Aram Khachaturian

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Aram Khachaturian
signature written in ink in a flowing script

Aram Il'yich Khachaturian /ˈærəm ˌkɑːəˈtʊəriən/[1] (Russian: Арам Ильич Хачатурян; Armenian: Արամ Խաչատրյան; 6 June 1903 – 1 May 1978) was a Soviet Armenian composer and conductor. He is considered one of the leading Soviet composers and the most renowned Armenian composer of the 20th century.[2][3]

Born and raised in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, Khachaturian moved to Moscow and—without much knowledge of music—enrolled in the Gnessin Musical Institute. He then entered the Moscow Conservatory to study in the class of Nikolai Myaskovsky, among others. His first major work, the Piano Concerto (1936), popularized his name within and outside the Soviet Union. It was followed by the Violin Concerto (1940) and the Cello Concerto (1946). His other significant compositions include the Masquerade Suite (1941), the Anthem of the Armenian SSR (1944), three symphonies (1935, 1943, 1947), and around 25 film scores. Khachaturian is best known for his ballet music: Gayane (1942) and Spartacus (1954). His most popular piece, the "Sabre Dance" from Gayane, has been used extensively in popular culture and has been covered by a number of musicians worldwide.[4]

Khachaturian was initially approved by the Soviet government and held several high posts in the Union of Soviet Composers since the late 1930s, although he joined the Communist Party only in 1943. Along with Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, he was officially denounced as a "formalist" and his music dubbed "anti-people" during the 1948 congress; however, after Stalin's death, Khachaturian was fully restored. In 1951, he began teaching at the Gnessin Institute and the Moscow Conservatory and became a conductor. He traveled to Europe and the United States with concerts of his own works. In 1957 Khachaturian became Secretary of Union of Soviet Composers, a position he held until his death.

While following Russian musical traditions, he broadly used Armenian and to lesser extent, Caucasian, Eastern European and Middle Eastern peoples' folk music in his works. Khachaturian remains the only Armenian composer to rise to international significance. He is highly regarded in Armenia, where he is considered a "national treasure".[5]


Khachaturian's Armenian name is Արամ Խաչատրյան [ɑɾɑm χɑtʃʰɑtɾjɑn] ( ). Its standard transliteration is Khachatryan, which has been used by many Armenian sources since Armenia's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.[6] It was transformed into Khachaturyan in Russian (and thereafter adopted by English-language sources as Khachaturian). The Russian name is transliterated Aram Ilʹich Khachaturi͡an by the Library of Congress,[7] and it is less often spelled Khatchaturian.


Background and early life (1903–21)[edit]

Aram Khachaturian was born on 6 June (24 May in Old Style)[8] 1903 in the city of Tiflis (present-day Tbilisi, Georgia) into an Armenian family.[9][10] Some sources indicate Kojori, a village near Tbilisi (now in Georgia's Gardabani Municipality), as his birthplace.[11][12] His father, Yeghia (Ilya), was born in Upper Aza village near Ordubad in Nakhichevan (present-day Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Azerbaijan) and moved to Tiflis at the age of 13 and owned a bookbinding shop by the age of 25. His mother, Kumash Sarkisovna, was from Lower Aza, also a village near Ordubad. Khachaturian's parents were engaged before knowing each other, when Kumash was 9 and Yeghia was 19. They had 5 children, one daughter and four sons, of whom Aram was the youngest.[13] Khachaturian received primary education at the Tiflis Commercial School, "a school for aspiring merchants",[14] "where he debated between a career in medicine or engineering".[15]

In the 19th and early 20th centuries and throughout the early Soviet period, Tbilisi (known as Tiflis until 1936) was the largest city and the administrative center of the Caucasus. In Tbilisi, which has historically been multicultural, Khachaturian was exposed to various cultures.[16] The city had a large Armenian population and was a major Armenian cultural center until the Russian Revolution and the following years. In a 1952 article "My Idea of the Folk Element in Music", Khachaturian described the city environment and its influence on his career:

I grew up in an atmosphere rich in folk music: popular festivities, rites, joyous and sad events in the life of the people always accompanied by music, the vivid tunes of Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian songs and dances performed by folk bards [ashugs] and musicians — such were the impressions that became deeply engraved on my memory, that determined my musical thinking. They shaped my musical consciousness and lay at the foundations of my artistic personality... Whatever the changes and improvements that took place in my musical taste in later years, their original substance, formed in early childhood in close communion with the people, has always remained the natural soil nourishing all my work.[17]

