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The history of this score traces back to the ballet “Happiness” composed in 1939…
“Setting to the creation of my first ballet score I knew quite nothing about the specific character of the ballet as a musical genre. While working, I managed to seize and realize its characteristic peculiarities rather quickly. The circumstance that ‘the element of dance lives in Khachaturian’s music’ (Myaskovsky), must have helped me to a certain extent…” This is the author’s own confession.
In a friendly talk with the composer, Anastas Mikoyan, a prominent political figure of that time, asked him to create a ballet by the upcoming “10 Days of Armenian Art” (it became one of the first in the Armenian musical theatre and the first of the national ballets performed at the prewar “Days of Art”). This idea completely corresponded to the composer’s own creative aspirations. The theme of the ballet was born in the same time, during the talk with Mikoyan . He advised Khachaturian to meet the well-known Armenian producer Gevorg Hovhanesyan who had recently written a ballet libretto “Happiness” about the life and labor of Soviet frontier-guards and collective farmers.
The composer was working to a tight deadline. Khachaturian spent the spring and summer of 1939 in Armenia gathering folklore material – just here he began the deepest study of the native melodies. Writer Maxim Gorky had advised that to him. In spite of the dancing character of the music, Khachaturian set the task “to symphonize” the ballet. He wanted the folk songs and dancing melodies to be integrated into the ballet and become inseparable from the whole music of the ballet. Thus, Khachaturian rather quickly realized and formulated the basic concepts of his musical-choreographic esthetics.
The work on “Happiness” score lasted only half a year. The well-known conductor Constantin Sarajev, a disciple of Arthur Nickish, went through the rehearsals. Everything was done to ensure that the Moscow tour of the Armenian Spendiarov Theatre of Opera and Ballet within the frameworks of the “Armenian Days of Art” should be a success. C. Sarajev gathered a gorgeous orchestra. In October 24, 1939, the ballet “Happiness” was performed in Moscow in Bolshoi Theatre and merely fascinated the audience. Many participants received governmental rewards, and enthusiastic reports did not stop appearing in newspapers.
However, it did not prevent the composer from a realistic estimation of weak sides of his work. The libretto also was not perfect.. And, nevertheless, “Happiness” proved a good “springboard” for the real blossom of Khachaturian’s ballet mastery. Soon, the administration of the Leningrad Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet offered to stage “Happiness” with a new libretto…
As a result, the entire score “Happiness”, according to the figurative expression of its author, was “disintegrated” by himself…
Everything was completed with the creation of the ballet “Gayane”, but it happened only during the World War II. Here are the composer’s reminiscences about that period:
“I lived in Perm on the 5th floor of the hotel ‘Central’. Whenever I recall that time I think how many difficulties people had to face then. The front needed weapon, bread, tobacco… Both the front and the rear, however, had another need art as well – food for reflection. Hence we, artistes and musicians, realized that and did the utmost of our power. About 700 pages of ‘Gayane’ score were written for half and year in a cold small living-room, where stood a piano, a stool, a tabl,e and a bed. It is more precious to me that ‘Gayane’ is the only ballet on the Soviet theme that did not disappeared from the stage for a quarter of the century…”
The “Sabre Dance”, according to the author’s words, was born by chance. The rehearsals began after the completion of the ‘Gayane’ score. The theatre director called Khachaturian and said that a dance should be added to the last act. The composer set to the work unwillingly: he considered the ballet completed. Yet he began to think over that suggestion. “The dance was to be rapid, warlike, - recalls Khachaturian. – My hands took the accord impatiently and I started playing it as an ostinato, repeated figure. I needed a sudden shift and took an introductory tone from the high level. Something struck me, - yes, I should repeat it in the other key! The principle is set! Now I need a contrast…. In the 3rd part of the ballet a have a melodious theme, a lyrical dance. I linked the warlike basis to this theme, - it is performed by saxophone, - and then got back to the beginning, but in the new character. I set to work at 3 PM and got everything completed by 2 AM at night. At 11 next morning the dance sounded at the rehearsal. It was staged by the evening and its general rehearsal took place the next day… ”
The ballet “Gayane” on K.Derzhavin’s libretto was staged by N.Anisimova in December 1942, when the grandiose battle was taking place by the city of Stalingrad. The performance took place in Molotov, where Leningrad Kirov Theatre had been evacuated to. As wrote the reviewers, P.Feldt surpassed himself conducting the ballet at the premiere. “Feldt gladdened us especially with that inspired ardor which he as a talented ballet conductor sometimes lacked,” – noted composer Dmitry Kobalevsky.
Whenever you watch “Gayane” in the theatre or listen to this music at a concert or on records, you somehow get an immediate impression; this impression remains in your memory for a long time. A.Khachaturian’s music is noted for its modal and harmonic, melodic and orchestra generosity, which is connected with a broad gamma of thoughts and feelings in the score – a feature having few analogues in the history of music.
The three symphonic suites, arranged from the ballet score by Khachaturian, promoted to make the music of “Gayane” worldwide known.
“ The evening of the premier of ‘Gayane’s’ First Suite is firmly engraved on my reminiscences, - recalls singer N.Spiller. - Tthe Orchestra of the All- -Union Radio was conducted by Golovanov that evening. Neither before, nor after that day – it was in October 3 , 1943 – had I happened to hear such a burst of applause, such unconditional general success of new work, as then, in the Column Hall of the Unions House.”
Six years later, the great composer of the 20the century Dmitry Shostakovich was glad to state the similar unanimous success of the music of “Gayane” on the other part of the globe – in New-York, at the All-American Congress of Prominent Figures of Science and Culture for Peace Protection, where “Gayane” was performed by Stokovsky, a distinguished conductor.
Aram Khachaturian was awarded the Stalin Prize for the ballet “Gayane”.