Autumn 1998 (6.3)

Remembering Gara Garayev
A Legend in His Own Time - 80th Jubilee

by Azad Sharifov

The musical legacy of Gara Garayev (pronounced ga-RAH ga-RAH-yev) (Russian: Kara Karayev) is immense. He left us with nearly 110 pieces, including ballets, operas, symphonic and chamber pieces, piano solos, cantatas, songs and marches. His imprint on Azerbaijan's music is profound. Azad Sharifov knew Garayev personally and offers a glimpse into the life and personality of this prominent Azerbaijani composer on this occasion of his 80th Jubilee.

The date was 1952. Composer Gara Garayev had been chosen to write the film score for the documentary, "A Story About the Oil-Workers of the Caspian Sea." The setting was Oil Rocks, an oil workers' small settlement of workshops and dormitories built up on trestles and piers out over the Caspian. It was at Oil Rocks that for the first time in the history of oil technology, Azerbaijan dared to drill offshore. They succeeded. That was back in 1949 - nearly 50 years ago.

Art: Portrait of Gara Garayev by Tahir Salayev

To hear music samples click here.

Roman Karmen, producer of the documentary, took Garayev by boat out to the Oil Rocks settlement to check out the location where the movie was to be filmed. They were walking together along the piers, and Garayev was listening carefully to the rhythmic swishing of the gray Caspian waves and the steady pounding of the oil rigs. Suddenly he told Karmen that he wanted to write the film score right there on location. "That's when I became convinced once again of Garayev's intense passion. He was so convinced of his idea that he didn't want to go back to the city to write the music," observed Karmen some years later.

"So the decision was made to transport Garayev's piano out to the Oil island. As it was too large to fit into one of the regular boats, they had to lift it onto one of the ships with the help of ropes. After settling in on the man-made island, a violent storm arose at sea, Garayev sat down at the piano and a miracle emerged right in front of our eyes - that was the moment the film's music was born," Karmen reflected.

This dramatic image of Gara Garayev on the Oil Rocks in the throes of inspiration meshes with my own vivid memories of him. He was a man who was truly ahead of his time. We, his contemporaries, did not always understand his vision. Nor were we able to fully appreciate his talent. I'm convinced that the worth of Garayev's contribution to world music has still to be realized.


Left: Garayev (standing) with mentor and teacher, Dmitri Shostakovich.

Right: Garayev with his son Faraj and daughter Zulfiya (1960s).

Parents' Influence
Garayev inherited his love of music from his parents. His father was a famous pediatrician in Baku known for his kindness and generosity. When patients were too poor to pay for treatment, he often left money under the prescription that he had written out for them. He knew Azeri folk music very well and loved to sing. Garayev's mother, Sona Khanim, was among the first graduates of the Music School, the Baku branch of the Russian Music Society.

Garayev's father wanted him to become a doctor. It wasn't until 1952 that he realized that his son had found his own calling. When announcements of the premiere of the ballet "Seven Beauties" were hung everywhere in the city, Garayev's father finally admitted to his wife: "Let's leave him alone. It seems like he's found his mission in ife." Garayev was 33 at the time. It was his brother, Mursal, that took after their father and became a talented surgeon. Unfortunately, Mursal died at an early age.

The Early Years
Garayev was allowed to enroll in two faculties simultaneously at Baku's Music Conservatory (1933-1938). He studied Piano with Professor Georgi Sharoyev (Anton Rubinstein's grandson) and Composition Theory with Professor Leonid Rudolf. Garayev then went to Moscow State Conservatory until 1946 where he spent much of his time with Dmitri Shostakovich.

Photo: Garayev in a documentary about his life directed by Ogtay Mirgazimov (1970s).

According to Garayev, Shostakovich was an exacting teacher: "Shostakovich could not stand superficiality and irresponsibility. He refused to look at unfinished 'sketches.' Above all, the great Maestro did his best to teach his students to respect their professions." Garayev would eventually pass these same values on to his own students.

In 1938, the "Decade of Azerbaijan Art" was celebrated at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, an event that occurred once every ten years and included the culmination of the best music that had been created during that period. Stalin himself attended the event. The festival program concluded with Garayev's cantata, "The Song of the Heart," the text of which had been written by Azerbaijan's poet Rasul Reza. This was the first public performance of this young, shy composer named Gara Garayev, who conducted the piece himself. He was only 20 years old at the time.

