Alexander Alexandrovich Alyabiev (1787 - 1851) is one of the best known Russian romantic composers of the first half of the XIX century. He is the author of popular in Russia every-day romances and songs ('The Nightingale'), as well as a number of chamber instrumental and theatre music pieces. He was the first Russian composer, who became acquainted with the musical folklore of the Bashkirs. A.A.Alyabiev was the first to introduce oriental themes and tunes into the Russian music.
The reason for the composer's close contacts with the musical culture of the peoples, inhabiting the Eastern end of the Russian Empire, was the dramatic events in his own life. Since he was considered an accessory to the political disturbances connected with the Decembrists movement in the middle of the 20-ies of the XIX century, the composer was arrested on a false accusation of crime. So by the mid of the 30-ies he was in an exile. On the one hand, these circumstances had widened his outlook, the theme and image diapason of his creative work, on the other, they negatively affected the fate of his compositions: most of his operas did not see the stage.
The areas of the composer's exile were the North Caucasus (1832-1833) and the Orenburg Gubernia (1833-1834), the present day Bashkortostan territory then being part of the latter. Alyabiev's accommodation was the Orenburg military garrison. From there he made trips to various parts of the region to be acquainted with the so strange to him, a European, life of the Asian people, inhabiting those places, such as the Bashkers, the Tartars, the Kazahs, the Kirguiz, the Turkmen. His impressions of the people and their life had enriched his ideas of the East and its musical culture in particular. Its monodic essence, improvisational character, the dominance of pentatonic scale, hexachord, seven step diatonic harmony structures seemed out of the ordinary to the Russian composer.
It was Alyabiev, who laid the foundations for folklore studies in Bashkortostan by collecting and deciphering music samples of Asian peoples. The best example of folk instrumental melodies arrangements (obviously, those played by the kurai) was a series of "Tartar Songs", that are referred to by the music researcher L.Atanova as belonging to Bashker ones. Another aspect of his attitude to Bashker music is obvious in the vocal series "Asian Songs" (1833-1835), in "The Bashkerian Overture", which was not completed, and in the opera "Ammalat-bek", where the composer either cites or creates themes according to folklore oriental style traditions. They show a recognition of common for the oriental monodic and European gamophone harmonic systems of thinking, regularities of musical themes and harmony tone developments. These peculiarities made it possible for Alyabiev to present the oriental ethnic musical material through the genres and forms of European music. Being a representative of the romanticist trend, the composer discovers a new type of dialogue between West and East, which was both typical for Europe and unexpectedly character specific. On the other hand, it was Alyabiev who showed the ways for correlation of the Russian European musical thinking system with that of Eastern Asiatic. This was the way for the creative activities of the Bashker composers to develop in the XX century.
Alyabiev's oriental works reproduce the romantic nature of the East. The composer was obviously attracted by the type of mentality of the oriental people, for the rational, the perceptual and the emotional was organically combined in their world perception. Those have been the result of their religious, social, cultural and historical traditions.
The leading spheres of his oriental compositions are lyrical, mode of life genre and religious. Their main theme is love. One of the leading beliefs of romantic art is the impossibility of happiness in real life, which appeared to closely correlate with that of oriental understanding. A poignant delight of suffering, a cult of an imminent tragedy of love has become common practice there. The heroes do not seek any redemption of suffering, do not strife for a re-union with the loved ones, even if they do, their attempts are either futile or tragically doomed. That theme is heard in two of the Bashker songs of the vocal series the "Asian Songs" (the lyrics/text author is unknown) and the opera "Ammalat-bek" concept. Both the songs "I'll Stroll through the Bridge" and "Between the Granite Cliffs" tell of dramatic lyrical sufferings of the hero and his beloved, who had lost any hope of seeing him again. The poetic text of the songs (which is written in the oriental folklore style) contains images of nature (rough, boiling sea, idyllic pictures of spring, trees in bloom), which serve as resonators amplifying the heroes feelings (of the girl) and opposing them to deceitful idyllic lure (the young man). This kind of nature image's treatment is typical of both romanticism and folklore. Scenes of nature take a particular place in the Bashker folk poetic creative activities, which is connected with pantheistic, pagan assumptions of the people, who animated in their beliefs forces of nature (the mono-dialogue of the girl with the sea) and faunafauna representatives (a raven as a symbol of death in Alyabiev's song).
The concept of the "Ammalat-bek" opera (1847), written after A.Bestuzhev-Marlinski, libretto by A.Veltman, is tragic. It tells about the events of the Caucasian War, in which the composer himself participated. Alyabiev compared the proximity of both cultural and historic traditions of the Moslem peoples. He managed to hear and reproduce what was in common in the musical style of both the Bashkerian and the Caucasian musical folklore.
Meditation, passiveness, an esthetic delight in suffering are the features typical of the oriental world perception, which predetermine the heroes behavior. Ammalat and Sultanetta are suffering doomed lovers unable to change the dramatic fatality of the situation and take a different approach to the immoral demands of Ahmet-han, the girl's father. The latter is guided by pragmaticism and political expediency. In spite of the sufferings of his daughter, which he is aware of, he is pursuing his own aim. The opera is written in the genre of romantic fatal drama, which was popular in West European music of the 30-ies and 40-ies of the XIX century.
Islam is the personification of the eternal stable law of life in the opera (the mullah's prayer sounds at the acme of the action). It predetermines the events, supporting the eternal character of their essence. The religious, mystical and historical, political scope is focussed on the idea of jihad (the struggle of man with the negative spheres, personified in the image of Iblis-Satan, which involves the idea of struggle against the faithless). The character of Ammalat-bek, his moral and psychological struggle in the midst of Ahmet-khan political interests and love for Sultanetta, the feeling of friendship and duty to the Russian Colonel, who had been defamed by the khan, disclose the above principles in a feature form. The bek's foster-brother Alie regards Ammalat as the one in the possession of demonic forces, and is trying to save him from the moral collapse, but in vain.