In 1917, the Bolsheviks rose to power in Russia in the October Revolution. After a two-year fragile independence, Armenia fell to an invasion by the Red Army in late 1920. Georgia was also sovietized by the spring of 1921. Both countries formally became part of the Soviet Union in December 1922.[18] Khachaturian later wrote that "the October Revolution fundamentally changed my whole life and, if I have really grown into a serious artist, then I am indebted only to the people and the Soviet Government. To this people is dedicated my entire conscious life, as is all my creative work."[19]

Education (1922–36)[edit]

Khachaturian in the 1930s

In 1921, the eighteen-year-old Khachaturian moved to Moscow to join his oldest brother, Suren, who had settled in Moscow earlier and was a stage director at the Moscow Art Theatre by the time of his arrival.[14][13] "Influenced by his brother's work in Moscow, Khachaturian fell under the magic spell of the music world."[15] He enrolled at the Gnessin Musical Institute in 1922, simultaneously studying biology at the Moscow University.[15][12] He initially studied the cello under Sergei Bychkov and later under Andrey Borysyak.[20][10] In 1925, Mikhail Gnesin started a composition class at the institute, which Khachaturian joined.[21][14] He also took lessons from Reinhold Glière. In this period, he wrote his first works: the Dance Suite for violin and piano (1926) and Poem in C Sharp Minor (1927).[12][15] Beginning with his earliest works, Khachaturian extensively used Armenian folk music in his compositions. "The Khachaturian of this period was in the position of an eager, intelligent child who has just been given the run of a toyshop [...] Like many other young musicians with fuller cultural backgrounds, Khachaturian discovered music through contemporary music, and only later developed a love of the classics," writes Gerald Abraham.[15]

In 1929, Khachaturian entered the Moscow Conservatory to study composition under Nikolai Myaskovsky and orchestration under Sergei Vasilenko.[22] In 1933, he married the composer Nina Makarova, a fellow student from Myaskovsky's class.[23] He finished the conservatory in 1934 and went on to complete his graduate work in 1936.[14]

Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian

In 1951, he became professor at the Gnessin State Musical and Pedagogical Institute (Moscow) and the Moscow Conservatory. He also held important posts at the Composers' Union, becoming deputy chairman of the Moscow branch in 1937, then appointed vice-chairman of the Organizing Committee of Soviet Composers in 1939.[24] In 1939 he composed his ballet Happiness, which was later reworked into the ballet Gayane.[25]

The composer joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1943. However, he temporarily fell from official favour in 1948. It was the Symphonic Poem, later titled the Third Symphony, that officially earned Khachaturian the wrath of the Party. Ironically, Khachaturian wrote the work as a tribute to communism: "I wanted to write the kind of composition in which the public would feel my unwritten program without an announcement. I wanted this work to express the Soviet people's joy and pride in their great and mighty country." Perhaps because Khachaturian did not include a dedication or program notes, his intentions backfired.

Khachaturian in 1964

Andrei Zhdanov, secretary of the Communist Party's Central Committee, delivered the so-called Zhdanov decree in 1948. The decree condemned Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, and other Soviet composers as "formalist" and "anti-popular." The three named composers had by then already become established as the so-called "titans" of Soviet music. Nonetheless, all three were forced to apologize publicly.

The decree affected Khachaturian profoundly: "Those were tragic days for me... I was clouted on the head so unjustly. My repenting speech at the First Congress was insincere. I was crushed, destroyed. I seriously considered changing professions."

Despite this mortifying episode, Khachaturian returned to official favour. He received numerous state awards both before and after the Zhdanov decree: for example, four Stalin prizes (1941, 1943, 1946 and 1950), one Lenin prize (1959), a USSR State Prize (1971), and the title of Hero of Socialist Labor (1973). Khachaturian went on to serve again as Secretary of the Board of the Composers' Union, starting in 1957,[26][27][28] and was also a deputy in the fifth Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union (1958–1962).[27][29]

Last years and death[edit]

Khachaturian died in Moscow on May 1, 1978, just short of his 75th birthday. He was buried in the Komitas Pantheon in Yerevan, along with other distinguished Armenians who made Armenian art accessible to the whole world.

His nephew Karen Khachaturian (1920–2011) was also a composer.


Khachaturian's 1999 statue near the Yerevan Opera Theater.