Also seated in the audience was Uzeyir Hajibeyov, the father of classical music in Azerbaijan. Rasul Reza was there, too, and he later recalled Hajibeyov's reaction to Garayev. "After listening to the piece, Uzeyir Hajibeyov, fingering his mustache as was his usual custom, said in the calm, slow manner that was so characteristic of him: 'This boy will turn out to be a great success!'"

This was only the beginning of Garayev's achievements. While studying at the Moscow State Conservatory, he and Jovdat Hajiyev (a contemporary who is still alive today) won the Stalin prize for their opera "Vatan" (Motherland) in 1945. At the age of 30, Garayev again won the prestigious Stalin prize - this time for his symphonic poem "Leyli and Majnun," which is based on the work of Nizami, a 12th century Azeri poet.

Decades of Teaching
Throughout his years as a professor at the Baku Conservatory (now known as the Music Academy), Gara Garayev taught many students, 70 of which have become composers, many of them famous in their own right. His own son, Faraj Garayev (1943- ) was among them. Faraj went on to compose famous one-act ballets such as "Shadows of Gobustan" and "Kaleidoscope" and later led the musical avant-garde movement in Azerbaijan.

Gara Garayev used the piano as the basis for his compositions.

One of Garayev's students, composer Hayam Mirzazade, recalled the intensity of Garayev's classes: "As a rule, Garayev would turn his lessons into a discussion of problems in contemporary music - analysis of techniques, language and styles of music. Garayev hated thoughtless attitudes toward folk music. He made his students learn the inner workings of folk music."

Garayev was known for his erudition and deep knowledge of numerous spheres in life. His intellectual level was acknowledged by all who knew him. One of his close friends, Imran Gasimov, wrote: "It seems like all civilization is in Garayev's hands, not as simple encyclopedic data but in a profound way. He was an indisputable authority in music circles in the USSR."

"He was very strict with his students," remembered Azeri composer Arif Malikov, who graduated from Garayev's class in 1958. "He had an encyclopedic knowledge about almost everything related to problems of life as well as problems of art regardless of whether it was in the field of science, music or literature. He was acquainted with so many intelligent people. You gain so much confidence through belief in your teacher when he is a great Master.

"We never dared to think of skipping class or of not coming prepared. Our classes were one-on-one with him, but we didn't leave when they were over. We would stay on and listen to what went on with the next student. That's why there were always so many people in Garayev's classes all the time despite how hard it was to enroll with him."

Ismayil Hajibeyov, another student of Garayev in the 1970s, recalled how their teacher used to say, "I don't want pygmies, I need giants!" and thus inspired many of his students to excel so that they could go on and establish their reputations in music.

After Uzeyir Hajibeyov died (1948), Garayev was elected chairman of the Composers' Union and shortly afterwards became the Rector of the Conservatory (1949). Of course, at the time, there were those who gossiped behind his back, complaining that he was not the most qualified professional and that everything that Uzeyir Hajibeyov had worked for would be disregarded. Some were concerned that
Hajibeyov's emphasis on Azeri folk music and traditional instruments would be lost.

But Garayev, from his early student days, had been involved with studying the origins of Azerbaijani folk music and had participated in expeditions to mountain regions of the country where they recorded folk music. He, along with Zakir Bagirov and Jovdat Hajiyev, used to go out with a very old recording device known by the promising name of "Edison" and gather rich, valuable material upon which he and others later based some of their own work.

But it's wrong to think that Gara Garayev was obsessed with music, even if his range was so diverse and included genres as different as jazz and symphonic music. Garayev had a number of hobbies. He was a passionate soccer fan. He was excellent at analyzing the game and could delve deeply into the techniques of playing. But most of all, he was proud of his success in photography, especially with a secret camera that he had which he was convinced enabled him to photograph people more naturally. He also had an interesting collection of stamps and match boxes.

As Rector of the Conservatory, in addition to insisting on music excellence, Garayev branched out from music and organized sports activities, holiday events and entertaining "kapustniks" (Russian for evenings of humor and jokes). The Conservatory's basketball team acquired quite a name for itself in those days.

Garayev used his position to educate others about modern music. He organized evening performances of symphonic works of modern jazz and mugam music where he invited some of the most talented musicians to perform. I was lucky enough to attend some of these concerts and can testify that they were extremely interesting and valuable, not only for professionals, but also for ordinary music fans.

Scene from Garayev's ballet, Path of Thunder, composed in 1957.

