Published in: Music in the USSR #4, 1987
Four people – a cellist, double-bass player, trombonist, and bassoonist – present an unusual performance on the stage. They walk about, quarrel and argue, they put down their instruments only to take them up again, then they play and shout. Downstage we see the orchestra and the conductor. It is hard to understand what this is meant to be – a tragedy or a comedy, a concerto for four instruments and orchestra or just a happening. Now the music becomes extremely, even excessively, dramatic, then it seems to fall into a state nearing paralysis as one or two notes are incessantly repeated. What we are actually witnessing is the rehearsal of the tragicomedy Waiting for... by Faraj Karayev, which he wrote in 1983 "as a token of respect" for Samuel Beckett. As usual in works by this composer, different genres, different forms of art and different types of musical material are combined with surprising naturalness. Personified emphasis and dramatic imagery remain an invariable quality of Faraj Karayev's music even when he writes a sonata or a string quartet, or when he turns to an unconventional amalgamation of genres, such as Journey to Love, a monodrama for soprano, magnetic tape and chamber orchestra (1978). A certain image or subject is conveyed not only through the music but also through the invisible yet tangible scenario of the composer.
The sharpness and theatrical quality of his music are the most important features of Faraj Karayev's work, and it is this, perhaps, which explains the popularity of his ballets The Shadows of Kobystan (1969) and Kaleidoscope (1970), which were taken on tour to Paris, Monte Carlo and Antwerp. And though the two ballets greatly differ in style (the first ballet is oriented to Stravinsky's style in whom the composer was very interested at the time, while the second is written on themes of Domenico Scarlatti's sonatas), the music shares such common features as energetic development, whimsicality, changeability and sharp, even shocking contrasts. The poetic soundscape is quickly replaced by the noise of a city recorded on a magnetic tape. The meditative submersion into the depths of sound is suddenly interrupted by a child's cry and the sharp ringing of a doorbell. It is in this way that reality in its undisguised and daily forms becomes an integral part of the composition or one of its main characters. Remote worlds and different stylistic inclinations are brought into agreement.
Many of Faraj Karayev's works were inspired by 19th-20th c.c. poetry. In his choice of verse the composer manifests a subtle and refined taste. He has composed to verse by Rene Char, Carl Sandburg, Edward Estlin Cummings, Nazym Hikmet, Jacques Prevert, and Giuseppe Ungaretti. His recent composition, commissioned by the Soloists Ensemble of the Bolshoi Theatre is called ...A Little Crumb of Music for George Crumb (1985). The lines, words and syllables of Emily Dickinson's poem provide the main "material" here, on a par with purely musical passages. The members of the ensemble scan, shout and whisper these "phonemes" while the mournful and mystic character of the verse is stressed by the ostinato rhythm: the pianist beats the lower soundboard of the piano with a beetle while pressing down the right pedal. The hollow, undefined, sounds that he produces embody the din of the times...
In producing such a complex fusion of music and street noises, of words and sounds, of the naturalistic and the aestheticzed, Faraj Karayev follows the traditions of 20th-century European art. The sources of his poetics can be seen in those modern cultural creations which determine its multi-faceted character and plurality, the multidimensional symbolic imagery, the polystylistic and polygenre contrasts, and the unusual, universal temporal context. These sources can be identified with Joyce's Ulysses, Beckett's Theatre of the Absurd, the music of Charles Ives, Igor Stravinsky and Luciano Berio, the poetry of Thomas Stearns Eliot and Ezra Pound, the paintings of Mark Chagall and Pablo Picasso, the films of Fellini and Antonioni. One of the leading principles of Faraj Karayev's creativity is the method of assimilation, citation and borrowing from nature and the history of culture, the method of uniting or contrasting symbols, and allusions whose roots go back to the remote past in the sense Emerson referred to in the last century, that everybody cited-customs, laws, notions of honour and justice, none of these were of our own making, for we found them already made. The great American philosopher believed that a citation was the carrier of truth.
Faraj Karayev's compositions appear at the intersection of two truths, two traditions. The first is connected with the most recent achievements of European art, while the other is linked with distinctions inherent in Azerbaijan culture. This juxtaposition alone represents the "nerve" of an extremely keen contrast. Despite this, Faraj Karayev manages to attain integrity and what is more to strike out of this interaction a spark of fantastic energy. Here, too, we encounter yet another important feature of his creativity – it combines not only the reality and facts of art, but different traditions of art itself, different forms of reflection of the world and different approaches to it. In this respect Faraj Karayev's works continue to develop that line of Azerbaijan music, which was begun in the 1960s in the music of his father, the distinguished representative of Azerbaijan culture, Kara Karayev. The meaning of the natural element is in this case revealed not with the help of melodic, rhythmic and tonal idioms, characteristic of Azerbaijan folklore but through meditative and variational exposition of the themes that brings with it new changes in the initial image, a technique which is characteristic of mugham compositions. For all this, the tonal texture of Faraj Karayev's music continues to be purely European and remarkably modern. The newest composition techniques appear here in an unusual semantic context. Such a treatment of the "national' element is, moreover, typical of many of his colleagues, including Avet Terteryan, Tigran Mansuryan, Giya Kancheli, Ashot Zograbyan, and Franghiz Ali-Zadeh.
A vivid example of the composer's style is his Sonata for Two Players (1976), in which the two pianists also handle percussion. This very popular composition is frequently performed and has been recorded. The four-movement cycle (duration 45') becomes, in effect, a single process of entry into the world of sound. Already from the very first bars, separate "atoms", dispersed in space, engross our attention. The score lacks "themes" and "rhythms", and it even seems to lack other superficial outlines of "organization" such as bars and measures. Everything here is unstable and contemplative, near to being thoroughly somnolent. The inner flow of music is directed by other impulses: penetration into the "aura" of separate chords and investigation of the nature of their compatibility. The Sonata represents an original model of musical time as of eternity, an endless and at times intangible play of collisions of forces, which govern the formation of the tonal lava.
The composition for full symphony orchestra I Bade Farewell to Mozart on the Karlov Bridge in Prague (1982), and its chamber version, the serenade The Year 1791 (1983) for small symphony orchestra, contain allusions to the Lacrymosa from Mozart's Requiem. This motive, which serves as a pivot or "ide'e fixe" and assumes a symbolic quality, sinks into a stormy whirlpool of sounds that engulf it.
In the suite for string quartet In Memoriam... (in memory of Alban Berg) (1984), written to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the distinguished Austrian composer, the anagram of Berg's name is employed. Karayev "splits" it into separate letters (A-B-A-B-E-G), that lend themselves to modulation, restoring the integral representation of this symbol in the last movement. So once again the musical language that goes back to Berg's Quartet Op. 3, is joined with the characteristic device of "submergence" and meditation, and the enveloping of the core in numerous "comments". This principle dominates all of Faraj Karayev's major opuses: the programmatic symphony Goya, which he wrote in collaboration with Kara Karayev, the compositions Tristessa I and Tristessa II, and the vocal monodrama Journey to Love.
Faraj Karayev is not very prolific, but for him his every work represents a step towards cognition of the laws governing the development of musical matter. Today Faraj Karayev's symphonic and chamber works are performed in the USSR and abroad: in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the GDR, Holland, France, Japan, and the FRG, evoking the interest of both sophisticated music-lovers and amateurs alike.
Lively and sociable, Faraj Karayev has a wide range of interests and finds time for many activities: he teaches at the Baku Conservatoire and was for many years one of the conductors of the students' symphony orchestra. Faraj Karayev's compositions bear the stamp of talent and sincerity and express his own, highly original, approach to the motley world of modern artistic culture.