Posted in Azad-Hye Yahoo Group on 30 May 2003
COUNTRY PREPARES TO CELEBRATE CENTENARY OF ARAM KHACHATURYAN
June 6 is an important date in the history of music not only in this country, but in the world. This year we mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Aram Khachaturyan, who became a classic in his lifetime.
One of the greatest composers of the 20th century, to which he belonged chronologically, Khachaturyan was born to an Armenian bookbinder's family in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a country bordering Armenia. Today both are independent states, but this has brought little happiness or prosperity to the local populations.
Although Khachaturyan never lived in Armenia for long periods of time, his life and work are inextricably linked to this small landlocked country. Armenia is one of the cradles of the world's most ancient civilizations. The history of that country is filled with violence and oppression. Many Armenians left their country and dispersed all over the world, displaying an ability to resist assimilation second only to that of the Jewish nation.
There was always a large Armenian community in Tbilisi with strong musical traditions. Aram's mother loved to sing Armenian folk songs. No doubt the boy also listened to the exquisite Georgian choral singing. It seems that he climbed up into the attic and beat the rhythm of songs he liked on a brass basin.
Aram received no formal musical education, because the family could not afford it. Nevertheless, he learned to play wind instruments on his own and joined a brass band.
Aram's elder brother Suren founded an Armenian drama studio. In 1921, having realized that his little brother had an obvious talent for music and would not be able to realize it in Tbilisi, Suren took Aram to Moscow.
The provincial lad could not even read notes. During the entrance exam to the Gnesin music school he pointed to a cello and said: "I'd like to play that big violin."
Despite his lack of formal musical education, it was obvious that the boy was extremely gifted. In 1922, when he was 19, he began his musical education at the Gnesin music school. Three years later, on the initiative of Mikhail Gnesin, Aram turned to composition. He wrote his first works Dance and Poem in 1926-1927. They were published and performed, despite certain flaws owing to the composer's inexperience.
At school the strongest influence was exerted on the young man by the works of Ravel, author of the famous Bolero.
In 1929 Khachaturyan entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied under Myaskovsky, who combined a military career with music, wrote 27 symphonies and was a pupil of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Anatoly Lyadov.
Thus, Khachaturyan found himself in the very midst of the Russian classical music tradition. In 1932, when still a student, he wrote a Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, one of his first mature works. His graduation from the conservatory in 1934 was marked by the appearance of Symphony No.1, which established him as an original and powerful composer. Soon to follow was the music for theatrical productions of Widow of Valencia and Masked Ball.
The composer's career was head-turning, but the times were dangerous. Khachaturyan, Sergei Prokofyev and Dmitry Shostakovich were the country's leading composers of classical music. Any pretext could be used by ideological leaders to attack them. In 1938 Khachaturyan was forced to write a choral-orchestral piece called Song of Stalin. Subsequently Prokofyev and Shostakovich were viciously attacked by the authorities. Khachaturyan was also suspect.
Khachaturyan spent the spring and summer of 1939 in Armenia, where he no doubt felt safer. At the height of the Great Terror in the country he was working on the ballet Happiness. In 1940 he wrote the Violin Concerto in D Minor, which he dedicated to the great violinist David Oistrakh.
During the war, in 1942, Khachaturyan completed the ballet Gayane, which included the well-known Sabre Dance and also drew on his earlier Happiness. In 1943 he produced Symphony No.2.
The output of Khachaturyan's important works was sharply reduced in the decade before Stalin's death in 1953. In 1954 he wrote the music for the ballet Spartacus, arguably his most famous work worldwide.
Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra appeared in 1960.
Times changed. In 1959 the composer received the Lenin Prize, becoming firmly established as a living classic.
Khachaturyan's music is immediately recognizable and usually combines Oriental sounds with classical music. The composer never quoted from folk music but always interpreted folk melodies in original ways. His works have lyrical power and make skillful use of dissonance. They are filled with strong emotions and passion, the bright colors of dance.
In the post-World War II years Khachaturyan came to be well known abroad, particularly in America. He has exerted a major influence on the composers of the Orient and Latin America.
Aram Khachaturyan died in 1978, leaving behind a large legacy of musical works in various genres. It is curious that he wrote his best works in the worst times of political repression.
Source: "Moscow News", 28 May 2003