Richard Nisley

The Little Engine That Could
Music - Classical Released - Mar 29, 2013

Streets in Ukraine and Kazakhstan are named after him.  A statue bearing his image stands in front of the National Philharmony of Armenia.  Born in what is now Georgia and largely self-taught, composer Aram Khachaturian is the little engine that could.

Khachaturian does not get the same respect as his Russian contemporaries, Sergie Prokofiev and Dimitri Shostakovich.  He was like the walk-on who defies the odds and makes the team while Prokofiev and Shostakovich were the blue-chippers with the clippings and the million-dollar bonus.

Khachaturian’s music became so popular in Russian that in 1948 he was censured by Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, a distinction he shared with Prokofiev and Shostakovich (Stalin did not like "modern" music).  Russia eventually came around and awarded him a number of prizes, including the Lenin Prize, the Stalin Prize (four times), a USSR State Prize, and in 1973 the title, Hero of Socialist Labor.

Khachaturian favored the sweeping melodies of the 19th century rather than the dissonant tones of 20th-century orchestral music preferred by Prokofiev and Shostakovich.  That was enough for international critics to dismiss his music as lightweight.  Concert goers loved him and that’s what counted.  He wrote world-class concertos for piano and violin, but it’s his ballet music that has gathered momentum, as orchestral suites for the concert hall: “Spartacus,” “Masquerade” and “Gayane” overflow with drama and striking melodies.

His music is heard in a number of movies including “The Hudsucker Proxy,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Patriot Games,” “Caligula” and “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”

Conductor Naemi Jarvi, who is among the top two or three conductors in the world today, has become a champion of Khachaturian’s music, performing it in rust-belt cities like Detroit, Akron and Newark, where people crowd into overheated concert halls as they do for Handel’s Messiah or Beethoven’s Ninth.  Music that sweeps people off their feet will do that.

Khachaturian doesn't make the list of the top 50 composers, a distinction he shares with Aaron Copland, Edward Elgar, and Joaquin Rodrigo, among others.
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