Khachaturian's works span a broad range of musical types, including ballets, symphonies, concertos, and numerous film scores.

Khachaturian's works include concertos for violin (sometimes heard in a composer-sanctioned arrangement for flute), cello and piano as well as concerto-rhapsodies for the same instruments. These three concertos were written for the members of a renowned Soviet piano trio that performed together from 1941 until 1963: David Oistrakh, violin; Sviatoslav Knushevitsky, cello; Lev Oborin, piano. The piano concerto originally included an early part for the flexatone, and was his first work to gain him recognition in the West. Khachaturians's three symphonies are varied works, with the third containing parts for fifteen additional trumpets and organ. The composer's largest-scaled works are the ballets Spartacus and Gayane, both of which contain Khachaturian's most well-known music, with Gayane featuring in its final act what is easily his most famous music, the "Sabre Dance".[30]

He also wrote several solo piano works, including the Toccata in E-flat minor, and two albums of music for children (Opp. 62 and 100). Children's Album, Book 1, first published in 1947, contains a smooth and melodic Andantino originally composed in 1926; this piece is commonly known as Ivan Sings, which stems from eight of ten pieces originally being collected as Adventures of Ivan. Children's Album, Book 2, first published in 1964, includes a fugue composed in 1928, and a fast-paced programmatic piece entitled Two Funny Aunties Argued which is sometimes translated as Two Ladies Gossiping. He also composed some film music, and incidental music for plays such as the 1941 production of Mikhail Lermontov's Masquerade, the "Waltz" from which has been performed and recorded frequently.[31]

The cinematic quality of his music for Spartacus was clearly seen when the "Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia" was used as the theme for a popular BBC drama series, The Onedin Line, during the 1970s.[32] Since then, it has become one of the most popular of all classical pieces for UK audiences. Joel Coen's The Hudsucker Proxy also prominently featured music from Spartacus and Gayane (the "Sabre Dance" included). Gayane's "Adagio" was used in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey among other films. He was also the composer for the state anthem of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, whose tune is one of the five current choices to become the next state anthem of Armenia. The climax of Spartacus was also used in Caligula[33] and Ice Age: The Meltdown.


Although he was born in what is now Georgia and lived most of his life in Russia, Aram Khachaturian has been an iconic figure for generations of Armenian composers. Most of his works are saturated with centuries-old motifs of Armenian culture.[34] His works paved the way for new styles and daring explorations, although his own style was closely controlled by the regime. Khachaturian encouraged young composers to experiment with new sounds and find their own voices. His colorful orchestration technique, admired by Shostakovich and others in the past, is still noted for its freshness and vitality by modern composers. Khachaturian's influence can be traced in nearly all trends of Armenian classical traditions, whether in symphonic or chamber music. Composers who were particularly influenced by Aram Khachaturian include Alexander Arutiunian, Arno Babajanian, Tigran Mansurian, Edgar Hovhannisyan, Edward Manukyan, and Loris Tjeknavorian.

As a conductor, Khachaturian made several commercial recordings, including a 1953 recording of his second symphony with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, a 1963 stereo recording of the symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic, and EMI recordings of suites from Gayane and Masquerade and his violin concerto in 1954 (with David Oistrakh as soloist) with the Philharmonia Orchestra. He later made stereo recordings of the violin concerto (again with Oistrakh), the second symphony in 1977 on the Russian Disc label, and music from Gayane. Some of his recordings have been reissued on CD.

Khachaturian's notable students were Aziz El-Shawan, Andrei Eshpai, Vyacheslav Grokhovsky, Mark Minkov, Georgs Pelēcis, Alexey Rybnikov, Tolib Shakhidi, Mikael Tariverdiev, Enrique Ubieta, and Anatol Vieru.


Khachaturian depicted on Soviet (1983), Russian (2003) and Armenian (2003) postage stamps


Khachaturian is generally considered one of the leading composers of the Soviet Union.[2] Alongside Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, he is usually cited as one the three greatest composers of the Soviet era.[35] They are sometimes collectively referred to as the three "titans" of Soviet music.[36] "Whether or not history will support the verdict, Khachaturian in his lifetime ranked as the third most celebrated Soviet composer after Shostakovich and Prokofiev," wrote the music critic Ronald Crichton in 1978.[17] According to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, "his works do not enjoy the international reputation that those of" Shostakovich and Prokofiev.[37] With the two other mentioned composers and Dmitry Kabalevsky, Khachaturian "was one of the few Soviet composers to have become known to the wider international public."[38]

