|Khachaturian: Sabre Dance||Composer||1942|
|Khachaturian: Violin Concerto||Composer||1940|
|Khachaturian: Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia||Composer||1950-1954|
|Khachaturian: Toccata in e-flat Minor, Op.24||Composer||1932|
|Khachaturian: Cello Concerto||Composer||1946|
|Khachaturian: Album for Children Book 1 Op.62||Composer||1947|
|Khachaturian: Piano Concerto in D-flat Major Op.38||Composer||1935|
|Khachaturian: Album for Children Book 2 Op.100||Composer||1964|
|Khachaturian: Piano Sonatina in C Major Op.93||Composer||1959|
|Khachaturian: Piano Sonata in E-flat Major||Composer||1961|
|Khachaturian: Poem in c-Sharp Minor Op. 12||Composer||1927|
Aram Il'yich Khachaturian (/ˈærəm ˌkɑːtʃəˈtʊəriən/; Russian: Арам Ильич Хачатурян; Armenian: Արամ Խաչատրյան, Aram Xačatryan;[A] Armenian pronunciation: [ɑˈɾɑm χɑt͡ʃʰɑt(ə)ɾˈjɑn]; 6 June 1903 – 1 May 1978) was a Soviet Armenian composer and conductor. He is considered one of the leading Soviet composers.
Born and raised in Tiflis, the multicultural capital of Georgia, Khachaturian moved to Moscow in 1921 following the Sovietization of the Caucasus. Without prior music training, he enrolled in the Gnessin Musical Institute, subsequently studying at the Moscow Conservatory in the class of Nikolai Myaskovsky, among others. His first major work, the Piano Concerto (1936), popularized his name within and outside the Soviet Union. It was followed by the Violin Concerto (1940) and the Cello Concerto (1946). His other significant compositions include the Masquerade Suite (1941), the Anthem of the Armenian SSR (1944), three symphonies (1935, 1943, 1947), and around 25 film scores. Khachaturian is best known for his ballet music—Gayane (1942) and Spartacus (1954). His most popular piece, the "Sabre Dance" from Gayane, has been used extensively in popular culture and has been covered by a number of musicians worldwide. His style is "characterized by colorful harmonies, captivating rhythms, virtuosity, improvisations, and sensuous melodies."
During most of his career, Khachaturian was approved by the Soviet government and held several high posts in the Union of Soviet Composers from the late 1930s, although he joined the Communist Party only in 1943. Along with Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, he was officially denounced as a "formalist" and his music dubbed "anti-people" in 1948, but was restored later that year. After 1950 he taught at the Gnessin Institute and the Moscow Conservatory, and turned to conducting. He traveled to Europe, Latin America and the United States with concerts of his own works. In 1957 Khachaturian became the Secretary of Union of Soviet Composers, a position he held until his death.
Khachaturian was the most renowned Armenian composer of the 20th century and the author of the first Armenian ballet music, symphony, concerto, and film score.[B] While following the established musical traditions of Russia, he broadly used Armenian and to lesser extent, Caucasian, Eastern & Central European, and Middle Eastern peoples' folk music in his works. He is highly regarded in Armenia, where he is considered a "national treasure".
Background and early life (1903–21)
Aram Khachaturian was born on 6 June (24 May in Old Style) 1903 in the city of Tiflis (present-day Tbilisi, Georgia) into an Armenian family. Some sources indicate Kojori, a village near Tbilisi (now in Georgia's Gardabani Municipality), as his birthplace. His father, Yeghia (Ilya), was born in the village of Upper Aza near Ordubad in Nakhichevan (present-day Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Azerbaijan) and moved to Tiflis at the age of 13; he owned a bookbinding shop by the age of 25. His mother, Kumash Sarkisovna, was from Lower Aza, also a village near Ordubad. Khachaturian's parents were betrothed before knowing each other, when Kumash was 9 and Yeghia was 19. They had 5 children, one daughter and four sons, of whom Aram was the youngest. Khachaturian received primary education at the Tiflis Commercial School, "a school for aspiring merchants", "where he debated between a career in medicine or engineering".
In the 19th and early 20th centuries and throughout the early Soviet period, Tbilisi (known as Tiflis until 1936) was the largest city and the administrative center of the Caucasus. In Tbilisi, which has historically been multicultural, Khachaturian was exposed to various cultures. The city had a large Armenian population and was a major Armenian cultural center until the Russian Revolution and the following years. In a 1952 article "My Idea of the Folk Element in Music", Khachaturian described the city environment and its influence on his career:
I grew up in an atmosphere rich in folk music: popular festivities, rites, joyous and sad events in the life of the people always accompanied by music, the vivid tunes of Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian songs and dances performed by folk bards [ashugs] and musicians — such were the impressions that became deeply engraved on my memory, that determined my musical thinking. They shaped my musical consciousness and lay at the foundations of my artistic personality... Whatever the changes and improvements that took place in my musical taste in later years, their original substance, formed in early childhood in close communion with the people, has always remained the natural soil nourishing all my work.
