top of page
  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Aram Khachaturian, Soviet Armenian Composer b. June 6, 1903

Aram Khachaturian meets Che in the USSR, 1960

Aram Khachaturian -- widely regarded as one of the Soviet Union's greatest composers -- was born June 6, 1903. He was a People’s Artist of the USSR (1954). Hero of Socialist Labor (1973). Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR (1963) and a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1943.

From the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979):

Born May 24 (June 6), 1903, near Tbilisi; died May 1, 1978, in Moscow; buried in the pantheon of Yerevan. Soviet composer, conductor, teacher, and public figure. People’s Artist of the USSR (1954). Hero of Socialist Labor (1973). Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR (1963). Member of the CPSU from 1943.

Khachaturian began studying music at the age of 19 at Gnesin’s Music Technicum, graduating from both the cello class and M. F. Gnesin’s composition class in 1929. In 1934 he graduated from N. la. Miaskovskii’s composition class at the Moscow Conservatory. While still at the conservatory, he composed a number of works that attracted the attention of the music public: the Song-Poem for Violin and Piano (1929), the Toccata for Piano (1932), and the Trio for Piano, Violin, and Clarinet (1932). Khachaturian achieved his first major success with the Symphony No. 1 (1934) and concerti for orchestra and piano (1936) and orchestra and violin (1940). These works, while enriching Soviet music with new expressive means derived from the diverse musical traditions of the peoples of the Soviet East, at the same time exhibit the more progressive theoretical-aesthetic and technical principles of modern symphonic composition.

Khachaturian’s works reflect his joyous perception of life, passionate temperament, outstanding mastery of polyphony, and virtuosity in orchestral composition. Permeated with the fervent affirmation of all that is beautiful, they are characterized by bold contrasts between tensely dramatic and highly lyrical episodes and by colorful harmony and orchestration.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), Khachaturian composed the Symphony No. 2 (1943), a heroic-tragic epic embodying the patriotic idea of the people’s liberation struggle; he also composed the ballet Gayane (1942; first version entitled Happiness, 1939), whose story is also associated with the theme of struggle for the happiness of the homeland (he later composed three suites based on the ballet’s music). In 1947 he wrote a one-part symphonic poem for full symphony orchestra, organ, and 15 additional trumpets, representing a triumphant festive ode to the 30th anniversary of the October Revolution.

In 1954, Khachaturian completed work on the score of the monumental ballet Spartacus, in which the composer’s dramatic skill found full expression; three symphonic suites based on the ballet are now part of the standard repertoires of many orchestras. In the 1960’s he composed a triad of orchestral concerti— the Concerto-Rhapsody for Violin (1961), the Concerto-Rhapsody for Cello (1963), and the Concerto-Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra (1968)—all vividly manifesting the improvisational quality characteristic of Khachaturian’s works. In the 1970’s he composed the Sonata-Fantasy for Cello (1974) and the Sonata Monologue for solo violin (1975).

Khachaturian’s other works include the orchestral works Solemn Poem (1950), Overture of Greeting (1958), and Ode to the Memory of Vladimir Il’ich Lenin (1949); three concert arias for high voice with orchestral accompaniment (1971); songs and romances; and pieces for wind orchestra and piano, including a sonata (1964), and Recitatives and Fugues (1928–72).

Khachaturian wrote music for a number of Moscow theatrical productions, including Lope de Vega’s Widow of Valencia (1940), Lermontov’s Masquerade (1941; a suite based on the music for the play gained enormous popularity on the concert stage), Pogodin’s The Kremlin Chimes (1942), and Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1955) and King Lear (1958). He also composed music for various films, including Pepo, Zangezur, Person Number 217, Admiral Ushakov, The Ships Storm the Bastions, Othello, The Battle of Stalingrad, and Vladimir Il’ich Lenin. He composed the state anthem of the Armenian SSR (1944).

Khachaturian turned to conducting in 1950, conducting performances of his own works in many cities of the USSR and foreign countries. In 1950 he also began teaching composition at the Moscow Conservatory and at Gnesin’s Institute, becoming a professor in 1951. His students included A. la. Eshpai and M. L. Tariverdiev. Khachaturian became secretary of the Composers’ Union of the USSR in 1957.

Khachaturian was a deputy to the fifth convocation of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. He was an honorary member of several foreign academies of arts and a member of the Soviet Peace Committee. He received the Lenin Prize (1959), the State Prize of the USSR (1941, 1943, 1946, 1950, 1971), and the State Prize of the Armenian SSR (1965). He was awarded the Order of Lenin, the Order of the October Revolution, the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, and various medals.


Listen to the magnificent Adagio from Spartacus:


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page