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Aram Khachaturian: Overview

Aram Khachaturian: Aram Khachaturian, in full Aram Ilich Khachaturian, (born May 24 [June 6, New Style], 1903, Tiflis, Georgia, Russian Empire [now Tbilisi, Georgia]—died May 1, 1978, Moscow), Soviet composer best known for his Piano Concerto (1936) and his ballet Gayane (1942), which includes the popular, rhythmically stirring Sabre Dance.

Aram Khachaturian was trained at the Gnesin State Musical and Pedagogical Institute in Moscow and at the Moscow Conservatory and was a professor at both schools from 1951. As a young composer, he was influenced by contemporary Western music, particularly that of . In his Symphony No. 1 (1935) and later works, this influence was supplanted by a growing appreciation of folk traditions, not only those of his Armenian forebears but also those of Georgia, Russia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. His Symphony No. 2 (1943) was written for the 25th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. His other works include a symphonic suite, Masquerade (1944; from incidental music to a play by Mikhail Lermontov); the ballets Happiness (1939) and Spartak (1953; “Spartacus”); a Third Symphony; a violin concerto (1940); a cello concerto (1946); and numerous shorter works. He also composed the music for the Armenian national anthem, as well as film scores and incidental music.

In 1948, along with and , Aram Khachaturian was accused by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of bourgeois tendencies in his music. He admitted his guilt and was restored to prominence. After Stalin's death in 1953, however, he publicly condemned the Central Committee’s accusation, which was formally rescinded in 1958. He was named People’s Artist of the Soviet Union in 1954 and was awarded the Lenin Prize in 1959.

Aram Khachaturian’s family was prominent in Soviet cultural affairs; his wife, Nina Makarova, and his nephew, Karen Aram Khachaturian, were also composers.

Prior to the 1939-45 war, the work of the younger Soviet composers was virtually unknown in the West. It was only after the war that the name of Aram Khachaturian became known, at first through the brashly though excitingly scored 'Sabre Dance'. The son of an Armenian bookbinder in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), Khatchaturian appears to have shown no particular interest in music until the age of nineteen when he approached the composer and teacher Gnesin with a request to be taught composition, for he wanted to be a composer and knew nothing about music. Gnesin, himself a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, soon discovered that his young pupil had an instinctive gift for composition, and within two years Aram Khachaturian was taking his first hesitant steps towards actual composition. He was only twenty-two when his Dance for violin and piano was accepted for publication by the Armenian State Publishing House; a year later his Poem for Piano was also accepted.

These, and other early works of Aram Khachaturian, have a decidedly oriental character. Although, as he progressed towards maturity, Aram Khachaturian used Armenian-oriental colouring more sparingly, he never completely lost that exotic touch which makes his scoring so distinctive among that of other modern Soviet musicians. In 1929, he entered the Moscow Conservatorium and joined the composition class of Myaskovsky who exercised a strong influence upon him. During his five years at the Conservatorium, Aram Khachaturian perfected his technical skills, and also deepened his interest in the folk music of his native Armenia, recognising that in this music lay his real heritage and one which would be of immense use to him.

In 1934, Aram Khachaturian completed a fullscale Symphony in three movements, which Russian critics of the time found satisfactorily nationalistic in form, whatever that may mean. It is certainly a work of firm achievement and even greater promise, and the Piano Concerto which followed it is, of its kind, excellent. This is the work by Aram Khachaturian which is best known to British and American audiences, and which has been taken up by a number of Western pianists. The Violin Concerto of 1940 won the Stalin Prize and also the advocacy of the great Soviet violinist, . Aram Khachaturian is a prolific composer, but much of his patriotic music is no better than it should be. His scores for the ballet lean even more heavily on Armenian tunes than hisorchestral and chamber music, but are enjoyable theatre music, and always skilfully scored.

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