Los Angeles Music Festival
In June 1961, Garayev was one of two composers that the Soviet Union sent to the International Los Angeles Music Festival that was held on UCLA's campus at Royce Hall. The other Soviet representative was Tikhon Khrennikov, who was then president of the Soviet Composers' Union. Fifteen composers from seven nations presented their works, including Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky. Keep in mind that this was the beginning of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Khrushchev had just appeared at the United Nations shortly before and banged his shoe on a table, declaring: "We will bury you!" according to the translation (which later proved to be a wrong interpretation, but the damage had already been done). The Gary Powers' U.S. U-2 spy plane that the Soviets shot down further complicated relations.

On June 11, Franz Waxman conducted the Festival Symphony Orchestra with a suite from Garayev's ballet "Path of Thunder." During the Soviet period, Azerbaijanis and all other national artists were introduced only as "Soviet" composers. Garayev was a name unfamiliar to the American audiences, according to the newspaper description. He was 43 at the time.

Albert Goldberg, who reviewed the concert in the June 13, 1961 Entertainment Section of the Los Angeles Times, was not impressed with either of the composers who were featured that evening, dubbed as "Soviet Night."

Garayev's own handwritten score, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, dedicated to Russian Violinist Leonid Kogan (1967).

He wrote: "All this [music] was a far cry from the contemporary music of the Western world which had made most of the previous festival programs a stimulating and worthwhile experience. The music of both Soviet composers is ultra-conservative and popular in the Soviet sense of the term. Neither author employs devices or idioms later than Tschaikovsky or Rimsky-Korsakov. By these standards Prokofiev is extremely advanced. Since it was apparently officially selected for export, this must be the musical face that the Soviet Union chooses to present to the world.

"None of it was unpleasant but very little of it was noteworthy. According to Lukas Foss, the orator of the evening, Garayev is Shostakovich's favorite pupil, a favoritism that must be personal rather than musical. The 'Path of Thunder' in the repertoire of the Bolshoi troupe concerns African racial conflicts and which, according to a reliable reporter who has seen it, is heavily loaded with propaganda.

"There is naturally no propaganda in the music, but neither is there much of anything else to merit a concert performance. It is the most tepid kind of ballet music, alternately cloyingly sweet and thunderously noisy, lacking the slightest originality. It is the kind of commercial music dished up in this country for Las Vegas, extravaganza and Hollywood B movies - pseudo Spanish, pseudo-jazz and pseudo everything else."

We don't know whether Garayev ever read this review of his work or not. But one thing is certain. Garayev's visit to the U.S. turned out to be one of the turning points in his life. He became heavily influenced by Schoenberg's new 12-tone dissonant scale. Garayev's future works had less tendency of being as "sweet" as his earlier ballets - "Seven Beauties" and "Path of Thunder." And this would put him in trouble back home.

60-Year Jubilee
February 1978 was a memorable month. That was when all of the Soviet Union was celebrating Gara Garayev's 60th Jubilee. Garayev was due to receive the highest recognition of the Soviet government - the title of Hero of Socialist Labor.

Unfortunately, Garayev was not feeling well at the time. As head of the Central Committee's Culture Department in Azerbaijan, I was in charge of organizing this event even though it took place in Moscow. When we left Baku for Moscow for the Jubilee evening, we decided to ask a doctor to accompany us on the flight. It was the right decision. Garayev started feeling ill when we landed in Moscow. The doctor provided first aid while we called an ambulance to come directly to the airport and take Garayev to the Kremlin hospital. His heart was giving him problems and eventually would lead to his death five years later.

So Garayev celebrated his Jubilee in the hospital. It had snowed heavily that day, and we were worried that no one would show up for the concert. We contacted student clubs promising students free admission. But everything turned out exactly opposite of what we had expected. Long before the concert began, the hall was filled to capacity.

Heydar Aliyev, now Azerbaijan's President, but at that time, First Secretary of the Communist Party in Azerbaijan, arrived half an hour before the concert and asked with concern, "How is the situation with the audience? Did anyone come?" I didn't answer, but showed him the packed concert hall.

Garayev's music, of course, was featured at the concert: his symphonic poem "Leyli and Majnun," parts of the famous Third Symphony and beautiful romances based on the words of Pushkin's "Tsarskoselskaya statuya" (The Statue in the Village of Tsar Times). There was also the song, "I Loved You," set to Pushkin's verses that Garayev had dedicated to his wife Tatyana Nikolayevna. Of course, there was a great element of sadness to the proceedings, since the creator of those great musical pieces, Garayev himself, was not in the concert hall.

