This Week in Armenian History

Birth of Karen Khachaturian (September 19, 1920)

There was more than one musician named Khachaturian born in the twentieth century.

Karen Khachaturian was born in Moscow on September 19, 1920. He was the son of Suren Khachaturian, a theatrical director and founder of the Armenian dramatic studio in the city, and the nephew of Aram Khachaturian, the world-famous composer.

He studied piano at the Gnesin Musical School from 1928 and then at the Moscow Conservatory between 1938 and 1941. His studies were interrupted by a term of duty in the entertainment division of the Red Army. He resumed his studies in 1945, working with Dmitri Shostakovich and Nikolai Myaskovsky. He finished his postgraduate studies in 1952 and started teaching at the conservatory, becoming professor in 1981.

In addition to a violin sonata (1947), his works include a cello sonata (1966), a string quartet (1969), four symphonies (1955, 1968, 1982, 1991), the operetta “The Ordinary Girl” (1959) and the oratorio “An Instant of History” (1971), as well as various other orchestral works and music for theater and more than 40 films. The music for the ballet “Cipollino” (1973), based on the popular character created by Gianni Rodari, earned him the State Prize of the Soviet Union in 1976.

Karen Khachaturian also composed the music for the previous anthems of two African countries, Zanzibar in 1964 (which merged with Tanganyika to become Tanzania) and Somalia in 1972.

His compositions are characterized by rhythmic drive and a careful and idiomatic use of his instrumental forces. He adopted a primarily tonal approach to composition. His works were recorded by famous artists including David Oistrakh, Jascha Heifetz, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Vladimir Yampolsky. Some of them have a clear Armenian profile, like the aria of the violin sonata, inspired by Armenian liturgical hymns, and the toccata, which reminds of Armenian warlike dances.

He was decorated with various orders and awarded the title of People’s Artist of Russia (1981) and the State Prize of the Russian Federation (2001). In 2011 Khachaturian received the diploma of the President of the Russian Federation, and passed away on July 19 of the same year in Moscow.