics, such as Mozart, Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Bizet and Verdi, who deeply impressed and influenced the future composer.
Having graduated from the training school in 1904, Hajibeyli worked in Hadrut for a year and later started his career as an educator in schools for children of laborers in the industrial districts of Baku. He spent much strength and energy to teach the children at Bibi-Heybat, the oil district. He compiled the first arithmetic textbook, translated Gogol’s “The Overcoat” into Azerbaijani and started music classes for children, who went to school in Azerbaijani. In the same years, Hajibeyli started his enlightening and publicist career. He wrote articles and satire for newspapers and the “Mullah Nasraddin” magazine, often signing them as “Somebody” (Filankes).
The first opera by Hajibeyov “Leyli and Majnun” was staged at the Baku Drama Theatre on 25 (12) January 1908. It thus marked the birth of Azerbaijani national opera. It was also the first ever opera in the entire Muslim world.
Following “Leyli and Majnun”, the composer authored a series of other operas, such as the “Sheikh Sanan” (1909), “Rustam and Zohrab” (1910), “Shah Abbas and Khurshid Banu” (1911), “Asli and Kerem” (1912) and “Harun and Leyla”. Hajibeyov also wrote his musical comedies in the same period. Thus he produced the “Husband and Wife” in 1909 and “If not that one, then this one” in 1910.
In order to continue his music education, Hajibeyli left for Moscow in 1911 and started private music classes, but soon ended his lessons. He moved to Petersburg in 1913 and was admitted to the conservatoire. He wrote his best music comedy “Arshin Mal Alan” (“The Cloth Peddler”), when he was in school in Petersburg. The “Arshin Mal Alan” comedy was first staged in Baku in October 1913.
In the 20s, he started working on his book the “Foundations of Azerbaijan Folk Music”, which he finished in 1945. In the late 20s and early 30s, he produced two fantasies for the folk instrument orchestra, the N 1 “Shur” and N 2 “Jargah”. He also wrote the first ensemble piece in the country – “Trio”. It was an “Ashug” piece for the violin, cello and pianoforte. The mass songs produced by Hajibeyli in those years were especially popular. These were the lyrical song “Black Eyes”, the “Red Army March”, written as a war song, and “Masut” (fuel oil), dedicated to the oilmen of Baku. In 1937, Hajibeyli finished his “Koroghlu” opera, which was staged at the Akhundov State Opera and Ballet Theater of Azerbaijan.
There is a house museum of the composer in Baku, which has tried to preserve the spirit of the age. Our eminent composer lived and worked in that house. Azerbaijan State Music Academy (it was called the conservatoire before) is named after the maestro. There is a monument to him in front of the Academy. The country celebrates the birthday, 18 September, of the eminent Azerbaijani composer as the National Music Day. You would not be able to find a person in Azerbaijan, who would not be able to hum a melody from one of Hajibeyli pieces, be it the “Koroghlu” opera or a motive from the “Arshin Mal Alan” operetta.