Festival in Tbilisi
Another memory that stands out vividly in my mind relates to the Transcaucasus Spring Music Festival that was organized in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1980. The Georgian government invited all three giants of Azerbaijani music - Gara Garayev, composer Fikrat Amirov and conductor Niyazi. However, at the time, these three musical greats were not on friendly terms with one another. In fact, they rarely spoke to each other at all. The probability that they would be willing to travel together to Tbilisi was slim, despite my efforts to persuade them and the good relationships I had with each of them as head of the Central Committee's Culture Department.

That's when I asked for help from Aliyev. I knew that there was mutual respect between each of them and Aliyev. He agreed to help. We decided to organize an unofficial meeting, so they could drop by for a friendly, casual "cup of tea." The reason for the meeting was not so much to discuss the visit to Georgia as to find out why these musicians weren't on speaking terms with each other.

As the meeting began, there were some awkward moments, in spite of the friendly atmosphere that we tried to create and Aliyev's informal manner. Garayev, Amirov and Niyazi were not very open because they didn't want to involve Aliyev with their personal troubled relationships. However, being a master of diplomatic skills, he was able to get them to begin to speak openly. He reminded them that their works all belonged to mankind's great cultural treasury. He spoke softly, with patience and empathy for each of them, taking pains not to injure their egos or self-esteem.

Part of their conflict, it seems, had arisen from arguments about modern music and how Azerbaijan's rich musical folklore should be interpreted. For example, Gara Garayev was against what he called a "citation" of folklore. But Niyazi thought that the experiments and new techniques Garayev had used in his Third Symphony and in his violin concert were too avant-garde and discordant for younger composers to imitate. There was a lot of discussion about how others were using the situation to pit one musician against the other and to build up suspicion and distrust between them.

The session continued for five hours. Sandwiches were brought in. The conversation was coming to an end when the telephone rang - it was a call from Moscow. During this pause, all three leaned together and whispered something. Aliyev noticed and cracked a joke: "Thank God, I can see that you're getting along now - you seem to be ganging up on someone else!"

"How can you say that?" Garayev objected. "How is that possible? We have wasted so much of your time, but it is good that you organized such a session. We needed that." They all agreed. "We're ready to go to Tbilisi to maintain the prestige of our republic."

Garayev's familiar, kind smile could be seen from behind his glasses. We could tell, though, that he wasn't feeling well; we insisted that maybe he shouldn't go this time.

The train to Tbilisi was supposed to leave at 11:00 p.m. a few days later. We gathered at the station. Fikrat Amirov had arrived 15 minutes earlier, but the maestro [Niyazi] still was nowhere to be seen. We called his home only to be told by his wife that he had already left for the station. Our worries were eased when a railway worker said that Niyazi had came to the station long before and was sitting up in the engineer's cab trying to learn how to drive the train.

Once the train pulled away, we gathered for supper. For the first time in many years, Niyazi and Amirov regretted that Garayev wasn't with them. They raised their glasses and toasted the health of Garayev. An air of sadness pervaded the evening.

Absent From Baku
It's still a mystery to me why Garayev left Baku and moved to Moscow. Didn't he love his summer cottage out on the Absheron peninsula? Did he stop enjoying grapes and figs from Pirshagi?

Of course, his life and work were not just about fame, medals, recognition and reputation. There were many difficulties, sufferings and unfair judgments against him, and that, of course, left deep scars on the composer's soul. Moscow was cold nearly half the year and there weren't as many friends there as in Baku. When I would see him in Moscow, he would always ask for news about Baku. He would insist that I tell him all of the details, and his eyes would long for home.

Garayev had traveled to so many places in the world - so many beautiful cities. He had admired the architecture, history, traditions and practices of so many places. But he reserved his deepest feelings for Baku, imagining it to be like a huge symphony with many voices.

He wrote about the city so tenderly and lovingly: "To me, Baku is the most beautiful city in the world. Every morning, when the city wakes whether it be to the sun or the rain and fog, every morning my city sings. Baku is meant for art. It gives me so much pleasure to write about this city no matter if you write music, verse or paint images."

But through it all, I don't think we fully comprehended that we were contemporaries of a truly great man, and that we, indeed, were living in what can be called the "Era of Garayev."

What Others Said About Gara Garayev

Niyazi, Azerbaijani conductor
"I've been one who has been privileged in being able to reveal the private and mysterious ideas of Gara Garayev to the audience. So I know the excitement the audience feels while listening to Garayev's music. It can't be characterized as either entertainment or relaxation. Rather, it exposes all the fire in one's heart and compels one to act. I'm grateful that I've had the chance to be in touch with his music and to be the first one to interpret most of his works."

