Aram Khachaturian was one of the most prominent composers of the 20th century classical music whose renown was recognized worldwide and works performed by a great number of celebrated orchestras. Not only was Khachaturian’s music nourished by his Armenian origins but his identity always remained infused with the native spirit of Armenian musical and cultural heritage, even though he lived most of his life away from Armenia.
He was born in Tiflis (Tbilisi), capital of Georgia, on June 6 1903, into the Armenian family of Kumash and Yeghia (Ilya) Khachaturian. The family of the book-binder Yeghia lived in a district of old Tiflis, which was considered to be the cultural center of the Transcaucasia. As a boy, Khachaturian had a special liking for the widespread folk dances and songs in this town. Besides, his father and mother handed down to him and his three brothers their love for folk music. The Armenian songs Khachaturian heard as a boy, revealed to him the national spirit, life and culture of his people.
Aram Khachaturian began serious musical study at the relatively late age of nineteen. He first learned to read music at Princess Argutinskaya-Dolgorukaya's boarding-school, and when, later he entered the Commercial school, he became a member of the student brass band, playing tenor horn. Moving to Moscow in 1921 he went to the Gnessin Music School and took up the study of the cello the following year. In 1925 Khachaturian entered the composition class on the advice of his teacher, composer Mikhail Gnesin. Here he composed a number of instrumental pieces: Dance for violin and piano (1926), Poem for piano (1927), Song Poem for violin and piano (1929) etc., which bear the unmistakable stamp of his personality. Within a year they were published and performed on the concert stages. In those years Khachaturian was active in the House of Armenian Culture in Moscow. It was there that he got acquainted with the culture of Armenia.
Upon graduating from the Gnesin School in 1929 Khachaturian entered the Moscow Conservatoire and studied composition at outstanding Russian composer Myaskovsky. Among the works Khachaturian composed in Myaskovsky's class are his Sonata for violin and piano, Trio for piano, violin and clarinet, Dance Suite, Toccata for piano etc.
In 1934 Khachaturian wrote his First Symphony as graduation thesis while completing the composition course. The symphony was first performed by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra under Eugen Szenkar. Music critics welcomed the work as a major achievement of the young composer.
Another important event took place in Khachaturian's life shortly before his graduation. In Myaskovsky's class he met Nina Makarova, a young and talented composer and pianist and soon the young people were married. Their son Karen was born in 1940. He is an Art critic presently residing in Moscow.
Upon graduation, Khachaturian took a post-graduate course under Myaskovsky's guidance and composed his Piano Concerto. It was dedicated to the talented pianist Lev Oborin. The Piano Concerto brought Khachaturian world fame. In 1940 he wrote his Violin Concerto and was awarded the State Prize. In 1941 he wrote the music for Lermontov's drama "Masquerade".
Throughout WW2 1941-1945 Khachaturian composed several war songs, the ballet “Gayaneh” (the revised version of his first ballet "Happiness" written in 1939), which premiered at Kirov Opera and Ballet Theater in 1942, and the Second Symphony (1943). Khachaturian was awarded with State Prizes for the ballet and the Symphony. In 1944 Khachaturian wrote the National Anthem of Soviet Armenia.
The post-war years were marked by major achievements. On February 10, 1948 Khachaturian experienced many unpleasant days. By the Central Committee of the Communist Party resolution Khachaturian, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and other prominent Soviet composers were accused of "following an anti-popular formalistic trend". Several years later the Central Committee admitted that in those years they had been unjust. Following a period of disappointment, Khachaturian continued his creative work. On December 27, 1956 Khachaturian's ballet “Spartacus” was premiered at the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theatre. It was a real triumph and another proof of the composer's original talent. Along with the ballet "Gayaneh", "Spartacus" has been staged in many countries of the world. It is constantly included in the repertoire of Moscow Bolshoi Theatre. In 1959 Khachaturian was awarded Lenin Prize for the ballet "Spartacus".
Khachaturian left a prolific musical legacy embracing almost all genres: 3 symphonies, 3 concertos, 3 concerto-rhapsodies, ballets, a vast number of other orchestral works, works for soloists, chorus and symphony orchestra, piano and violin pieces, songs, incidental music to plays and 17 films are among his most beloved loved works across the world.
As a composer and conductor he received acclamations in more than 50 countries of the world. He was an honored professor of Santa Cecilia Academy of Music in Rome, of German and Greece Art Academies. He was awarded orders and diplomas in France, Egypt, Romania, Bulgaria, Iran etc. His works were performed by outstanding musicians from all over the world: pianists (L. Oborin, Y. Flier, W. Kapell, N. Petrov, A. Rubinstein, M. Limpany, B. Berezovsky etc), cellists (M. Rostropovich, S. Knushevitsky, Ad. Odnoposoff, N. Shakhovskaya), violinists (I. Perlman, V. Pikayzen, D. Oistrakh, L. Kogan, M. Elman etc.), conductors (A. Gauk, H. von Karayan, Z. Mehta, G. Gorgesku, Eu. Ormandy, L. Stokovsky, G. Rozhdestvensky etc).
Aram Khachaturian died on May 1, 1978. He was buried in Yerevan in the Komitas Pantheon next to other celebrated pillars of Armenian culture.