The classical music broadcaster Norman Gilliland and Russiapedia online encyclopedia (RT television network) describe him as a "major" composer of the 20th century,[39][40] while Josef Woodard, writing for the Los Angeles Times, suggests that he has "long [been] considered a lighter-weight participant among 20th century composers."[41] In a 2003 interview, conductor Marin Alsop expressed the opinion that Khachaturian is "a very underperformed composer and I think somewhat underrated as well." She said, "His music, of course, has a little bit of the edginess of the 20th century sound, the dissonances coming in. But at the same time it marries this beautiful neo-romanticism and lush orchestration and the over-the-top approach, so I think he can be quite relevant these days."[4]

According to The Guardian's Tim Ashley

Khachaturian's popularity has dipped of late [in the West], probably because we think of him, post-glasnost, as one of Soviet music's "yes-men". Such a view is simplistic, given that he had a major brush with the authorities in 1948. But it's also easy to see how he acquired his awkward reputation when you hear his Violin Concerto, dating from 1940. It's an immensely attractive work, full of his trademark Armenian folk flourishes, and the swaying, hypnotic Andante is notably beautiful. But the unforced optimism of the outer movements now seems unthinking when we realise it was composed at a time when Stalin was giving Prokofiev and Shostakovich hell."[42]

Khachaturian was the most renowned Armenian composer of the 20th century.[3] He has been described as "by far the most important Armenian composer",[43] the "Armenian Tchaikovsky",[44] and "considered by some to be the central figure in 20th-century Armenian culture".[45] He remains the only Armenian composer to rise to international significance.[46] Khachaturian is highly regarded in Armenia[47] and considered a "national treasure".[5] He had a great influence on the development of the Armenian music in the 20th century. "Naturally, he immediately became an example for young national composers and a hero in Armenia," suggests Maya Pritsker of The New York Times.[16] Khachaturian's influence can be traced in nearly all trends of Armenian classical music traditions (symphonic and chamber), including on Arno Babajanian, a significant Armenian composer of the late Soviet period.[48] Khachaturian is credited for bringing Armenian music recognized worldwide.[8] The Armenian writer Hamo Sahyan said about Khachaturian, "he was the denial of our smallness, the sacrament of our small-numbered people to be compared with large [nations]... [he] became the certificate of our civilization..."[49]

Khachaturian's bust in the street named after him in Yerevan's Arabkir district (2013)

Posthumous honors and tribute[edit]

The philharmonic hall of the Yerevan Opera Theater is officially called the Aram Khachaturian Grand Concert Hall since 1978.[50] The House-Museum of Aram Khachaturian was opened in Yerevan in 1982.[51]

Music schools are named after Khachaturian in Tbilisi,[52] Moscow (established in 1967, named after him in 1996),[53] Yerevan[54] and smaller Armenian cities (Kapan,[55] Charentsavan)[56] and Martuni in Nagorno-Karabakh.[57] Streets in Yerevan,[58] Tbilisi,[59] Moscow (ru), Astana (Kazakhstan)[60] and Simferopol (Crimea, Ukraine)[61] are named after Khachaturian. On 31 July 1999, a 3.5-meter high statue of Khachaturian by Yuri Petrosyan was opened in front of the Khachaturian Hall of the Yerevan Opera Theater in attendance of President Robert Kocharyan, Speaker Karen Demirchyan and leading poetess Silva Kaputikyan.[62] A statue of Khachaturian by Georgiy Frangulyan was unveiled in Moscow on 31 October 2006. Notable attendees included Armenian President Kocharyan, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Russia's First Lady Lyudmila Putina.[63] On 30 April 2013, a bust of Khachaturian erected by sculptor Gevorg Gevorgyan was opened in the street named after him in Yerevan's Arabkir district by Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan on his 110th anniversary.[64]

Khachaturian appeared on the 50-dram banknote (1998–2004)[65]

In 1998, the Central Bank of Armenia issued 50-dram banknotes depicting Khachaturian's portrait and the Yerevan Opera Theater on the obverse and an episode from the ballet Gayane and Mount Ararat on the reverse. It remained in use until 2004 when it was replaced by a coin.[65] He is the only composer to be depicted on the Armenian currency.

