ARAM KHACHATURIAN‘s ballet works Gayane and Spartacus are permanent features in the repertory of the Bolshoi Theatre and for decades have served as cultural landmark of the Russian capital.
Apart from his functions as composer, conductor and pedagogue, Khachaturian was associated with important professional and public institutions: he served as secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers; President of the Soviet Association of Friendship and Cultural Cooperation with Latin American States; Member of the Soviet Peace Committee; Honorary Member of the Santa Cecilia Academy of Rome; correspondent member of the German Academy of Arts; Honorary Professor of the Conservatorio Nacional de Música, Mexico.
He was awarded the Lenin Prize, five times recipient of the USSR State Prize, of the honorary titles Hero of Socialist Labor and People’s Artist of the USSR.
Today, the concert hall housing the Yerevan Philharmonic Orchestra bears his name.
His significant public prominence in the years of the Soviet state is due to the ideological themes and subjects featured in his music. The Gaiane ballet is no exception. In 1940, the Kirov Theatre for Opera and Ballet of Leningrad offered the composer a contract for writing a ballet after his previous ballet Happiness had become a highlight on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre. The performance was conducted by Konstantin Saradzhev, a student of Arthur Nikisch.
To complete the music, Khachaturian collected and used authentic Armenian song material on the advice of Maxim Gorky. In the next Khachaturian ballet, librettist Konstantin Derzhavin used the subject line of Happiness. Nina Anisimova was ballet master.
The action takes place in the 1930s in a kolkhoz in Armenia which was visited by Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian military units. A deep sense of love connects Gayane with a Russian officer. Amidst fiery dancing, several marriages are announced: of Gayane and Kazakov, Aishe and Armen, Nune and Karen.
The composer undertook working on the new score in 1942 when the war was in its climax. This is what he shared about this period:
“I lived in Perm, on the fifth floor of the ‘Central’ hotel. Whenever I think of that time, again and again I recall how many difficulties people had to face then. Weaponry, bread and tobacco were needed for the front… But everyone needed the spiritual food of art – both the front and the civilians. Hence we, artists and musicians, realized that and gave our utmost. For the course of about half an year, in my cold hotel room furnished with a piano, a stool, a table and a bed, I completed the nearly 700 pages of the Gayane score. The score is all the more precious to me as ‘Gayane’ became the only ballet based on Soviet themes to remain on stage for a quarter of a century… “