In 1917, the Bolsheviks rose to power in Russia in the October Revolution. After over two-years of fragile independence, Armenia fell to Soviet rule amid a Turkish invasion from the west in late 1920. Georgia was Sovietized by the spring of 1921. Both countries formally became part of the Soviet Union in December 1922. Khachaturian later wrote that "the October Revolution fundamentally changed my whole life and, if I have really grown into a serious artist, then I am indebted only to the people and the Soviet Government. To this people is dedicated my entire conscious life, as is all my creative work." Khachaturian always remained enthusiastic about communism, and was an atheist. When asked about his visit to the Vatican, Khachaturian responded: "I'm an atheist, but I'm a son of the [Armenian] people who were the first to officially adopt Christianity and thus visiting the Vatican was my duty."
In 1921, the eighteen-year-old Khachaturian moved to Moscow to join his oldest brother, Suren, who had settled in Moscow earlier and was a stage director at the Moscow Art Theatre by the time of his arrival. "Influenced by his brother's work in Moscow, Khachaturian fell under the magic spell of the music world." He enrolled at the Gnessin Musical Institute in 1922, simultaneously studying biology at the Moscow University. He initially studied the cello under Sergei Bychkov and later under Andrey Borysyak. In 1925, Mikhail Gnesin started a composition class at the institute, which Khachaturian joined. He also took lessons from Reinhold Glière. In this period, he wrote his first works: the Dance Suite for violin and piano (1926) and the Poem in C Sharp Minor (1927). Beginning with his earliest works, Khachaturian extensively used Armenian folk music in his compositions. "The Khachaturian of this period was in the position of an eager, intelligent child who has just been given the run of a toyshop [...] Like many other young musicians with fuller cultural backgrounds, Khachaturian discovered music through contemporary music, and only later developed a love of the classics," writes Gerald Abraham.
In 1929, Khachaturian entered the Moscow Conservatory to study composition under Nikolai Myaskovsky and orchestration under Sergei Vasilenko. In 1933, he married the composer Nina Makarova, a fellow student from Myaskovsky's class. He finished the conservatory in 1934 and went on to complete his graduation work in 1936.
Early career (1936–48)
His Armenian-influenced First Symphony, which Khachaturian composed as a graduation work from the Moscow Conservatory in 1935, "drew the attention of prominent conductors and was soon performed by the best Soviet orchestras" and was admired by Shostakovich. He began an active creative career upon completing his graduate studies at the conservatory in 1936. He wrote his first major work, the Piano Concerto, that year. It proved to be a success, establishing him as a respected composer in the Soviet Union. It was "played and acclaimed far beyond the borders of the Soviet Union," and "established his name abroad."
His Piano Concerto, along with the two later concertos—the Violin Concerto (1940), for which he won a State Prize (called the Stalin Prize then, the highest artistic award in the Soviet Union), and the Cello Concerto (1946)—are "often considered a kind of a grand cycle." The Violin Concerto "gained international recognition" and became part of the international repertory. It was first performed by David Oistrakh.
Khachaturian held important posts at the Composers' Union, becoming deputy chairman of the Moscow branch in 1937. He subsequently served as the Deputy Chairman of the Organizing Committee (Orgkom) of the Union between 1939 and 1948. He joined the Communist Party in 1943. "Throughout the early and mid-1940s, Khachaturian used that position to help shape Soviet music, always stressing but technically masterful composition. In fact, in his memoirs he reported pride about leading an institution that organized creative work in many musical genres and especially in all Soviet republics."
The years preceding and following World War II proved to be very productive for Khachaturian. In 1939 Khachaturian made a six-month trip to his native Armenia "to make a thorough study of Armenian musical folklore and to collect folk-song and dance tunes" for his first ballet, Happiness which he completed in the same year. "His communion with Armenia's national culture and musical practice proved for him as he put it himself, 'a second conservatoire'. He learned a lot, saw and heard many things anew, and at the same time he had an insight into the tastes and artistic requirements of the Armenian people." In 1942, at the height of the Second World War, he reworked it into the ballet Gayane. It was first performed by the Kirov Ballet (today known as Mariinsky Ballet) in Perm, while Leningrad was under siege. It was a great success that earned Khachaturian a Soviet State Prize.
