From left, Aram Khachaturian, Marshal Hovhannes Baghramyan (Ivan Bagramian) and David Oistrakh

Viktor Yuzefovich: “Aram Khachaturian said… ‘I want you to write a book about me.’”

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WASHINGTON — A year and a half before he passed away, Aram Khachaturian decided that he wanted musicologist and researcher Victor Yuzefovich to write a book about him. Dr. Yuzefovich, now a resident of Virginia, told me about his encounter with the greatest of all Armenian composers in 1977.

Aram Khachaturian

“Aram Ilyich returned from West Germany, where he saw my book published there about our great violinist David Oistrakh. Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) and Oistrach (1908-1974) were workmates and friends. The Armenian composer dedicated to Oistrach his violin concerto.

I was working at the musical journal Sovetskaya Muzika [Soviet Music] in those days. He came to our office and said: ‘I saw your wonderful book. Need one like that about me,’ recalled Yuzefovich.

The musicologist remembers their talk nearly by heart: “Aram Ilyich,” answered Dr. Yuzefovich, “today you are in Paris, tomorrow in London, the following day in Yerevan. How can we work on this book, assuming that it requires many hours of meetings with you?”

“I will make those meetings happen,” replied the Armenian composer. “Later I understood that not only did he like the Oistrakh book, but he also wanted to share his experience and thoughts. He knew that his health conditions were worsening, and he wanted to make this happen.” said Yuzefovich.

Aram Khachaturian, his wife Nina Makarova and Belgian Queen Elizabeth

They held a series of meetings at Khachaturian’s Moscow house during which the composer was patiently answering the numerous questions Yuzefovich had prepared for him. Most recently, the great composer lost his wife Nina Makarova, also a composer, and deeply felt this loss. Because of worsening health conditions and migraines, sometimes he would wear a hat and turn up the collars of his jacket in the street so that people wouldn’t recognize him. “Khachaturian, usually a cheerful person, was pursuing an isolating life,” recalls Yuzefovich.

Aram Khachaturian, left, with Catholicos Vazken I

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Khachaturian passed away on May 1, 1978, leaving many stories of his life untold and many questions unanswered. “I had to catch up, working in the archives of Moscow and Yerevan and talking to his friends and fellow musicians, [and] to his numerous students. In Echmiadzin I met the Catholicos Vazken I (1955-1994) to talk about Khachaturian. All the time I kept in my mind the words Aram Ilyich said more than once: ‘You must know everything about me,’” said Yuzefovich.

His book was first published in the United States because an Armenian-American publisher from New York outsmarted the Soviet publishers, printing it in English in 1985, five years before the Soviet Union finalized the publication in Moscow. Later, the volume was printed also in Japan and Iran. Yuzefovich still needs a copy of his book in Iranian language and more information about this publication that happened without prior communication with the author.

The first Soviet citizen to meet Pope John XXIII

Khachaturian saw his life as a juxtaposition of success, triumph, happiness and tragedy, said Yuzefovich. The musicologist believes the politically orchestrated unjustified attack against such great Soviet composers as Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich and Khachaturian that had happened in 1948 was among the key reasons for this. Under Joseph Stalin’s dictates, the top Soviet composers were accused of being so-called “anti-people formalists.” Khachaturian was fired from all the positions he had previously occupied; his music was no longer published and performed. This notorious decision was soon reversed: the government understood how poor Soviet concerts were without Khachaturian’s and other top composers’ tunes. In those difficult days. Khachaturian found salvation in resettling in Armenia. The repatriation helped him to recuperate from the political attacks.

Khachaturian returned from Soviet Armenia empowered, says Dr. Yuzefovich. In Moscow, Khachaturian took the podium at a Composers Union’s meeting and declared the weird notion of “anti-people formalism” does not exist in music at all.

Yuzefovich suggests that today, even though the Sabre Dance from the “Gayaneh” ballet or the famous waltz from “Masquerade” are quite known to the public, some other of his masterpieces seem to be largely forgotten: the Second Symphony, known also as the “Symphony with a Bell” is barely performed.

This is not uncommon for classical composers, whose many musical works were also forgotten, he added.

During his research, diving into Armenian culture and traditions, the author concluded that the juxtaposition of sadness and optimism is not uncommon in Armenian culture, recalling the works of the poet Paruyr Sevak and the painters Minas Avetisian and Martiros Saryan in this context and amazing me with his in-depth understanding and knowledge of Armenia. During our talk, Yuzefovich mentioned Garni and Geghard and cited the Russian intellectuals who traditionally visited Soviet Armenia. He had souvenirs from Yerevan in his room.

“A nation that lives on 10 percent of its historic lands, a nation that lost 1/3 of its people during the Genocide of 1915 is a creator of a culture that is saturated with both tragedy of their past, as well as resilience and hope,” added Yuzefovich at the end of our conversation.

When he learned that I was about to fly to Armenia, Dr. Yuzefovich expressed “envy” and warm feelings about our motherland.

 

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