Vasif Adigezalov’s Mad Mugham Laboratory of Classical Music

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Stephen Vessels continues his series on rare examples of underappreciated classical music composers from around the world. This stop, Azerbaijan’s Vasif Adigezalov, best known for incorporating traditional modal mugham music into his classical art music works.

mugham, Azerbaijan folk music

Azerbaijani Composer Vasif Adigezalov, son of a prominent traditional folk singer of mugham, blended the style into his classical compositions. Azerbaijani mugham trio in XVI century miniature of Nizami Ganjavi’s “Khosrow and Shirin” from Wikipedia.

Traditional Azerbaijan Troubadour “Mugham” Meets Classical Art Compositions

By Stephen Vessels

Vasif Adigezalov, 1935 – 2006, Azerbaijani musical scholar, pianist and composer of two operas, five operettas, four oratorios, four symphonies, three symphonic poems, six concertos, a “poem” for four pianos and orchestra, and a long list of instrumental works, songs, romances, and scores for plays and films. He was one of Azerbaijan’s preeminent composers, director of the Baku Music College, and chairman of the Azerbaijani Composer’s Union.

Adigezalov [alternative spellings: Adigozal, Adygazal] was known for incorporating traditional “mugham” modal music into classical art music compositions. Mugham is a musical universe unto its own, of which I possess scant understanding and will not attempt to illuminate here beyond saying that it draws on Persian troubadour traditions, Arabic “makam,” and a host of other sources. A sampling of Azerbaijani mugham played on the Balaban, an Azerbaijani folk woodwind, was included in the recording of human musical accomplishments sent into space with the Voyager spacecraft. Mugham is a deep, deep rabbit hole.

Here is his intoxicating Piano Concerto No. 4.


Vasif Adigezalov: Piano Concerto No.4. Composed in 1994. Murad Adigezalzade, Piano/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Yablonsky, conductor.

Azerbaijan is bordered by Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran. Its history during Adigezalov’s lifetime was far from placid. And yet he studied and worked and composed and gave what he had to give. When I listened to this concerto for the first time, I knew was that I was hearing something written by a man with an insatiable ear and a genius for combining musical idioms in the mad laboratory of a generous soul.


Vasif Adigezalov – “Natavan” opera, a tribute to Khurshidbanu Natavan (1832-1897), a famous 19th century poetess and ruler of Karabakh – a mountainous region known for being a cultural center in western Azerbaijan.

Series Curated By Stephen Vessels

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