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Repertory Archive

Aram Khachaturian


Biography

Aram Khachaturian was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1903, the son of an Armenian bookbinder.  Folk music, which became an assured element of his musical style, made a strong impression in his childhood.  After studies at the Tbilisi Commercial College, Khachaturian moved in 1921 to Moscow where he studied biology at college and undertook private instruction in cello at the Gnesin Institute and, later, composition with Reinhold Glière and Mikhail Gnesin.   Subsequently, he enrolled at the Moscow Conservatory, where he completed graduate studies in 1936, the same year as the composition of his Piano Concerto.  Khachaturian was accepted into the Soviet Composer’s Union in 1932 and was named deputy chairman of its organizing committee in 1939.  Khachaturian’s mature musical style represents a synthesis of Armenian song and folk instrumental tradition, particularly that of the ashugh or troubadour, colorful harmonic idiom, complex meters and lavish orchestration. Along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich, he came to define musical culture during the Soviet era.

In addition to the Piano Concerto, Khachaturian wrote concertos for the violin and cello.  Other significant works include three symphonies, incidental music for Lope de Vega’s The Widow of Valencia and Lemontov’s Maskarad, three ballet scores:  Schast’ye [Happiness] (1939), Gayane (1942) and Spartacus (1950-54), several film scores, and numerous pieces for piano.  His Second Symphony, Gayane and Violin Concerto were awarded state prizes.  In the 1960’s, Khachaturian composed three concerto-rhapsodies for the violin (1961), cello (1963) and piano (1968), all with orchestra.

Khachaturian was widely admired as a conductor and teacher—he taught both at the Gnesin Institute and the Moscow Conservatory, appointed in 1950—and influenced composition in Armenia and beyond, notably in Asia and South America.

Source:  New Grove Dictionary of Music, Oxford University Press, 2001.