Gara Garayev, also spelled Kara Karayev and Qara Qareyev, born as Gara Abulfaz oglu Garayev (december 5, 1918 in Baku – May 13, 1982 in Moscow) was a prominent Azerbaijani composer from the Soviet period..
Gara Garayev was a composer far ahead of his time. We, his contemporaries, did not always understand his vision. He made nearly 110 pieces, including ballets, operas, symphonic and chamber pieces, piano solos, cantatas, songs and marches. His imprint on Azerbaijan's music is profound.
The ballet "Seven Beauties" by Gara Garayev (1952, based on the analogous poem by Nizami, choreograph P.A.Gusev, Azerbaijan Theater of Opera and Ballet) opened a new stage in the history of Azeri music. The ballet "Seven Beauties" played a critical role in the development of ballet in Azerbaijan as it founded the new musical dramaturgy in the ballet art of Azerbaijan.
In 1949 humanity succeeded for the first time in the history of oil technology to drill offshore at the Oil Rocks of Azerbaijan. During that time the Oil Rocks was the pearl of ambition of the Soviet Union. In 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.
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.
Garayev's piano was transport out to the Oil Rocks. 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.
Garayev inherited his love of music from his parents. His father 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 première 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.
Garayev was allowed to enroll in two faculties simultaneously at Baku's Music Conservatoire (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 Conservatoir until 1946 where he spent much of his time with Dmitri Shostakovich.
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 composer 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 Conservatoir, 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 Conservatoire (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.
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.
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. It should be noted 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.
Gara Garayev used the piano as the basis for his compositions.
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 Labour.
Unfortunately, Garayev was not feeling well at the time. The head of the Central Committee's Culture Department in Azerbaijan, was in charge of organizing this event even though it took place in Moscow. When they left Baku for Moscow for the Jubilee evening, the committee decided to ask a doctor to accompany them on the flight. It was the right decision. Garayev started feeling ill when they landed in Moscow. The doctor provided first aid while they 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.
Garayev celebrated his Jubilee in the hospital. It had snowed heavily that day, and the committee was worried that no one would show up for the concert. They contacted student clubs promising students free admission. But everything turned out exactly opposite of what they had expected. Long before the concert began, the hall was filled to capacity.
Heydar Aliyev, who later became Azerbaijan's President, but at that time, First Secretary of the Communist Party in Azerbaijan, also attended at the concert, he arrived half an hour before the concert and asked with concern, "How is the situation with the audience? Did anyone come?" The committee 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
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 Kurnaz. 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.
That's when the committee asked for help from Heydar Aliyev. There was mutual respect between each of them and Aliyev. Aliyev agreed to help, they 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 they 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.
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. 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!" All thee composters agreed to go to Tbilisi to maintain the prestige of their republic. Later on Fikrat, Niyazi and Aliyev noticed that Garayev wasn't feeling well; they 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. Once the train pulled away, 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 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. Garayev would always ask for news about Baku, he would insist for the details, and his eyes would long for home.
Garayev had traveled to so many places in the world, so many cities. He had admired the architecture, history, traditions and practices of so many places. But according to witnesses he reserved his deepest feelings for Baku.
Garayev wrote a few pages about Baku in a tenderly and lovingly way: "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." - Gara Garayev
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