About this Recording
8.223314 - KHACHATURIAN, A.I.: Othello / The Battle of Stalingrad (Slovak Radio Symphony, Adriano)

The Film Music of Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978)

The Film Music of Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978)


Khachaturian's contribution to cinema began as early as 1934 with his music for Pepo, the very first sound picture produced by the Armenian State Film Company. It was well received in Moscow and eventually helped the 31-year-old composer, known at that time for his Song-Poem (1929), his Trio (1932) and his Dance Suite (1933), to an introduction to Mosfilm Productions. In 1938, after the great Moscow success of his First Symphony (1934) and the international fame he won with his Piano Concerto (1936), Khachaturian was invited by Amo Bek-Nazarov, the director of Pepo, to provide a score for another Armenian film, a historic-revolutionary picture called Zangezur. From then on until 1960, the date, it seems, of his last film score, Men and Animals, a co-production by the Soviet Union and East Germany, he provided music for some fifteen more films, principally for Mosfilm. Among these we find six pictures directed by Mikhail Romm, Man No. 217, The Russian Question, On

Secret Mission, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, this produced in 1948, the source of the composer's Ode in Memory of Lenin, and Admiral Ushakov, written in 1953 in two parts, the source of a later concert suite.


Within the Soviet Union Khachaturian's film music always enjoyed considerable success after the publication of arrangements for band, voice, piano or chorus of more popular elements of the score. Pepo's Song and the Zanzegur March became an accepted part of folk tradition, eventually to be eclipsed in popularity by the Sabre Dance. Meanwhile the composer's interest in Armenian folklore had increased considerably, leading him to undertake a large scale ballet, the first version of which, in 1939, had the title Happiness, three years later to become Gayaneh.



The Battle of Stalingrad


For Vladimir Petrov, a prolific director in both the Stalin and Khrushchev eras, Khachaturian composed two film-scores, The Battle of Stalingrad (1948-50) and The Duel (1957). On his work for The Battle of Stalingrad, a two-part epic lasting some 220 minutes, he wrote: To fill two hours with battle-music alone! Nothing that I had done hitherto could be compared with that task - just as the battle itself surpassed in scope everything known to history until then. My task was, therefore, to compose battle-music with the barest minimum of contrasting episodes to set off the dominant mood. This film needed no lyricism, no songs, no digression from the main subject. A high degree of tension was the only thing needed.


Contrary to what might generally have been expected in such a work, Khachaturian avoided any musical glorification of Stalin, played in the film by Alexis Diki, and concentrated on a dramatic emphasis of the tragic events shown on the screen, the struggle and suffering of the people rather than the position of the supreme commander. His own arrangement of The Battle of Stalingrad into an eight-part concert suite gives the impression of a monumental symphonic fresco of tonal and thematic unity. As a theme to be associated with the city taking up its desperate defence against the German war-machine, Khachaturian quotes There is a Cliff on the Volga, a majestic folk-song, heard after the opening main theme. The German aggressors, on the other hand, are defined shortly afterwards by the German Christmas carol O Tannenbaum, transformed into a grotesque march, similar to the Merry Widow theme in the Leningrad Symphony of Shostakovich, if not so incessantly repeated.


The most original movement of the suite is certainly the short Eternal Glory to the Heroes, in which Khachaturian builds up a tense climax by a funeral-march-like theme, surging from and dissolving itself again into a visionary dirge of alternating chords. The Enemy is Doomed, another lyrical movement containing longer sections for strings alone, interrupted by an echo-like quotation of the Nazi motif, is a typical example of the composer's skill in producing dramatic effect by minimal musical means.


Khachaturian himself, as a conductor of the USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra, can be heard on an impressive Melodiya recording of The Battle of Stalingrad, issued in 1952. The suite was arranged in 1969 for large band by G. Kalinkovich and issued on record in 1974. In

1976 the Art Ensemble of the Hungarian People's Army commissioned a further arrangement by the composer as an oratorio for soprano, male chorus and orchestra. Poems by Gabor Garai were inserted between the movements, to be read by a narrator. The new title In Memory of the Heroes was given and a recording was issued by Hungaroton in 1978.


The Battle of Stalingrad can be compared with The Fall of Berlin, a score by Shostakovich for a picture by Mikhail Ciaureli, realised in 1949, the same year as the first part of The Battle of Stalingrad. Both films are, in the final analysis, mere glorifications of Stalin and today only their sound tracks are worthy of revival. The orchestration of The Battle of Stalingrad includes piccolo, double woodwind, cor anglais, a third clarinet in E flat, bass clarinet, four horns and four trumpets, three percussion players and the usual strings.




Three Russian films inspired by Shakespeare, and using the famous translations by Boris Pasternak. Othello (1955), Hamlet (1964) and King Lear (1970), won international fame also for their music, written by Khachaturian and by Shostakovich. In the early 1950s aperiod in Soviet cinema began, after the so-called Stalin era, that allowed more varied and artistically valid forms of expression, but still under the directives of Socialist Realism. Othello, a picture in colour by Sergey Yutkevich, with script collaboration by Mikhail Romm, featured Sergey Bondarchuk as Othello. Irina Skobtseyeva as Desdemona and Andrey Popov as lago, and is one of the first notable and successful productions of the period. Stage music to Macbeth (1934) and King Lear (1958) complete the scores by Khachaturian inspired by Shakespeare.


