"Arshin Mal Alan"


“Arshin Mal Alan” is the third and the last music comedy of the great Azerbaijan composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov, founder of the national composers’ school, and author of the first eastern opera.

He started to work in Baku for this comedy and completed it in summer 1913, in St. Petersburg, where he lived and prepared himself to enter the Conservatoire. 

The story itself was true to life. In early XX century there aroused a wave of sharp criticism in Azerbaijan public. It was a criticism directed against prejudices, morals and manners caused by Moslem traditions. Striving for personal freedom and rights of Moslem women became essential subject for various discussions.

That time a woman had almost no rights: she should firstly implicitly obey her parents and then husband. She wore a veil and was not allowed to appear with open face at the street. Only individual Azerbaijan women could read and write. Eastern woman was a kind of thing at home. Other people made a decision for her fortune, and as a rule she could marry only according to her parents’ will. However young men suffered a lot for these traditions: in most events, bridegrooms could see their fiancees only after the wedding. 

Nevertheless the life changed and new generation of young boys and girls desired building families basing on mutual love. To see, to love and only then to marry – it was a motive for ingenious intrigue of “Arshin Mal Alan”. The heroine of the comedy is vigorous and smart beauty Gulchohra. She personifies an image of new Azerbaijan woman. And it was not casual that contemporaries accepted this music comedy as challenge to passing away laws, as appeal to emancipate Azerbaijan woman.

Uzeyir Hajibeyov himself was an author of libretto. The comedy received its title from that typical shout that street traders used to in an old Azerbaijan.

Young merchant Asker wants to marry. However he wants to choose himself his helpmate. Meanwhile Moslem tradition prohibited seeing the fiancée before the wedding. Asker’s friend Suleiman suggests him a cunning action. On his advice Asker disguises as a poor “arshin malchi” – scotch draper. So he could enter any yard and choose his fiancée. 

Soon afterwards Asker found an apposite girl among purchasers. She is Gulchohra, a daughter of Sultan-bey. She also dreams to marry by love. Young people feel mutual sympathy. Gulchohra is full with resoluteness to strive for her love. However, Sultan-bey does not want misalliance. He agrees to give her in marriage with rich merchant Asker, but faces heavy opposition from Gulchohra. The latter does not suspect (as her father himself) that her lover is Asker.  Misunderstanding became clear soon and the matter completed by the wedding. Three more couples marry at the same time: Widower-bey marries Jahan, Asker’s aunt, inventor Suleiman marries Sultan-bey’s niece – Asya, and Gulchohra’s housemaid Telly marries Asker’s servant – jolly Vely.

There are no negative heroes in the comedy. According to the laws of classic music comedy, major heroes – Asker and Gulchohra come to the fore. Their fortune and love are essential in the intrigue line. They decisively stand up for their rights for love. They are inspired and romantic, without any prejudices. They are prepared for anything for love’s sake. The other couples, Sultan-bey and Jahan, Suleiman and Asya, Telly and Vely are given as lyric and comic characters.

Quiet and even-tempered Suleiman-bey and Gulchohra’s cousin Asya dream to be happy, but within family traditions. Asker’s aunt Jahan and Gulchohra’s father Sultan-bey are both representatives of an old world. They do not even imagine that centuries-old way of family life could be changed. However even they aim to family happiness and cozy home. Sultan-bey says: “What does one need for the wedding? 3 manats money, 1 mullah, 1 loafsugar, and that's all.

And at last Vely and Telly They are smart, jolly, acute, and inventive servants. They dream on love and happiness as well.

Music is the most artistic and expressive source in “Arshin Mal Alan”. Its dramaturgic role is the major one. According to its depth of images and development level, “Arshin Mal Alan” is close to the comic opera. Leitmotiv of love, based on Asker’s famous song from the second act assists to unity of image and inflexion in music. As a major musical and scenic form Uzeir Hajibeyov selected aria, refusing traditional couplet form.




  © Musigi Dunyasi, 2005