Tahir Salahov, Azerbaijani painter
"I must say that I indeed have been fortunate, not only because I had the chance to meet such a talented musical personality but because I got to know him through his music. This is the only way to get deep inside an artist-through music. Everything trivial and insignificant - the things one pays attention to during mundane, everyday meetings - disappears. Only the essence of a man is left."

Tikhon Khrennikov, Russian composer
"Garayev has that rare ability to stay true to himself and not to imitate anyone. He maintains his own individuality even while changing with the times, regardless of genre."

Rodion Shedrin, Russian composer
"There was almost no limit to Garayev's scope of knowledge in all genres of music. In 1963, we traveled together to America. It amazed me how Garayev knew so many things about so many different genres of music. For example, I'd have to admit to being a bit elitist when it comes to jazz. But I couldn't hide my admiration when he demonstrated competency in this field as well. He mentioned several names, compared one tendency in jazz to another and talked about things I had never heard of."

Fikrat Amirov, Azerbaijani composer
"Garayev's music is one of the greatest columns in the museum of Azerbaijani music. His role in making Azerbaijan's music known worldwide is immense."

Dmitri Shostakovich, Russian composer as well as Garayev's instructor and mentor, Moscow
"Garayev has a great and brilliant talent which is highly developed. He is extremely knowledgeable about instrumentation, polyphony and the other components that make up music. He surely has a great future."

Azad Sharifov is head of the Journalism Department of the Higher Diplomacy College of Azerbaijan
To hear samples of Gara Garayev's music, Visit Azerbaijan International's Web site at <> and click on "Music."

Gara Garayev - A Chronology

Born December 5, Baku.

1933-1938 Music studies, Azerbaijan State Conservatory.

1937 Joins Composers' Union.

1938 Composition studies, Moscow State Conservatory. Cantata, Song of the Heart, performed in Moscow and Stalin attends.

1941 Return to Baku. Teaches at Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Society.

1942 Film score, A Story About the Oil Workers of the Caspian Sea.

1943 Opera, Vatan, with Jovdat Hajiyev, premieres in Baku (1945).

1944-1946 Return to Moscow State Conservatory. Composition studies with Dmitri Shostakovich.

1946 Graduates, Moscow State Conservatory. Begins teaching composition, Azerbaijan State Conservatory. Stalin prize awarded for Vatan.

1947 Symphonic poem, Leyli and Majnun. Edits Muslim Magomayev's opera, Shah Ismayil.

1948 Delegate to the First National USSR Congress of Soviet Composers. Stalin prize awarded for Leyli and Majnun. Garayev heads music section, Azerbaijan Architecture and Art Institute.

1949 After Uzeyir Hajibeyov's death, Garayev directs Azerbaijan State Conservatory. Seven Beauties, a suite for symphonic orchestra.

1950 Six Children's Pieces for Piano.

1951 Seven Beauties and Leyli and Majnun are performed at the Prague Spring Festival conducted by Niyazi. 24 Preludes for Piano-First Notebook.

1952 Albania Suite, Two Children's Pieces for Piano, 24 Preludes-Second Notebook, Six Children's Pieces for Piano. Seven Beauties premieres in Baku.

1954-82 Member of the USSR committee for Lenin and State Prizes.

1956-73 Chairman of the Composers' Union.

1957 Ballet, Path of Thunder.

1958 Laureate, USSR Festival of Soviet Films, for On Distant Shores. Path of Thunder premieres at the Bolshoi. Film score Her Great Heart. Three Nocturnes for Jazz Orchestra.

1959 Path of Thunder premieres at the Bolshoi. Named People's Artist of the USSR.

1960 Symphony, Don Quixote.

1961 First International Festival of Modern Music, Los Angeles.

1962 Member of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Visits the U.S., Ethiopia and Lebanon.

1964 Third Symphony for Chamber Orchestra premieres in Moscow (1965).

1967 Violin Concerto. Lenin prize awarded for Path of Thunder.

1969 Seven Beauties featured in Paris at the World Dance Festival.

1972 Visits Poland for the USSR Congress of Composers' Unions.

1978 His 60th Jubilee. Named Hero of Socialist Labor.

1980 Fourth Symphony, Goya, written with son Faraj premieres in 1983.

1982 Dies May 13 in Moscow. Buried in Baku, Cemetery for the Honored Ones (Fakhri Hiyabani).

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