Khachaturian on the road to Spartacus


Khachaturian, is recognized by most casual appreciators of classical music as one of the great Russian composers of the 20th century.

Born on 6 June 2003, today is the 112th anniversary, he is best known for his passionate 1954 ballet, Spartacus and the earlier Sabre Dance from the ballet ‘Gayenah’, premiered during the second world war in 1942 when Khachaturian was already a well-established ‘Russian’ composer.

Yet, like so many other ’international stars’, his soul and birthright belong to Armenia. Within the pages of his book of life, Armenia appears from the first paragraphs. Aram was born of Armenian parents in what is now known as Tbilisi (Tiflis), a ’city of music’. His father had a traditional Armenian craft, that of bookbinding. The musical atmosphere of the town had a variety of foundations and it was a source of both the Armenian and Georgian composer schools.

The most famous composers, performers and singers of the era between the wars visited Tiflis, including Rachmaninov and Chaliapin. Khachaturian admitted that music of folk instruments from his childhood, such as the sazandartar, formed part of his musical soul.   Interestingly, during his youth, there was a local division of Russian Musical Society, which may have influenced the young Khachaturian, as well as an Italian Opera Theatre that seems to have had less impact.

At 19 years he travelled to Moscow and studied cello class at Gnesin Music School. In parallel, he achieved a degree in biology at Moscow State University. Yet his maturity in music was also rapid during this period and he was recognized as a top student at Gnesin where he was particularly impressed by meeting with Prokofiev.

In the years up to the second world war, after his first symphony in 1935, Khachaturian composed music to accompany drama as well as his better known violin and piano concertos. In 1943, now 40, and nearing his creative peak as a composer, he completed the second symphony about which Shostakovich wrote: “this composition is ……. a combination of tragedy and life-assertion, here he is acquiring great power.”

Alongside his growth as an international composer in the Russian sphere, and despite his biographical notes recording him as being ’devoid of hidebound’, Khachaturian’s soul stood as he composed the Armenian national hymn in 1944. In 1946, in parallel to his Cello Concerto, Aram composed the vocal cycle to verses of Armenian poets, his first venture into the vocal cycle.

It may have been a challenge to create another hit of the magnitude of Spartacus, but Khachaturian composed three ‘rhapsodies’ one each for cello, violin and piano in the early 60’s.

Aram Khachaturian was remembered as a member of the Armenian Soviet Republic’s Academy of Sciences, yet today is honoured more for his musical output and its heritage. His international regard is recorded in his music and its regular appearances in concerts and ballet cycles, plus in his award as honorary academician of Italian Music Academy “Santa Cecilia”.