Observation About My Work - Arshin Mal Alan
This article was
originally published in 1938, and later republished in the book, Uzeyir
Hajibeyov - Selected Works, compiled by Mirabbas Aslanov. Baku:
Yazichi Publishing House, 1985. pp. 216-219. Translated
from Azeri into English by Farida Sadikhova. Edited in English by
I wrote the Musical
Comedy Arshin Mal Alan in 1914 while studying [music]
at St. Petersburg Conservatory [Russia]. It was the last work that
I wrote before the 1917 Revolution. Its plot was based on life in
the town of Shusha in Karabakh [where I grew up]. After I had completed
it, I had to spend a lot of time and effort and undergo a lot of hardships
to get permission from the Czars censors to produce this work.
When the work
was staged for the first time in 1915, it met considerable ridicule
and hatred from the Kaspi (Caspian) newspaper which reflected
attitudes of Bakus bourgeoisie. I was severely attacked in their
critical review of the work. They reprimanded the work
for its efforts to sending our girls down the wrong path.
They understood that this work was critical of the Moslem religion
and its traditions. At that time, Azerbaijani girls were deprived
of even the most elementary human rights. The comedy serves to help
emancipate women, as well as to expose old traditions and customs
via the medium of the musical stage.
the work are based on actual people who were living in that period,
and who I considered to be real representatives of our society at
that time. The bourgeoisie who ruled the society felt that they were
being exposed in the work, and in order to deflect the criticism away
from themselves, they tried to explain the ideas set forth in Arshin
Mal Alan in a different way.
Some people idealized
Asgar characterizing him as an open-minded person, and an advocate
of culture. However, that is absolutely wrong; its a false idea.
Asgar is a person who looks at everything through the eyes of a merchant.
If he wants to see a girl before he marries her, its not because
he is advocating modernity, its simply because hes a merchant.
He treats the situation equally: viewing his potential bride and considering
a piece of 12-kopeck arshin printed cotton. (An arshin
is an old measurement equivalent to 28 inches). Just as printed cotton
can either be of genuine quality or defective, so a girl can be blind,
pock-marked and undeserving of him. Thats why as a merchant
he wants to see the goods first, and then make a decision
to purchase them afterwards. And especially that is true when it concerns
the daughter of a [wealthy] man like Soltan bey! So, it is absolutely
wrong to expect any progressiveness from Asgar, and to show him as
an open-minded representative of society. Asgars friend Suleyman
is a merchant, too. But Suleyman is quicker, more cunning, and more
talented as a trickster.
Soltan bey is
a simple bey (noble man) from Karabakh. His every word, every action
openly identifies his social status. Soltan beys conservatism
has reached such a point that he doesnt even like engineers,
doctors and teachers.
Because he suspects
that such people acquired their place in higher society due to their
knowledge, are really of a lower class, Soltan bey avoids their company.
He spends his day in a shop of Mirzahusein, a butcher. He only mingles
with traders and merchants.
Asya are illiterate, ignorant Azerbaijani girls hidden under chadors
and confined within the four walls [of their courtyards and homes].
As such, they are deprived of the experience of loving and of being
loved. Not knowing the delights of life (reading, culture, administrative
duties and other such things), they are totally concentrated on the
prospect of getting married. The ultimate question for them is: Who
will be my future husband?
They were consumed
with this question because of the many husbands who turned
the lives of Azerbaijani girls into hell. Any good on the part of
a man as the head of a family was regarded as happiness, and anything
bad was considered to be misfortune. Thats why girls who were
as clever as Gulchohra, were intent on seeing their future husbands.
In contrast, Asya, Telli and the aunt totally depended upon chance
The 1917 October
Revolution really put Arshin Mal Alan into the archives
of its time. Today,  Azerbaijani youth identify such attitudes
But the question
remains: Now that we no longer have cloth peddlers, why is Arshin
Mal Alan still interesting to the audience? I think it
is due to the reality and the content of the work. The reason why
we include it in todays repertoire is to acquaint the young
generation with old life and to preserve, at least, some of our best
works that were written before the Revolution.
A few months after
its premiere, the work was translated and staged in Russian, Armenian,
Greek, Persian, English, and French and later on Uzbeki and Tajiki.
As Azerbaijani works were not valued in theaters prior to the Revolution,
they were never staged as originally conceived. Broken, dilapidated
stage sets which were kept in theater warehouses were used at that
of Arshin Mal Alan that was directed by the Honored Actor
Hidayatzade was superior to all the previous productions. Since the
director completed understood the content and the intent of the work,
his interpretation turned out to be correct. Comrade Hidayatzade did
a great job with the actors. He helped the vocalists master techniques
of this dramatic work. Here the literary images took on real character.
Superficial caricatures were avoided.
Artist Adham Sultanov
made a significant contribution to the artistic arrangement of the
new production. All his works are impressive especially the view of
Shusha that he created which is both artistic, beautiful and accurate.
As far as our
actors performances are concerned, I would have to admit that
Bulbul skillfully managed to make the adjustment from the big opera
stage [where he performed Koroghlu] to the role of Asgar in this musical
Our Honored Actor
H. Hajibababeyov performed the tricksters role of Suleyman exceptionally
well. Because of his beautiful and charming voice, I think a few more
musical selections should be added for Suleymans role. Sona
Mustafayeva and Saltanat Guliyeva skillfully performed Gulchohras
role. Aliya Teregulova and Elmira Akhundova performed Asyas
role. Its difficult to say which actress was better than the
other. All four of them deserve the equal appreciation.
has performed Soltan beys role for more than 20 years now. In
spite of his old age, he has held on to his original talent, which
has made him very famous in that role. We must say the same about
Anatollu who performed Valis role, because even now Anatollu
continues to demonstrate the same talent and temperament in the role
of Vali. Telli performed by Hagigat Rezayeva is the exact epitomy
of maids of that time. Its not really necessary for me to dwell
on how well these people performed their roles.
I would like to
thank the Party and our State for preserving the most valuable of
my earlier works. This encourages me as well as gives me energy to
create new works - national from the point of view of form, and socialistic
from the point of view of content.