About this Recording
8.573122 - KARAYEV, K.: 7 Beauties Ballet Suite / The Path of Thunder (Royal Philharmonic, Yablonsky) (Azerbaijani Composers, Vol. 4)

Kara Karayev (1918–1982)
The Seven Beauties • The Path of Thunder


Born in Baku, his favourite city, which he called ‘an enormous, multi-voiced symphony’, Kara Karayev was a composer with a highly expressive, individual style. His compositions are infused with the harmonies and melodic characteristics of his native Azerbaijani music, in particular the oriental intervals that derive from the centuries-old tradition of mugam, a highly improvisatory form of folk-music. Karayev once said: ‘Traditional music of Azerbaijan is my native language. As a composer I grew up on Azerbaijani folk melodies and, regardless of whatever artistic problem I am working on, I cannot, and do not want to break away from their influence.’ Karayev’s father was a famous professor of medicine, and his mother a talented pianist with a passion for poetry. Karayev’s musical education began in Baku in 1930 and in 1938 he was accepted to study composition at the Moscow Conservatory. His long and illustrious career as a composer, pedagogue, music writer and critic began after his return to Baku in 1946 as a conservatory graduate. He died on 13 May 1982 in Moscow.

Karayev studied composition with Dmitry Shostakovich, becoming one of the brightest representatives of his class. Shostakovich, a sensitive, and at the same time demanding teacher, had enormous influence on the young composer both personally and professionally. Karayev’s music shows how he assimilated and adapted some aspects of his teacher’s compositional style into his own in such areas as instrumentation and harmonic language. He wrote in a variety of genres, which included music for plays and musicals, opera, ballet, symphonic and chamber works, romances, cantatas, children’s music, and film music. Karayev loved Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and was strongly drawn to Albanian, Vietnamese, Turkish, Bulgarian, Spanish, African, and Arabic folklore and music. He once said that ‘from the very beginning, East and West co-existed in me’, and his eclectic works are a testament to this happy coexistence. Karayev was also keenly interested in masterpieces of world literature and poetry by Nizami, Pushkin, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Omar Khayam, to name but a few.

The Seven Beauties – Ballet Suite

In 1949 Karayev composed the symphonic suite The Seven Beauties, inspired by a famous poem written in 1197 by the twelfth-century poet Nizami. The poem’s subject matter is the legend of Shah Bachram Gur and his seven wives, ‘the Seven Beauties’, who lived in seven pavilions. In 1953, using the 1949 suite as its basis, Karayev composed the first full-length Azerbaijani ballet, The Seven Beauties. The Suite heard on this recording is extracted from the ballet. Before we ‘meet’ the Beauties, we hear the highly energetic Waltz, followed by a calming, peaceful Adagio, with a beautiful horn solo playing a romantic, expansive melody. The following movement, The Dance of The Clowns, comes as a sharply contrasting and spirited scherzo. The section known as The Seven Portraits (tracks 4–11) depicts an old ruined castle, where seven portraits of the Beauties hang on the walls. After a short introduction, The Indian Beauty is intoned by the solo flute, accompanied by a lilting percussion accompaniment. The Byzantine Beauty storms in, with a feisty, fiery dance, which gradually becomes more subdued. The Khorezmian Beauty is a highly energetic dance, which contrasts with the following Slavonic Beauty, whose instantly recognisable melody evokes a Russian folksong. The Maghrebian Beauty is a passionate dance in the style of a bolero, with castanets and traditional Spanish harmonies. The Chinese Beauty is a spirited dance, with a lovely flute solo, followed by The Most Beautiful of The Beauties, with prominently featured harps and clarinets, and a mesmerising and romantic oboe melody. The suite closes with The Procession, an energetic march redolent of Prokofiev-like harmonies and rhythms. It provides an impressive finale to what has been an outstanding display of an exotic array of melodies, rhythms and harmonies.

The Path of Thunder – Ballet Suite No 2

Karayev’s second ballet, The Path of Thunder, was premièred in Leningrad In 1958, and was immediately accepted into the Kirov’s (now Mariinsky) permanent repertoire, and awarded the Lenin prize in 1967. The ballet, dedicated to the memory of Prokofiev, was inspired by the novel The Path of Thunder, by the South African writer Peter Abrahams (b. 1919) in 1948. Published in the same year as the National Party brought in legislation enforcing a system of racial segregation, or apartheid, it tells the story of forbidden love between two people of different races. Lanny Swartz, a young mixed-race schoolteacher from the rural village of Stilleveld, returns home after studies in Cape Town to establish a school for his deprived community. He falls in love with Sarie Villier, a young, white girl and daughter of a local Afrikaner patriarch. They elope, but lose their lives at the hands of Afrikaners in a vain struggle to maintain their love. Karayev, who studied the folklore and traditions of African music as well as elements of Afro-American music, commented that in the music of the ballet he aimed to ‘use characteristic intonations and rhythms of African folklore.’

1948 was also a significant year for Karayev. While Soviet composers Prokofiev, Khachaturian, and his former teacher Shostakovich were subjected to a public humiliation during the infamous Zhdanov decree that denounced them for formalism, Karayev was awarded a Stalin prize for his symphonic poem Leyla and Mejnun [Naxos 8.570720] based on the eponymous poem of Nizami. He also accepted the position of chair of the Union of Composers of the Azerbaijan SSR and became the rector of the Azerbaijan State Conservatoire.

General Dance opens the suite with a characteristic and somewhat menacing drone on the piano and percussion, and a melody scored for bassoon, alto flute and clarinet. This is followed by The Dance of the Girls with Guitars, where the instruments are represented by two harps and cellos, and an oboe introduces the expressive main melody, which floats over the ethereal sounds of the celeste. It develops into a moderately paced dance, richly and elegantly scored. The Dance of the Black Community aims to depict the deprivation suffered by the people of Lanny’s community, with a prominent percussion section and intricate rhythms, and minimal participation of strings in this fast-paced number. It gives way to the languorous Night in Stilleveld, introduced by shimmering strings and the plaintive cries of the oboe and English horn, and with a languorous atmosphere of night. Scene and Duet evokes the freshness of early dawn and the first rays of the sun, with clear portrayals of Sarie and Lanny on violin and cello respectively. It is the most beautiful and soulful movement of the suite, with passionate surges in the strings, and long, arching melodies. The lilting and gentle Lullaby provides calm before the Finale’s dramatic energy. The tempestuous Finale, The Path of Thunder, depicts the lovers’ tragic demise. It begins with menacing rhythms on the piano, which underpin the flutes and the strings, gradually developing into a dissonant, militant march.

Anastasia Belina-Johnson

Close the window