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Khachaturian’s Concerto-Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra

Wall mural of Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian.

Wall mural of Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. Image by Yerevantsi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) is perhaps the most well-known Armenian composer outside of Armenia. He was also a conductor and studied the cello in his youth. Within Armenia, he is so famous that his face appears on a 50-dram banknote.

Khachaturian 50-dram banknote.

Khachaturian on a 50-Dram Banknote

Although acclaimed in Armenia and the former Soviet Union, Khachaturian is not considered to be the father of Armenian music – that title has been given to Vardaped Komitas (1869-1935). It is safe to say that Khachaturian took it upon himself to keep Komitas’s legacy alive. However, Khachaturian’s music for the stage is full of Soviet propaganda.

Khachaturian’s music is simple but profound. A typical Khachaturian melody will include one of two things: a repeated melodic fragment over a chromatic, descending bass line; or a sequenced melodic fragment over a bass pedal. Of course, this is an oversimplification. There is much more melodic development than this, in addition to colorful orchestration.

Expanding the Soviet Repertoire

One outstanding piece is Aram Khachaturian’s Concerto-Rhapsody (1963). Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) seemed to have a magic touch when it came to putting commissioned cello pieces into the standard repertoire.

In the West, we can thank Rostropovich for pieces like Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante and Cello Sonata, and Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1. However, in the countries of the former Soviet Union, pieces dedicated to Rostropovich are much more prevalent.

One Concerto-Rhapsody, Many Applications

Khachaturian’s Concerto-Rhapsody for cello and orchestra is part of a trilogy of works called “Concerto-Rhapsody.” There is a Concerto-Rhapsody for violin, one for cello, and one for piano. It is the same with the concerto genre.

Khachaturian was planning to write a triple concerto and a triple Concerto-Rhapsody to make each genre a tetralogy. This project never came to fruition.

All three of Khachaturian’s Concerto-Rhapsodies are in one movement but can be broken down into several sections. The Concerto-Rhapsody for cello is in six large sections.

The Cleveland Premiere by Yuriy Leonovich

I had the privilege of playing the first performance of Khachaturian’s Concerto-Rhapsody in Cleveland, OH, in March 2010. You may listen to it here in full as well as in individual sections, linked below.

Click here to listen to the individual sections of the Concerto-Rhapsody in a brief analysis.

Your Turn

What pieces would you like Dr. Leonovich to cover in his monthly articles? Let us know in the comments.