About this Recording
8.573803 - AMIROV, F.: One Thousand and One Nights Suite / Symphony, "To the Memory of Nizami" (Kyiv Virtuosi Orchestra, Yablonsky) (Azerbaijani Composers,Vol.6)

Fikret Amirov (1922–1984)
Symphony ‘To the Memory of Nizami’ • One Thousand and One Nights – Suite


Together with Kara Karayev (1918–1982, also spelt Gara Garayev), Fikret Amirov (1922–1984) is probably Azerbaijan’s best-known composer in the classical tradition. His music draws deeply on Azerbaijani folk traditions—he was the son of Mashadi Jamil Amirov, a composer himself and a well-known khanande, a singer of mugam (this being a complex modal system, known in the Arabic world as maqam). He began composing very early, principally for piano, and was later educated at the State Conservatoire in Baku, studying under the Russian Boris Zeidman (1908–1981, himself a pupil of Maximilian Steinberg) and Uzeyir Hajibeyov (1885–1948), considered the founder of Azerbaijani composed classical music, and the author of the country’s national anthem.

Amirov studied and collected Azerbaijani folk music, together with other composers, from 1930 onwards, and invented the ‘symphonic mugam’, based on traditional folk melodies. His music is, in fact, shot through with Azerbaijani folklore, though it is processed through the kind of socialist realist orchestral writing that one would naturally expect of a composer working at this time. Two works in the ‘symphonic mugam’ genre are amongst his most frequently performed: Shur (1946) and Kürd Ovshari (1949), as is the Azerbaijan Capriccio (1961). There are also two operas, The Seagull (1948) and Sevil (originally composed in 1953), and the ballets The Legend of Nasimi (1977) and One Thousand and One Nights (1979).

Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209) from the ancient city of Ganga, Azerbaijan, is one of the most celebrated Muslim poets, who reformulated the style of epic poetry, making it more realistic. His work has been highly influential in several countries, including Iran, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan. Amirov interested himself in the broader culture of this region, as both To the Memory of Nizami and One Thousand and One Nights prove. Indeed, before composing the latter, which is also known as Arabian Nights, he made trips to Iraq, Yemen and Egypt, bringing back recordings of music from those countries.

Amirov’s Symphony dedicated to Nizami was written in 1941, the 800th anniversary of the writer’s birth. Scored for string orchestra, it is intended to be a portrait of the man and his character as philosopher and poet. As so often in Amirov’s work, a leitmotif is employed, a melodic tag that serves to identify Nizami, based on Azerbaijani material. The work’s first movement, Allegro maestoso, is the longest of the four, and sets the tone immediately, with a sombre, mysterious introduction that is immediately followed by brighter contrasting material. While Amirov’s string writing, making full use of the colouristic possibilities of the ensemble, suggests not only composers of the generation of Reinhold Glière, but from even earlier: it is not too fanciful to hear distant echoes of Rimsky-Korsakov in his work, and like Rimsky-Korsakov, Amirov was able to blend folk material seamlessly into his very Western/Soviet understanding of orchestral colour and texture.

The second movement, Allegretto giocoso, suggests an oriental dance, and makes much use of different kinds of articulations—pizzicato (plucking rather than bowing the strings), various kinds of accents, and so on. Though it is extremely concise, we find Amirov here at his very best, conceiving of music as though it were a single arch. The third movement, Andante molto sostenuto, is very different, dramatically nostalgic or even lamenting in tone, but still somewhat dance-like in character, and invested with all the emotional weight traditionally given to strings, and, once again, a lot is said in a short space. The movement ends with a mysterious ascent into the stratosphere that one might describe as an apotheosis.

With the colourful fourth movement, Allegro con brio, we seem to be given another aspect of Nizami’s character, forceful and imposing. Its oriental colouring does not prevent the listener from sensing, once again, its technical ancestry in Russian composers of the 19th century, but this is precisely part of Amirov’s approach and his originality.

With the ballet One Thousand and One Nights, we are in the kind of fantastic world that Amirov was so skilful at evoking. The original ballet was in two acts, following a libretto based on the well-known collection of folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age by Magsud Ibrahimbeyov and Rustam Ibragimbekov, who developed the work alongside the choreographer Naila Nazirova and artist Togrul Narimanbekov. It was first seen at the Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre in 1979. The Suite derived from the complete ballet is organised in twelve sections, the first of which, Introduction: Orgy throws us immediately into the seductive Orient, with insistent percussion and blazing orchestral writing. This is followed by two brief scenes, Shahriar’s Anger and Execution, in which percussion again plays a significant role. Such illustrative skill is at the heart of this ballet, in fact; examples are numerous, but particularly impressive are Sheherazade’s Love Theme, which moves from the dreamily romantic to the hypnotic, by means of the use of ostinato, to suggest her telling of the tales over the thousand and one nights; the exuberant Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, coloured by tubular bells and timpani, and the affecting Sadness of Sheherazade, in which the future queen’s emotions are evoked by the simplest of means, and the solo violin will naturally evoke the name of Rimsky-Korsakov once again: reminiscences of the Russian composer’s own work on this subject would be difficult to avoid.

Amirov also obligingly provides us with a film-like Chase (it is no surprise that he also wrote for the cinema) and a memorably triumphant evocation of Shahriar’s falling in love with Sheherazade, while the brass and woodwind of the Finale suggest the kind of celebratory dance that one would expect after such adventures.

As the musicologist Aida Huseynova has written in her remarkable history of Azerbaijani music, ‘[Gara] Garayev and Amirov … expanded the stylistic and semantic scope of Azerbaijani music in space and time, adding the voices of other cultures and exploring various ways of synthesising national idioms with earlier and contemporary Western styles. [They] contextualised Azerbaijani music within both East and West, uncovering its many historical and cultural links.’¹ This is a very accurate description; Amirov seems to stand at a crossroads, both geographical and temporal, and creates from disparate cultural sources, Eastern and Western, music of remarkable freshness and originality.

Ivan Moody


¹ Aida Huseynova, Music of Azerbaijan: From Mugham to Opera, Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2016, p. 85

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