Death date: 01.05.1978
Aram Khachaturyan , born in Tiflis, was a Soviet-Armenian composer whose works were often influenced by Armenian folk music.
Aram Ilyich Khachaturyan was born in Tiflis, Imperial Russia (now Tbilisi, Georgia) to a poor Armenian family. In his youth, he was fascinated by the music he heard around him, but at first he did not study music or learn to read it. In 1921 he traveled to Moscow to join his brother, the stage director of the Second Moscow Art Theatre. Although he had almost no musical education, Khachaturyan showed such great talent that he was admitted to the Gnessin Institute where he studied cello under Sergey Bychkov, and later Andrey Borysyak.
In 1925 Mikhail Gnessin started a composition class at the Gnessin Institute which Khachaturyan joined.
In 1929, he transferred to the Moscow Conservatory where he studied under Nikolai Myaskovsky (composition) and Sergei Vasilenko (orchestration), graduating in 1934. In the 1930s, he married the composer Nina Makarova, a fellow student from Myaskovsky’s class. In 1951, he became professor at the Gnessin State Musical and Pedagogical Institute (Moscow) and the Moscow Conservatory. He also held important posts at the Composers’ Union, which would later severely denounce some of his works as being “formalist” music, along with those of Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich. These three composers became the so called “titans” of Soviet music, enjoying worldwide reputation as some of the leading composers of the 20th century.
Khachaturyan’s works include concertos for violin, cello, and piano as well as concerto-rhapsodies for the same instruments. The piano concerto originally including an early part for the flexatone, and was his first work to gain him recognition in the West.
Khachaturyan’s three symphonies are varied works, with the third containing parts for fifteen additional trumpets and organ. The composer’s largest scaled works are the ballets Spartacus and Gayane, both of which contain Khachaturyan’s most well-known music, with Gayane featuring in its final act what is easily his most famous music, the “Sabre Dance”. He also wrote several solo piano works, including two albums of music for children (Opp. 62 and 100). Children’s Album, Book 1, first published in 1947, contains a smooth and melodic Andantino originally composed in 1926; this piece is commonly known as Ivan Sings, which stems from eight of ten pieces originally being collected as Adventures of Ivan. Children’s Album, Book 2, first published in 1964, includes a fugue composed in 1928, and a fast-paced programmatic piece entitled Two Funny Aunties Argued which is sometimes translated as Two Ladies Gossiping. He also composed some film music and incidental music for plays such as the 1941 production of Mikhail Lermontov’s Masquerade, the orchestral suite of which has become relatively popular.
The cinematic quality of his music for Spartacus was clearly seen when the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia was used as the theme for a popular BBC drama series, The Onedin Line, during the 1970s. Since then, it has become one of the most popular of all classical pieces for UK audiences. Joel Coen’s The Hudsucker Proxy also prominently featured music from Spartacus and Gayane (the “Sabre Dance” included). Gayane’s adagio was used in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey among other films. He was also the composer for the state anthem of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, whose tune is one of the five current choices to become the next state anthem of Armenia. The climax of Spartacus was also used in Ice Age: The Meltdown.
Aram Khachaturyan was an iconic figure for generations of Armenian composers. His works paved the way for new styles and daring explorations, although his own style had been closely controlled by the regime. Khachaturyan encouraged young composers to experiment with new sounds and find their own voices. His colorful orchestration technique, admired by Shostakovich and others in the past, is still noted for its freshness and vitality by modern composers. Khachaturyan’s influence can be traced in nearly all trends of Armenian classical traditions, whether in symphonic or chamber music.
He died in Moscow on May 1, 1978, just short of his 75th birthday. He was buried in Yerevan, Armenia, along with other distinguished Armenians who made Armenian art accessible for the whole world.
In 1998, he was honored by appearing on Armenian paper money (50 dram).