Aram Khachaturian – Album for Children, Volume I for Piano (1947) with sheet music
Most people are familiar only with Khachaturian’s ballet music for Gayaneh and Spartacus, which regularly appears in concert programmes, but he also wrote a considerable amount of piano music, though only the sparkling, technically-challenging Toccata has made it into the recital repertoire.
Born in 1903, Aram Khachaturian became the most significant twentieth-century musical figure in Armenia, then a republic of the Soviet Union, and the most important Soviet composer after Shostakovich and Prokofiev. He was born in Tblisi, in Georgia, to Armenian parents, and he never lost touch with his Central Asian heritage. His music combines the folk idioms, rhythms and sensual harmonies and melodies of his homeland with the Russian classical tradition. In the post-Soviet era, he is celebrated as a cultural hero in Armenia.
The charming Children’s Album, also known as The Adventures of Ivan, originally written for pedagogical purposes, these appealing miniatures are by turns poignant, witty and playful, often infused with folk idioms.
Aram Il’yich Khachaturian (Russian: Арам Ильич Хачатурян; Armenian: Արամ Խաչատրյան, romanized: Aram Xačʿatryan; 6 June [O.S. 24 May] 1903 – 1 May 1978) was a Soviet Armenian composer and conductor. He is considered one of the leading Soviet composers.
Born and raised in Tbilisi, 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 the Union of Soviet Composers, a position he held until his death.
Khachaturian composed the first Armenian ballet music, symphony, concerto, and film score. He is considered the most renowned Armenian composer of the 20th century. While following the established musical traditions of Russia, he broadly used Armenian and, to lesser extent, Caucasian, Eastern and Central European, and Middle Eastern peoples’ folk music in his works. He is highly regarded in Armenia, where he is considered a “national treasure”.
Khachaturian is best known internationally for his ballet music. His second ballet, Gayane, was largely reworked from his first ballet, Happiness. Spartacus became his most acclaimed work in the post-Stalin period. These two compositions “remain his most successful compositions”. According to Jonathan McCollum and Andy Nercessian, his music for these two ballets “can safely be included among the best known pieces of classical music throughout the world, a fact that is vitalized by perception that these are perhaps the only works through that the world really knows Armenian music”. Ann Haskins of LA Weekly suggests that he has thus “made an indelible mark on the world of ballet”.
Spartacus was popularized when the “Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia” was used as the theme for a popular BBC drama series The Onedin Line during the 1970s. The climax of Spartacus was also used in films such as Caligula (1979) and Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006). Joel Coen‘s The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) also prominently featured music from Spartacus and Gayane (the “Sabre Dance” included). Gayane‘s “Adagio” was used, among other films, in Stanley Kubrick‘s futuristic film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Khachaturian wrote three symphonies: the First in 1934/5, the Second in 1943, and the Third in 1947. He also wrote three concertos: the Piano Concerto (1936), the Violin Concerto (1940), and the Cello Concerto (1946).
Khachaturian wrote incidental music for several plays, including Macbeth (1934, 1955), The Widow from Valencia (1940), Masquerade (1941), King Lear (1958). He produced around 25 film scores. Among them is Pepo (1935), the first Armenian sound film. In 1950 he was awarded the USSR State Prize (Stalin Prize) for the score of The Battle of Stalingrad (1949).
I do not see how modern composers could isolate themselves from life and not want to work among society. The more impressions that come from contact with life, the more and better the creative ideas.
Musicologist Marina Frolova-Walker describes Khachaturian as the only internationally renowned Soviet composer “who emerged from the nationalist project”. James Bakst interpreted Khachaturian’s views as follows: “Music is a language created by the people. The people create intonational music forms which reveal at once his national elements of an art work.”
Composer Tigran Mansurian suggested that Khachaturian’s music incorporates American characteristics and called the United States his “second homeland” in terms of musical influences, especially due to the sense of optimism in his works and lifestyle.
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