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ClassicsOnline Home » BABADJANIAN, A.H.: Piano Solo Works (Complete) (Melikyan)
One of the former Soviet Union’s leading composers and a member of the so-called Armenian ‘Mighty Handful’, Arno Babadjanian was admired by musicians of the stature of Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Rostropovich and David Oistrakh. He was also an outstanding pianist and a very considerable virtuoso. Babadjanian’s music explores his native Armenian folk tradition as well as elements of jazz and twelve-tone techniques.
Arno Babadjanian (1921–1983)
Complete Original Works for Piano Solo
“A brilliant composer, talented pianist and friend for many years—here’s how I would describe the wonderful Arno who, despite his untimely death, managed to make a significant contribution to the music of his time.” – Mstislav Rostropovich
Arno Babadjanian was a well-known composer and pianist within the Soviet Union but, in common with many of his contemporaries, awareness of the man and his music was limited by the State-imposed restrictions on performing abroad. Not until the collapse of the Soviet Union did his music become available to a global audience and it is only now that his name is becoming more widely known.
Babadjanian was born in Yerevan in 1921. His parents were not musicians, although his father could play Armenian national instruments, which was an important influence on his son. In 1938 he moved to Moscow and was immediately accepted into the final year class at the Gnesin Music College, where he studied in Yelena Gnesina’s piano and Vissarion Shebalin’s composition classes. He enjoyed the support of Aram Khachaturian and Dmitry Shostakovich and in 1943 became a member of the USSR Composers’ Union. In 1948 he graduated from the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory in the class of Konstantin Igumnov. In 1946, in parallel with his piano studies, he took composition lessons with Heinrich Litinsky at the Moscow House of Armenian Culture. For many years he collaborated closely with the composers Alexander Harutiunian, Edvard Mirzoian, Lazar Sarian and Adam Khudoian, a group of Armenian composers who were recognised as the new Mighty Handful. The partnership of Harutiunian and Babadjanian resulted in the creation of the popular Armenian Rhapsody for two pianos (1950). In the Soviet Union Babadjanian was awarded many official prizes and worked with a large number of distinguished colleagues, notably Mstislav Rostropovich, Emil Gilels, David Oistrakh, Lev Vlasenko and Jean Ter-Merkerian.
Babadjanian, the composer, wrote music in many genres. His Piano Trio (1952), Sonata for violin and piano (1959), Cello Concerto (1962), Violin Concerto (1949), Heroic Ballade for piano and orchestra (1951), and String Quartet (1976), dedicated to the memory of Shostakovich, are among his best-known compositions. In addition to his formal scores he composed numerous songs, film music and musicals.
Arno Babadjanian was also a brilliant pianist whose performing skills have often been compared to those of Sergey Rachmaninov, and perceptive audiences always valued his performances of his own works. His perfect technique was allied to a sensitive approach and a rich palette of expression inherited from his mentor Konstantin Igumnov. His music can be characterized by three main elements: Armenian folk-music, the piano art of Rachmaninov and Khachaturian’s orchestral writing. He died on 11th November 1983 in Yerevan.
Being a pianist of exceptional ability, Babadjanian composed a number of piano pieces of various kinds. His Polyphonic Sonata (1942–47) was written during his student years and was first performed by the composer himself in 1947 at the International Youth Festival in Prague, when it was awarded First Prize. The Sonata is in three movements, beginning with a short Prelude, followed by a dramatic Fugue. The third movement, a Toccata, has the rhythmic structure of an Armenian folk-dance, with some elements of the irony that was typical of the older generation of composers such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich.
Six Pictures (1965) opened a new page in Armenian and Soviet music history. Babadjanian was one of the first Soviet composers to use twelve-tone compositional technique, already widely used outside the Soviet Union, which he combined with folk-rhythms and melodic phrases. The uniqueness of Six Pictures lies, therefore, in the employment of two apparently incompatible concepts. The title of the first piece, Improvisation, already suggests the form of the piece. One hears echoes of Armenian urban folk-lore, and the sounds of instruments used by Armenian gusanner and ashughner (poet-musicians and minstrels) based on improvisation. The next piece, Folk Song, reflects Armenian national rhythms, with a melody that is purely dodecaphonic in origin. Toccatina has something of the piano-writing of Bartók and Prokofiev, accompanied by jazz. Intermezzo has a mirror structure which links the previous piece and the following Chorale. The latter suggests a medieval Armenian monastery. The last piece, Sassoun Dance, conjures up a picture of the mountainous Armenian landscape, with a typical festive dance and frequently changing rhythms, recalling the character of the people of the Sassoun region described in Armenian epics. The cycle soon made its way into the repertoire of many pianists.
Melody (1973) or as it is often called Andante, is simply a song without words. Humoresque (1973) was written in the same year as Melody and has hints of jazz. The ironic and scherzo-like nature of the work recalls the 24 Preludes of Shostakovich. Elegy (1978) was written on the occasion of the death of Aram Khachaturian and is dedicated to his memory. This piece is an arrangement of Qani vour jan im (So long as I live), a song by Sayat-Nova, an outstanding Armenian ashugh (poet-musician) of the eighteenth century. The lyricism of the piece has led to its inclusion in the repertoire of many pianists. Reflection (1973) is probably the least known piano work of Babadjanian. It seems to be a series of reflections on the road travelled by the composer in his past, his thoughts about the present and his expectations for future endeavours. Prelude (1947) reveals the influences of Rachmaninov and early period Scriabin, but at the same time Babadjanian continues to use the modal system of Armenian music. This piece serves as an introduction to Vagharshapat Dance. Traditionally, pianists perform Prelude and Vagharshapat Dance as a whole. The dance is an arrangement of an Armenian folk-dance to the melody of which many composers other than Babadjanian have made references. Impromptu (1936) was written during the composer’s earliest creative period and has a special modal structure as well as metre and rhythm typical of Armenian traditional music, so that it gives the impression of a genuine Armenian folk-song. Capriccio (1951) has a vivid festive nature, a frequent characteristic of the composer’s music.
Poem (1966) earned its particular niche in Babadjanian’s piano music. It was composed for the Moscow Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition and was included in the 1966 Third Competition repertoire as an obligatory work. As this was written immediately after the Six Pictures, Babadjanian continued to use the techniques of the previous work. While this is a virtuoso composition, it also has a lyrical, dramatic and mystical character.
The creative heritage of Arno Babadjanian now has an assured place. His attitude to music is expressed in his own words: “Music should touch, amaze and enter your heart”.
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