Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978)

Episodes

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01Khachaturian Arrives In Moscow20141027

Donald Macleod on how Khachaturian's life changed dramatically when he moved to Moscow.

His famous Sabre Dance was once the most frequently played piece of music in the world, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Aram Khachaturian.

Khachaturian's highly-colourful scores led him to be dubbed the "Rubens of Russian Music". On this 70th birthday he was showered with praise internationally including being hailed as the "Pride of Soviet Music". Yet Khachaturian was a late starter in the world of music. By the time he went to study it formally, he was already too old to focus on the piano. Instead he took up composition with Mikhail Gnessin, had private lessons with Reinhold Gliere, and then studied with Nickolai Myaskovsky at the Moscow Conservatoire, where his Trio made quite a stir. Khachaturian went on to have a significant impact upon Soviet music and he became famous around the world for his concertos, and also his ballets. However, he wasn't exempt from Stalin's purges and witch hunts. Khachaturian was accused of 'formalism', along with Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Myaskovsky. These once lauded composers now found themselves shunned. Once Stalin died however things began to change, and Khachaturian soon found himself as popular as ever. He was offered conducting tours around the world including trips to the UK, Mexico, and the USA. It was towards the end of his life that Khachaturian's Sabre Dance from one of this ballets, became the most frequently played work in the world.

Khachaturian was born in Georgia to Armenian parents. He considered himself to be a European Armenian and, although he lived most of his life in Moscow, the folk songs he heard as a young boy would always remain with him. Khachaturian went on to compose many songs of his own, and other vocal works, including his Ode of Joy.

As a student, Khachaturian played in the college brass band, although he frequently argued with the conductor. It was only after he moved to Moscow, to study, that Khachaturian heard a professional, classical piano recital for the first time. One of his student works, a Trio, made a big impression; Prokofiev took a copy with him to Paris to have it performed there.

02Sabre Dance20141028

The story behind the writing of Khachaturian's famous work, the Sabre Dance from Gayane.

His famous Sabre Dance was once the most frequently played piece of music in the world, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Aram Khachaturian.

By the time Khachaturian composed his First Symphony, he was finishing his course at the Moscow Conservatoire. He decided to stay on as a postgraduate student, studying with Myaskovsky. He supplemented his income by composing music for the cinema. This included a film project for the Armenian State Film Company, called Pepo, and also a historical and revolutionary film entitled Zangezur.

Around this time, Khachaturian first encountered Nina, who would become his second wife. Khachaturian recalled that, when he first met Nina, "happiness walked in". Happiness became the name of one of Khachaturian's ballets, later reworked and called Gayane, which includes his famous Sabre Dance.

03War Years20141029

Donald Macleod focuses on the time when Khachaturian's Masquerade waltz became a big hit.

His famous Sabre Dance was once the most frequently played piece of music in the world, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Aram Khachaturian.

The writer Alexei Tolstoy became a huge fan of Khachaturian after hearing the composer's music for his stage production, Masquerade,. However, the popularity of Masquerade was shortlived, due to the invasion of Russia by Germany. One work which did go on to have a huge international appeal during the war years was Khachaturian's Violin Concerto, which won the composer a Stalin Prize amounting to 50,000 roubles.

During World War Two, Khachaturian, like many other composers, was evacuated to the country where he was encouraged to continue composing for the national cause. It was during this period that Khachaturian composed his Symphony No 2, which he said "embodied everything that the people think and feel today". The symphony was seen as a requiem of wrath, and a protest against war and violence.

04A Fall From Favour20141030

Donald Macleod focuses on the time when Khachaturian was denounced by Stalin for formalism

His famous Sabre Dance was once the most frequently played piece of music in the world, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Aram Khachaturian.

Khachaturian was accustomed to having lavish praise heaped upon him. So it came as quite a surprise when, in 1948, he was charged with the crime of 'formalism', along with his composer colleagues, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Myaskovsky. Stalin had instigated a purge of the arts and Khachaturian was on the hit list. Suddenly, his music was out of favour. One of the works cited by Khachaturian's accusers was his Symphony No 3. At the end of its premiere, the audience sat in stony silence.

Khachaturian did his best to continue working, including further film projects. His music for the epic, Battle of Stalingrad, incorporated Russian folk music. By the early 1950s, more opportunities were coming Khachaturian's way, including the chance to work on another ballet. This would be his score for Spartacus, which includes his famous Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia.

05 LASTLife After Stalin20141031

Donald Macleod focuses on Khachaturian's activities following Stalin's death.

His famous Sabre Dance was once the most frequently played piece of music in the world, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Aram Khachaturian.

In 1953 Stalin died and those composers, such as Khachaturian, who had previously been charged with the crime of formalism, now started to speak out for greater creative freedom. Khachaturian was even invited, along with other members of the intelligentsia, to a reception at the Kremlin. In the spirit of this new democracy, Khachaturian composed his Ballad of the Motherland.

The 1960s were a busy time for Khachaturian, including many conducting trips abroad. He managed to meet both Ernest Hemingway and Charlie Chaplin on his travels. Life back home, in Soviet Russia, was also very busy. Much of his time was spent serving on official committees. In the final years of his life, Khachaturian composed two sets of trilogies. One was a set of sonatas for solo string instruments. The other was a trio of concerto rhapsodies, including one for cello and orchestra. In 1976 Khachaturian was devastated by the death of his wife and, despite his plans to compose a fourth symphony, just two years later he also died.