In 1983, the Yerevan Studio produced a TV documentary film on Khachaturian.[66] In 2003, a 83-minute-long documentary about Khachaturian with unique footage was directed by Peter Rosen and narrated by Eric Bogosian.[67] The film won the Best Documentary at the 2003 Hollywood Film Festival.[68] In 2004, TV Kultura, Russia's government-owned art channel, made a documentary on Khachaturian entitled Century of Aram Khachaturian (Век Арама Хачатуряна).[69]

In 1993 the festival of symphonic music Aram Khachaturian-93 was held in Yerevan.[54] The Aram Khachaturian International Competition (Արամ Խաչատրյանի անվան միջազգային մրցույթ) is held annually in Yerevan since 2003.[70]

In 2009, Aeroflot named one of its Airbus A319-112 planes after Khachaturian.[71]

In 2012, Armenia submitted and recommended a collection of note manuscripts and film music by Khachaturian for inclusion in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.[72]

Honors and awards[edit]

Soviet Union[73][74]
Other states[74]


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  69. ^ "Век Арама Хачатуряна [Century of Aram Khachaturian]" (in Russian). TV Kultura. Archived from the original on 9 March 2014. 
  70. ^ "Aram Khachaturian International Competition: About us". Retrieved 16 November 2013. 
  71. ^ "Пресс-релиз Аэрофлота о введении в эксплуатацию А319 "А. Хачатурян" [Press-release of Aeroflot about putting into operation the A319 "A. Khachaturian"] (in Russian). Aeroflot. 19 June 2009. Retrieved 16 November 2013. 
  72. ^ "Collection of note manuscripts and film music of Composer Aram Khachaturian". UNESCO. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  73. ^ Geodakyan 1979, pp. 18-19.
  74. ^ a b "Titles, prizes, awards". Virtual Museum of Aram Khachaturian. Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. 



  • Bakst, James (1977). "Khachaturyan". A History of Russian-Soviet Music (Reprint ed.). Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0837194229. 
  • Chebotarian, Gayane (1969). Полифония в творчестве Арама Хачатуряна [Polyphony in Aram Khachaturian's Works] (in Russian). Yerevan: Hayastan Publishing. OCLC 9225122. 
  • Fay, Laurel E. (1990). Aram Khachaturian: a complete catalogue. New York: G. Schirmer Inc. OCLC 23711723. 
  • Geodakyan, Gevorg (1972). Арам Хачатурян [Aram Khachaturian] (in Russian). Yerevan: Armenian SSR Academy of Sciences Press. 
  • Karagiulian, E. (1961). Симфоническое творчество А. Хачатуряна [Symphonic Oeuvre of A. Khachaturian] (in Russian). Yerevan: Armgosizdat. OCLC 25716788. 
  • Kharajanian, R. (1973). Фортепианное творчество Арама Хачатуряна [Aram Khachaturian`s piano music] (in Russian). Yerevan: Hayastan Publishing. 
  • Khubov, Georgii (1939). Арам Хачатурян. Эскиз характеристики [Aram Khachaturian. Sketches of characteristics] (in Russian). Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe muzykal'noe izdatel'stvo. OCLC 29138604. 
  • Khubov, Georgii (1967). Арам Хачатурян:монография [Aram Khachaturian: monography] (in Russian) (2nd ed.). Moscow: Muzyka. OCLC 4940007. 
  • Robinson, Harlow (2013). "The Caucasian Connection: National Identity in the Ballets of Aram Khachaturian". In Kanet, Roger E.. Identities, Nations and Politics After Communism. Routledge. pp. 23–32. ISBN 9781317968665. 
  • Rybakova, S. (1975). Арам Ильич Хачатурян: Сборник статей [Aram Khachaturian: Collection of articles] (in Russian). Moscow: Sovetsky Kompozitor. 
  • Shneerson, Grigory (1959). Aram Khachaturyan. Xenia Danko (translator). Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. 
  • Tigranov, Georgiĭ (1978). Арам Ильич Хачатурян: очерк жизни и творчества [Aram Khachaturian: Outline of Life and Work] (in Russian). Leningrad: Muzyka. OCLC 8495433. 
  • Tigranov, Georgiĭ (1987). Арам Ильич Хачатурян [Aram Ilʹich Khachaturi︠a︡n] (in Russian). Moscow: Muzyka. OCLC 17793679. 
  • Yuzefovich, Victor (1985). Aram Khachaturyan. Nicholas Kournokoff and Vladimir Bobrov (translators). New York: Sphinx Press. ISBN 0-8236-8658-2. 

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