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… ”
In the composer’s own words, the “Dance of the Kurds”, which subsequently became the “Sabre Dance”, originated with the insistence of the Director of the Kirov Theatre already after the rehearsal process had commenced. Although Khachaturian considered the score to be complete, he reluctantly agreed to add another dance in the last act.
“The dance had to be fast, warlike,” Khachaturian reminisces, “and my hands took a chord on the piano and I began to break it into an ostinato figure. I needed a sudden shift and took an introductory tone from the high register. Something struck me – yes, I should repeat it in a different key. The principle is set! Now I need a contrast … In the third scene of the ballet I have a melodious theme, a lyrical dance. I linked the warlike beginning to this theme – it is performed by saxophone – and then resumed the beginning, but in the new character. I set to work at three o’clock in the afternoon and got the dance completed by two in the morning. At eleven on the next morning the dance sounded at the rehearsal. The choreography was added by the evening and on the next day it was included in the general rehearsal… ”
The fourth act of the ballet, at the end of which this dance is performed, provides the outcome and conclusion of the ballet’s plot. Khachaturian was guided by his ideas of “friendship among peoples”, of “happy working life for the Soviet people”.
The Sabre Dance, impressive for reflecting the temperament of the Transcaucasian peoples, and the subsequent Ukrainian gopak support the musical idea of the author for rapprochement and convergence of people. At the height of the Stalingrad Epopee, on December 9, 1942 in Molotov, present-day Perm, where the Leningrad Kirov Theatre was evacuated, the performance of the premiere took place.
For the music of Gayane Khachaturian received the Stalin Prize.
After the end of the war, in 1945, 1952 and 1957, Khachaturian changed the structure and plot of the ballet several times – new characters and scenography were included, some characters were removed from the script. In the 1970s, the ballet underwent hundreds of performances in the USSR and other countries, but since the 2000s all but disappeared from theatres owing to the plot. Separate scenes from the ballet are performed as choreographic repertoire. The orchestra suites, compiled from various episodes of the ballet, are also performed separately.