He composed the Second Symphony (1943) on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the October Revolution and incidental music to Masquerade (1944), "a symphonic suite in the tradition of lavish classical Russian music", on Mikhail Lermontov's same name play. Both the ballet Gayane and the Second Symphony were "successful and were warmly praised by Shostakovich." In 1944, Khachaturian composed the largely symbolic Anthem of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Denunciation and restoration (1948)
In mid-December 1947, the Department for Agitation and Propaganda (better known as Agitprop) submitted to Andrei Zhdanov, the secretary of the Communist Party's Central Committee, a document on the "shortcomings" in the development of Soviet music. On 10–13 January 1948, a conference was held at the Kremlin in the presence of seventy musicians, composers, conductors and others who were confronted by Zhdanov:
We will consider that if these comrades [Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Myaskovsky, Khachaturian, Kabalevsky and Shebalin] namely who are the principal and leading figures of the formalist direction in music. And that direction is fundamentally incorrect.
Thus, Khachaturian and other leading composers were denounced by the Communist Party as followers of the alleged formalism (i.e. "[a type of] music that was considered too advanced or difficult for the masses to enjoy") and their music was dubbed "anti-people". It was the Symphonic Poem (1947), later titled the Third Symphony, that officially earned Khachaturian the wrath of the Party. Ironically, he wrote the work as a tribute to the 30th anniversary of the October Revolution. He stated: "I wanted to write the kind of composition in which the public would feel my unwritten program without an announcement. I wanted this work to express the Soviet people's joy and pride in their great and mighty country."
Musicologist Blair Johnston believes that his "music contained few, if any, of the objectionable traits found in the music of some of his more adventuresome colleagues. In retrospect, it was most likely Khachaturian's administrative role in the Union [of Soviet Composers], perceived by the government as a bastion of politically incorrect music, and not his music as such, which earned him a place on the black list of 1948." In March 1948, Khachaturian "made a very full and humble apology for his artistic "errors" following the Zhdanov decree; his musical style, however, underwent no changes." He was sent to Armenia as a "punishment", and continued to be censured. By December 1948, he was "restored to favor later that year when he was praised for his film biography of Lenin"—Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (ru).
Later life (1950–78)
In 1950, Khachaturian began conducting and started teaching composition at his alma maters—the Gnessin Institute (since 1950), and later at the Moscow Conservatory (since 1951). Some of his notable students include Aziz El-Shawan, Andrei Eshpai, Anatol Vieru, Edgar Hovhannisyan, Mikael Tariverdiev, Mark Minkov, Alexey Rybnikov, Tolib Shakhidi, Georgs Pelēcis, Rostislav Boiko (ru), and Nodar Gabunia (ru). During his career as a university professor, Khachaturian emphasized the role of folk music to his students and instilled the idea that composers should master their nations' folk music heritage.
In 1950, he began working on his third and last ballet, Spartacus (1950–54), which later proved to be his last internationally acclaimed work. He was named People's Artist of the Soviet Union in 1954. He revised Spartacus in 1968.
"Following the success of Spartacus towards the end of the fifties, his remaining years were devoted less to composition, and more to conducting, teaching, bureaucracy and travel." He served as the President of the Soviet Association of Friendship and Cultural Cooperation with Latin American States from 1958 and was a member of the Soviet Peace Committee (since 1962). "He frequently appeared in world forums in the role of champion of an apologist for the Soviet idea of creative orthodoxy." Khachaturian toured with concerts of his own works in around 30 countries, including in all the Eastern Bloc states, Italy (1950), Britain (1955, 1977), Latin America (1957) and the United States (1960, 1968). "In January of 1968 he made a culturally significant trip to Washington, D.C., conducting the National Symphony Orchestra in a program of his own works."
Khachaturian went on to serve again as Secretary of the Composers Union, starting in 1957 until his death. He was also a deputy in the fifth Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union (1958–62). In the last two decades of his life, Khachaturian wrote three concert rhapsodies—for violin (1961-2), cello (1963) and piano (1965)—and "solo sonatas for unaccompanied cello, violin, and viola (1970s), considered his second and third instrumental trilogies." "His later works were often criticized as repetitive and eclectic."
Khachaturian died in Moscow on 1 May 1978, just short of his 75th birthday. He was buried at the Komitas Pantheon in Yerevan on 6 May, next to other distinguished Armenians. He was survived by his son, Karen, and daughter, Nune, and his nephew, Karen Khachaturian, also a composer.
Khachaturian's works span a broad range of musical types, including ballets, symphonies, concertos, and film scores. Music critic Edward Greenfield expresses the opinion that Khachaturian "notably outshone other Soviet contemporaries in creating a sharply identifiable style, something which his successors have found impossible to emulate." He composed a great portion of his works in a ten-year span—between 1936 and 1946—preceding and following the Second World War. Despite his formal restoration after the 1948 denunciation, Khachaturian only succeeded in composing one internationally acclaimed work in the last 30 years of his life, the ballet Spartacus.
According to James Bakst what made Khachaturian unique among Soviet composers is "the blending of national Armenian vocal and instrumental intonations with contemporary orchestral techniques." Khachaturian's music is characterized by an active rhythmic development, which reaches either a mere repetition of the basic formula (ostinato) or "a game of emphasis within this formula."