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ClassicsOnline Home » KHACHATURIAN, A.I.: Violin Concerto / Concerto-Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra (Koeckert, Royal Philharmonic, Serebrier)
Armenia’s greatest composer Aram Khachaturian received both acclaim and criticism from the Soviet regime, including the USSR State Prize for his three Concerto-Rhapsodies. “A concerto is music with chandeliers burning bright; a rhapsody is music with chandeliers dimmed, and the Concerto-Rhapsodies are both”, he explained. The Violin Concerto’s passionately heroic first movement and poignant Andante sostenuto lead to a virtuosic, dancing finale. Both works on this disc brim with the full-blooded lyricism of his much-loved ballet Spartacus, Suites Nos. 1–3 of which are available on 8.550801.
By Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News
By Patricia Kelly
By David Denton
Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978)
Violin Concerto • Concerto-Rhapsody in B flat minor
The Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian was born in Tbilisi on 6 June 1903. Though he showed an early interest in music, and particularly the folk-songs and dances of his native land, it was not until later in life that he was able to receive adequate training. His father, a bookbinder, was too poor to pay for a musical education. Until his twentieth year Khachaturian knew almost nothing about theory or the musical repertory.
Khachaturian came to Moscow in the autumn of 1921, taking a preparatory course at Moscow University, and in 1922 was admitted to the Physics and Mathematics course at the University, where he studied for almost three years. His friends kept urging him to apply himself more seriously to music and in the autumn of 1922 he decided to attend the Gnessin Music School. There he studied cello and performed in ensembles and in student concerts. He graduated from the Gnessin School in 1929 and, on the advice of Mikhail Gnessin, began to prepare for his entrance examinations at the Moscow Conservatory to which he was admitted in the autumn of 1929. In 1930 he began studies with Nikolay Myaskovsky.
Speaking of his student years at the Conservatory, Khachaturian stated: “At that time I was torn between the irresistible inner urge to invent, to think up new forms, and the rather rigid demands of the classical schemes which we had to observe in our composition tasks. There was my passion, for instance, for the interval of the second, major, and minor, for which I was roundly scolded in my time by some critics and Conservatory teachers (but not by Nikolay Myaskovsky, of course). This discordant interval comes from the trio of folk instruments consisting of the tar, the kamancha and the tambourine, which I had heard so often as a child. I love those dissonant sounds, which to my ear are as natural as any consonance.”
From his earliest experiments in composition Khachaturian had acutely felt the harmonic texture of the work: “from within—from ears to hands, and not the other way round”, as he put it. A melodic image was born in his mind surrounded by harmony. This gift was revealed most strikingly in his first monumental symphonic work, Symphony No. 1 (1934).
The Symphony No. 1 marked the end of the “student” period of Khachaturian’s career. Other major works followed which extended and magnified Khachaturian’s importance as a composer. The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, introduced by the composer in Moscow in 1937, became instantly popular in the Soviet Union. To this day it is one of Khachaturian’s most famous and frequently heard large works. The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, in 1940, and the ballet Gayaneh, in 1942, both won the much-coveted Stalin Prize (now the State Prize). The two orchestral suites, which the composer prepared from Gayaneh have enjoyed considerable popularity, with the famous Sabre Dance from Suite No. 1 enjoying particular success.
David Oistrakh was the soloist on 16 November 1940 when Khachaturian’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra received its first performance at the Moscow Festival of Soviet Music. Nicolas Slonimsky found the score to be “embodying orientalistic elements of Caucasian melorhythms, ultra-chromatic in nostalgic lyrical episodes, diatonic in volitional dramatic passages and orgiastic in the dancing finale”. Music critic Louis Biancolli, writing for the first commercial recording issued in 1947 with Louis Kaufman, found the concerto “a study in fascinating contrasts. The end movements are dynamos of heady motion, contrasting sharply with the middle movement, with its haunting use of low woodwinds and its mood of wistful, nostalgic languor”. The first movement is sweeping, heroic and passionate. The second, is a lament, and one of Khachaturian’s most poignant musical achievements, both singing and romantic. The finale is a virtuosic tour-de-force filled with wild abandon.
In 1943 Khachaturian composed his Second Symphony, which was followed in 1944 by the Masquerade Suite, in 1946 by the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, and in 1947 by his Third Symphony. Despite the official honours that came his way, and his high station in Soviet music, Khachaturian was the object of vigorous denunciation by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in its wholesale condemnation of Soviet composers on 10 February 1948. This attack on Khachaturian is particularly amazing in view of the fact that his music has always had wide universal appeal, is based on folk sources, and is easily appreciated on first hearing—in short, music which cannot be said to be guilty of either “anti-popular trends” or “bourgeois formalism”. Khachaturian publicly admitted, however, that the criticism of the Central Committee was justified and that henceforth he would write in a more acceptable vein. What followed from his pen were Funeral Ode in Memory of Lenin (1949) and The Battle of Stalingrad Suite (1952). In 1950 Khachaturian took up teaching composition at the Gnessin School, where he had begun his own musical education, and also at the Moscow Conservatory, where he became professor. He began also to conduct orchestras in the Soviet Union and abroad and was an enormous success everywhere. When he was in Rome on a concert tour in 1950, he began thinking about a ballet about Spartacus, the heroic leader of the insurgent gladiators. He visited the majestic ruins of the Colosseum and the arena where the gory games of the gladiators were once held. These impressions, Khachaturian said, were very helpful to him when he was composing the music for the ballet Spartacus in Moscow.
Soviet audiences heard the Spartacus symphonic suite long before the ballet had its première at the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad on 27 December 1956. The suite comprises separate dances from the ballet and extensive symphonic fragments, including the world famous Adagio. In the spring of 1959 Aram Khachaturian was awarded the Lenin Prize for his Spartacus. In the 1960s he composed a trio of Concerto-Rhapsodies, for violin, cello, and piano. When asked by Nicolas Slonimsky about the titles, Khachaturian responded: “A concerto is music with chandeliers burning bright; a rhapsody is music with chandeliers dimmed, and the Concerto-Rhapsodies are both.” The Concerto- Rhapsody in B flat minor for Violin and Orchestra is dedicated to the legendary violinist Leonid Kogan, who gave the première of this work on 7 October 1962. In the 1970s Khachaturian composed a trio of solo string sonatas, for violin, viola and cello. In 1971 he was awarded the USSR State Prize for the cycle of three Concerto-Rhapsodies. Throughout his life he composed some 25 film scores and several albums of children’s piano music. His wife, Nina Makarova (1908–1976) was also a composer. Aram Khachaturian died in Moscow on 1 May 1978.
© 2009 Marina A. Ledin and Victor Ledin
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