May 01, 2003

Aram Khachaturian

June 6 marks the centennial of Aram Khachaturian (May 24, old style), a prominent composer of Armenian origin (who was actually born in Tbilisi, Georgia). Khachaturian was a late starter. When he entered the Gnesin School of Music in Moscow, he planned to become a cellist. Later, upon the advice of Mikhail Gnesin Khachaturian took up his formal education in composition late, graduating only at the age of 30.

Khachaturian’s first work for a full orchestra was his First Symphony (1934), but his international reputation first arose with his Concerto for Piano (1936) and Concerto for Violin (1940), the latter frequently performed by David Oistrakh. Other famous works include the ballets Gayane (1942) and Spartacus (1954), performed around the world by the Bolshoi and Kirov companies during the Soviet period; Poem about Stalin (1938); a suite from Masquerade (1940) and many scores for movies and plays. His music, though deeply rooted in Armenian traditions, belongs to the European and Russian schools. Actually, his work can be seen as presenting an organic synthesis of the Oriental and Western musical cultures. His compositions are distinguished by the extensive use of solo instruments and an expressive use of leitmotif.

During Soviet times, Khachaturian’s music was criticized as “abstract” and “formal.” In 1948, along with Shostakovich and Prokofiev, he was accused of bourgeois tendencies in his work. He “confessed” his “crimes” but then recanted his confession after Stalin’s death. He won the USSR’s Lenin Prize in 1959.

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