Arif Melikov (b.1933): Legend of Love, a ballet in three acts / Moscow Radio SO; Valery Gergiev


Here's one for lovers of lush, romantic orchestral scores. The ballet Legend of Love by Azerbaijani composer Arif Melikov was completed in 1961, only a year and a half after the composer had graduated from the Baku Conservatory. It promptly premiered on the stage of the Leningrad Kirov Theatre and four years later was produced at the Bolshoi. In these technically secure and passionately committed performances, a young Valery Gergiev leads the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra. The 1988 studio recording has been beautifully remastered by Melodiya.

Some quick geography: historically, the Azerbaijan region included a larger area that was part of Persia (Iran). Present day Azerbaijan is bordered by the Caspian Sea in the east, by Iran in the south, Armenia to the west and Georgia and Russia to the north. The story of Legend of Love is derived indirectly from the tale Khosrow and Shirin by the 12th century Persian poet, Nizami Ganjavi. It was given a 20th-century renewal in the verses of Farhad and Shirin by Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, and it is on this version that the story of Melikov's ballet is based.

Nothing sounds contrived or artificial here, as can occur when Western composers seek to evoke a Far Eastern or Persian atmosphere in their music. Melikov writes the music that is in his blood with a splendid dramatic sense, boundless orchestral color and a wonderfully effective 20th-century 'edge' to his harmonies. The composer wrote: "I'll admit there has always been the sound of tragic sadness in my symphonic music," which seems characteristic of much of the music composed in the Soviet Union.

The excerpt from the ballet for you to hear in the right sidebar is from Tableau three of Act III and is the music that concludes the work. If you enjoy this, you may wish to investigate the music of Melikov's primary teacher, Kara Karayev. I wrote a recommendation for his music earlier on EA, which you can read here. Melikov went on to compose the music for two more ballets, as well as five symphonies, eight symphonic poems and scores for a number of plays and films. Hopefully, the successful release of Legend of Love will spark further recordings of his music.

Arif Melikov : Iki qelbin dastani (The legend of two souls)