- Music of Azerbaijan: From Mugham to Opera by Aida Huseynova
Though it has several important areas of weakness, Aida Huseynova’s book Music of Azerbaijan: From Mugham to Opera offers a rare resource for the exploration of Azerbaijani art music of the twentieth century. This study uses recently available documents from the Soviet Union’s Komitet gosudarstvennoĭ bezopasnosti (KGB), Communist Party archives, and ethno-graphic interviews. There is tremendous [End Page 253] value in the thorough examination of central Azerbaijani art music composers of this time period. Their works, influences, varied responses to Russification and Socialist Realism, and their place in the musical heart of their country are all very compelling. Huseynova has higher aims, however:
Hence, ethnomusicology and musicology become one in the present research, while I also take into account viewpoints from within the culture itself. . . . My research does more than bring to light notable accomplishments of Azerbaijani musicians in the field of East–West synthesis: I do hope that my study is not just another chapter in the history of Western music, but one that calls for a reevaluation of what the history of music should be.(pp. 26–27)
Unfortunately, these and similar claims are not so compelling and often reach too far, distracting the reader from the otherwise productive areas of inquiry that the author presents. Three topics explored by Huseynova are worth reviewing for their merits and limitations: (1) East–West synthesis in Azerbaijani art music, (2) art music as the national music of Azerbaijan in the twentieth century, and (3) the influence of the Azerbaijani traditional music genre mugham (also emicly perceived as a form and/or harmonic mode) upon the Azerbaijani articulation of many Western art music forms.
One valuable avenue of investigation is the exploration of East–West synthesis in the Azerbaijani context of Soviet cultural policy. From a theoretical standpoint, Huseynova is grounded in Bruno Nettl’s descriptive frameworks of syncretism, Westernization, and modernization: “Syncretism results when the two musical systems in a state of confrontation have compatible central traits; westernization, when a non-Western music incorporates central, non-compatible Western traits; modernization, when it incorporates non-central but compatible Western traits” (Bruno Nettl, “Some Aspects of the History of World Music in the Twentieth Century: Questions, Problems, Concepts,” Ethnomusicology 22, no. 1 : 134).
The East–West dichotomy of “cultural distinction” presented here leans upon the work of Terry Martin in that the categories “east” and “west” can be used in the post-colonial context of Azerbaijan (Terry Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923–1939 [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001], 125). In a problematic formulation, Huseynova perceives that “the East is traditionally associated with extensive improvisation, the prevalence of oral forms, and modality, whereas the West is associated with composed music, its forms and genres, notation, and tonal or atonal rules” (p. 6). The music in question and the source of this (overly) broad association is not clear, and numerous conflicting examples readily spring to mind. Some additional clarity is found in the author’s use of the distinction between Europeanization and Westernization, as read in the work of Theodore Levin (“The Reterritorialization of the Culture in the New Central Asian States: A Report from Uzbekistan,” Yearbook for Traditional Music 25 : 52). This is productive because of the conflicting ideological approach of the Soviet Union, Europe, and the United States with regard to the thematic and cultural content of lyrics, librettos, and programmatic elements. In many similar cases, the cultural dance of influence and affinity over who is “the West”—Europe or the United States—goes back and forth. Yet here Huseynova views this as a perpetually mutually-exclusive choice: “However, in Azerbaijan, the paradigm of Europeanization is not germane, since Westernization and modernization began in the late nineteenth century and continued into the Soviet era” (p. 19). Though the author leaves it to the reader to connect the...