The film-score of Othello, composed in 1955-56, between Spartacus and the Ode to Joy, is available today in the form of an eleven-part suite, perhaps posthumously edited, differing from a shorter version arranged for piano by Emin Khachaturian, published by Sovetskaya Musika in 1956. This last included Desdemona's Vocalise and Willow Song and lago's Soldier's Song, the last two later unfortunately omitted. In 1960 three symphonic movements, Nos. 1, 3 and 4 of the present suite, and later, in 1967, an additional dance number, also missing, were issued by Melodiya records, conducted by Grigoriy Hamburg and Gennady Katz. It is not known whether printed scores had already been made available at that time. On the other hand the three vocal numbers with piano mentioned above were again made separately available in 1986 in Volume 24 of the collected works of Khachaturian, together with nine other vocal items from other film scores, with no indication as to whether these were still the adaptations of Emin Khachaturian or the work of the composer.


After having received the score of this "official" version of the suite, the movements of which do not follow the chronological order of events in the film, the present writer remained disappointed by the absence of all remaining cues, among them also figure-pieces for organ, "Othello's marriage", the murder scene and the final soliloquy, fanfares and dance-numbers, the last including parts for mandoline. It would have been preferable to have recorded this work in complete form, but no manuscript could be made available by the Russian archives.


The original title of the opening movement was Prologue - Othello's Narrative. It is the longest piece in the suite and unlike all the others contains a middle section not included in the final edited version of the film. Its lyrical violin solo is the leitmotif of Othello's noble and loving character; the following section accompanies an evocation of naval battle scenes and the recapitulation is intended as the apotheosis of love. Some of the musical cues of the sound track occur twice. Venice, a beautiful nocturne, can be heard once with oboe and once as a violin solo. Vineyards is played first at break-neck speed during a drinking orgy, a central, darker, more rubato episode with saxophone suggesting a state of drunkenness, and later in the present Allegro giocoso, as Cassio introduces himself to Desdemona in the Vineyards scene. The first strophe of the Vocalise follows in the same set, when lago starts drawing Othello's attention to his wife's apparent interest in Cassio, and is heard off-stage later on, when her blindly jealous husband sees Desdemona in the distance, sailing on a boat.


Venice and Othello's Despair contain a typical Armenian motif, similar to the

famous Love Duet from Gayaneh. The two short chorus sections recorded here are actually the only ones heard on the film's sound track. In the finale of the film Khachaturian avoids a vulgar Hollywood style of climax. The bodies of Othello and Desdemona are brought by ship to Venice, while the initial D minor love motif is played again by the solo violin, the sound gradually dying away.


Othello is scored for a large symphony orchestra, including piccolo, double woodwind, cor anglais, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, a larger percussion section, harp and vibraphone, with the usual strings. There are, in addition, two shorter sections for mixed chorus and one for soprano solo.


In 1959 Khachaturian had the intention of composing a ballet on the subject of Othello, but he abandoned the project when he heard that the Georgian composer Alexey Machavariani had earlier completed his own ballet of Othello.


Adriano (edited by Keith Anderson)


Jana Valásková, Soprano


Jana Valásková is a graduate of the Bratislava Conservatory (1983), where she studied with Prof. Z. Livorová. Since 1985 she has been a soloist at the Bratislava Opera Theatre.


Viktor Šimčisko


A protégé of the distinguished Slovak violinist A. Mózi, whom he suceeded as concertmaster of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Viktor Šimčisko was born in 1946. His musical career has involved him in both solo performance and chamber music in his own country, Austria, Hungary, Germany, Spain and Japan.


Slovak Philharmonic Chorus


The Slovak Philharmonic Chorus was formed in 1946 from the mixed chorus of Radio Bratislava and has performed, over the years, a wide repertoire of music, ranging from the earliest choral works to the work of contemporary composers. The Chorus, since 1990 directed by Jan Rozehnal, has performed under some of the most distinguished conductors, from Claudio Abbado and Lorin Maazel to Vaclav Talich and Yuri Temirkanov, and has appeared in concerts and festival performances throughout Europe, in addition to continuing collaboration with the opera-houses of Vienna, Strasbourg, Szeged, Bordeaux and Düsseldorf. Recordings by the Chorus include the oratorio The Legend of St. Elizabeth by Liszt for Hungaroton, awarded the Paris Grand Prix du Disque in 1974 and anumber of works for Naxos and Marco Polo.


Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)


The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenárd was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has given successful concerts both at horne and abroad, in Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian as well as several volumes of the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos recordings include symphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns.




Swiss-born Adriano began his artistic activities in the domains of the theatre and the graphic arts. In music he is largely self-taught. When he was in his twenties, he was urged by conductors such as Joseph Keilberth and Ernest Ansermet, who recognized his gifts, to embrace a conducting career. Instead he became a composer of stage, film and chamber music and also arecord producer for his own gramophone label, Adriano Records. In the late 1970s he established himself as a specialist on Ottorino Respighi, organizing a comprehensive exhibition and publishing a discography. He has also orchestrated two song cycles by Respighi. For the past six years Adriano has worked as an Italian and French language coach, teacher and stage assistant at the Zürich Opera House and its InternationalOpera Studio.


His numerous efforts to promote little known music include an old Italian translation of Telemann's opera Pimpinone, which was given its first performance in Italy in 1987. For a production of Galuppi's II Filosofo di campagna at the Stuttgart Music Festival in 1988, he conceived a theatrical prologue in which he himself appeared as an actor.


Adriano is now a regular guest of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), mainly contributing to a classic film music series for Marco Polo Records, in which it is planned to include recordings of more than a dozen scores by composers such as Arthur Honegger, Jacques Ibert, Arthur Bliss, Franz Waxman, Aram Khachaturian, Bernard Herrmann and others. Many of them were rediscovered, edited or reconstructed by Adriano. Beside this, he is also appearing as a conductor on three Marco Polo CD's with less-known works by Ottorino Respighi.


(from a note by David Nelson)


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