Aram Khachaturian is frequently spoken of as being a Russian composer. The is not quite wrong but tends to give a false picture of his music. Many a Russian composer of the past -- Balakirev, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakoff included -- has been attracted by the exotic sounding music of regions and countries near Caucasus. The temptation to look south-eastwards for colorful melodies, harmonies and instrumental timbres was perhaps inevitably a strong one of Russian musicians. The great difference between these and Khachaturian is that he himself comes from that region. His whole background is imbued with its folk-music and folk-lore. What to a Russian would appear exotic was to him a normal part of every day life; and when he began to study Western music he in turn found this exotic, being particularly attracted by the colorful music of the French impressionists who had much the same fascination for him as the orient does for us.

Khachaturian was an Armenian, the son of a poor family. In his youth he was greatly interested in music he heard around him, not only that of Armenia, but also of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Despite his interest, he did not study music or even learn to read it; and apart from listening, his sole experience of it was playing of simple bass parts on the tuba in his school band. Gradually, he became convinced that he was cut out to be a musician, and eventually turned up in Moscow seeking admission to the Gnessin School of Music. That he had to learn to speak Russian for this purpose in no way deterred him. Nor did the face that he was a late starter with no technical knowledge. At the same age as Khachaturian learnt a crochet from a quaver, Prokofiev and Shostakovich had important compositions to their credit and ones that are still very much in the repertoire today.

How little Khachaturian knew about his chosen subject can be well illustrated. When asked what types of music he wished to take up he was unable to answer as he had not considered the point. After doing so he decided to become a cellist. Only after three years on this instrument did he enter a composition class. But now progress was fast and within a year his first composition was printed. Now he entered the Conservatorie, where he continued to study under Gnessin. By the time he had completed his studies in 1933, he was thirty.

Khachaturian's period of study in Moscow in no way changed his nationality as a composer, and almost everything he has since written reveals his Armenian background. It has not been a question of deliberate fostering or even of borrowing tunes. As the composer has put it simply "being an Armenian I cannot help writing Armenian music." One particular aspect of Armenian music is worthy of special note and does much to explain the colorful nature of so much of Khachaturian's music; to the Armenian peasant and folk musician certain seventh chords are concords while the normal major or minor triad is a discord. When Khachaturian brought the harmonic sense of the untaught Armenian into "art" music he added a new element and approach. The composer's first large scale work employing a full orchestra was his First Symphony (1934). At that time this was highly praised, but later works have shown it to be somewhat immature. Khachaturian's international reputation really began with his Piano Concerto of 1937, and it was cemented by the Violin Concerto of 1940, written for and frequently performed by David Oistrakh.

----- Malcolm Rayment -- Copyright 1957 Decca Records

Khachaturian as Conductor

In the USSR, Khachaturian recorded his Symphony No. 2, Piano Concerto (with Lev Oborin) and Violin Concerto (with David Oistrakh) and the National Philharmonic Orchestra. He recorded the Piano Concerto again with Petrov and the suite The Battle of Stalingrad and Violin Concerto again with Leonid Kogan and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra. With the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, Khachaturian conducted and recorded his Concert Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra with Petrov; he recorded the same with the Georgian SO and Shakhovskaya. With the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, he conducted and recorded a suite from Masquerade.

In 1955 for EMI, Khachaturian conducted and recorded the Violin Concerto with Oistrakh and the Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as In Memoriam and suites from Gayane and Masquerade. Later in 1977, he went back to the EMI studios to record suites from Gayane and Spartacus.

For Decca Khachaturian recorded another disc of suites from Gayane and Spartacus and his Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (a disc with stunningly good sound). For Philips, he recorded his Violin Concerto with Claire Bernard and the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra; and with the Prague Symphony Orchestra for Surpraphon, Khachaturian conducted In Memoriam and a suite from Masquerade.

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