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Aram Il'yichKhachaturian (1903-1978)

Gayane (Highlights)

Spartacus (Highlights)


While exercising firmpolitical control over the diverse regions of its vast empire, the Union ofSoviet Socialist Republics also followed a policy of encouraging arts that hadtheir source in the culture of the people, harnessed to the ends of SocialistRealism. In spite of occasional brushes with the authorities, the music of AramKhachaturian remained firmly rooted in the cultural traditions of Armenia andof the Caucasus. Born in Tbilisi in 1903 and of Armenian extraction, he enjoyedearlier study, from the age of nineteen, at the Gnesin Institute, followed,seven years later, by entry to the Moscow Conservatory, where his compositionteacher was Miaskovsky in a protracted course of study that continued until1937. He had by this time won very wide acclaim for his Piano Concerto anda first symphony celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the foundation of theSoviet Armenian Republic. A specifically Armenian element remained ofimportance in his work, although there were occasions when, under the pressureof official condemnation, he excused perceived tendencies to formalism byclaiming that critics had urged him to avoid what might have appeared a nationallimitation to his reputation and creativity. In 1948, together withShostakovich, Prokofiev and others, he was criticized for deviation from theproper path for Soviet music. He had no need to take this official disapprovaltoo seriously. Essentially his music had proved satisfactory in its use ofArmenian material and in its popular appeal: formalism was not a charge thatcould be proved against him.

The Great PatrioticWar had provided Khachaturian with an opportunity to prove his loyalty to theprinciples of communism chiefly in his ballet Gayane and a secondsymphony. It was the third symphony, a symphonic poem in garish celebration ofvictory, that misfired, to earn Zhdanov's official censure. ThereafterKhachaturian turned his immediate attention to film-scores, disregardingKhrennikov's warning that this was not to be used as a means of escape fromjustified Soviet criticism. After the death of Stalin in 1953, he was able tospeak openly in favour of greater freedom for artists. His plea was controversial,condemning, as it did, the official direction of composition practised underStalin in recent years and the resulting mediocrity. It was in the yearsimmediately following that he won some success with his score for the ballet

based on the exploits of a hero who had appealed to Karl Marx asrepresentative of the proletariat of the ancient Roman world. The score wasawarded a Lenin Prize in 1959, but proved more generally acceptable on thestage in a revised version of 1968.

Khachaturian's careerafter the war was, after 1953, generally successful. He exploited his gifts asa conductor, particularly of his own compositions, and continued to write musicthat was imbued with the spirit of Armenia that he had inherited by birth, so thatthis element in his work becomes more than mere superficial exoticism. Whateverviews he may have been compelled to express on "technicism" in theComposers' Union meetings of 1948, he possessed a technical command of musicalresources, deft in orchestration and felicitous in melodic invention and in theuse of melodies of ethnic origin. He continued composing even into his finalyears, during which he wrote unaccompanied sonatas for cello, for violin andfor viola, completing the last of these in 1977, the year before his death.

Gayane was conceived as a ballet in four acts and sixscenes. Based, in its original version, on a libretto by Konstantin Derzhavin,it was first staged in December 1942 in Perm, where the Kirov Ballet had beenevacuated. Choreography was by

Anasimova and decor byNatan Altman. It was restaged in Leningrad in 1945 by the Kirov and in 1957 inanother version by the Moscow Bolshoy. The composer was awarded the StalinPrize for his work in 1943. The ballet was based on an earlier work, Happiness,first produced in Yerevan in 1939, and Khachaturian re-used this music forhis new score.

The action of Gayanetakes place on a collective farm near Kolkhoz in Southern Armenia in theearly days of the Great Patriotic War. Gayane, a cotton-picker, is married tothe disreputable Giko, a drunkard and a coward. She denounces him, but he setsfire to bales of cotton and takes their child hostage. Gayane is injured by herhusband but saved from his further threats by the arrival of the Red Army BorderPatrol and its heroic leader. Giko is sent to imprisonment, leaving Gayane freeto marry the leader of the Border Patrol, with whom she has fallen in love.

Their marriage gives an opportunity for celebratory dances from Armenia,Georgia and the Ukraine, with the famous Kurdish Sabre Dance. Othercharacters in the story include Armen, Gayane's brother, and the girl with whomhe is in love, although both characters and events of the sub-plot differ inthe various versions of the ballet.

The ballet Spartacus,the score of which was completed in 1954, deals with the slave rebellionled by the hero of that name against Roman domination. The historical Spartacushimself was Thracian by birth, a shepherd who became a robber. He was takenprisoner and sold to a trainer of gladiators in Capua, but in 73 B.C. heescaped, with other prisoners, and led a rebellion during the course of whichhe defeated the Roman armies and caused devastation throughout Italy. He waseventually defeated by Crassus, a general well known for his wealth, and put todeath by crucifixion, together with his followers. It should be added that toKarl Marx Spartacus was the first great proletarian hero, a champion of thepeople, while the ultimate fate of Crassus, killed in 53 B.C. during the courseof a campaign that had taken him to Armenia, might have had a particularsignificance for Khachaturian.

Spartacus was first produced at the Kirov Theatre inLeningrad in 1956, with choreography by Leonid Jacobson, and was re-staged atthe Bolshoy in Moscow two years later, with choreography by Igor Moiseyev. Therelative failure of these productions was followed by what must be seen as thedefinitive version at the Bolshoy in 1968, with choreography and a revisedlibretto by Yuri Grigorovich, Vladimir Vasiliev as Spartacus and EkaterinaMaximova as Phrygia.

The colourfulincidental music for a production in 1941 of Lermontov's Masquerade servesits purpose admirably. The drama itself has, over the years, attracted a numberof Russian composers, from Kolesnikov in the 1890s to operas by Mosolov,Denbsky, Bunin, Zeidman, Nersesov and Artamanov, a ballet by Lamputin andincidental music by Glazunov, Shebalin and Khachaturian. Lermontov's hero,Evgeny Arbenin, is bored with the world, despising the decadent society of StPetersburg in which he moves, moody and suspicious. In a plot that follows thestory of Othello, Arbenin is jealous of his wife, Nina, an innocent woman whomhe poisons. The play is bitter in its criticism of contemporary society and wasbanned for some thirty years. Its appeal to more recent audiences is clearenough. Khachaturian's music for Masquerade, like Tchaikovsky's for someof the scenes in his opera based on Pushkin's Evgeny Onyegin, gives aglittering picture of social life, a contrast to the reality beneath.

Item number 8554054
Barcode 636943405420
Release date 12/01/1999
Category Ballet
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Khachaturian, Aram Il'yich
Khachaturian, Aram Il'yich
Conductors Anichanov, Andre
Anichanov, Andre
Orchestras St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra
St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra
Disc: 1
1 Sabre Dance
2 Dance of the Girls
3 Dances of the Boys
4 Lullaby
5 Choosing the Bride
6 Gayane and Giko
7 Dance of the Comrades
8 Gayane's Adagio
9 Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia
10 Dance of a Greek Slave
11 Adagio of Aegina and Harmodius
12 Variation of Aegina and Bacchanalia
13 Scene and Dance with Crotala
14 Dance of the Gaditanae - Victory of Spartacus
15 Dance of an Egyptian Girl
16 Waltz
17 Nocturne
18 Mazurka
19 Romance
20 Gallop
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