A brilliant composer, fiery pianist, beloved neighbour and devoted friend for many years - this for me was wonderful Arno Babadjanian, who, despite his early death, made a significant contribution to the music of our time.
Arno Babadjanian was born in Yerevan, Armenia on 22nd January, 1921. His earliest musical influences came from his home. His father was an accomplished folk musician, capable of playing on a variety of folk instruments. During childhood, Babadjanian witnessed a musical awakening in Armenia: the Armenian Philharmonic and the Union of Armenian Composers was formed in 1932; the Opera Theatre in Yerevan was opened in 1933; and the première of Aram Khachaturian"s Symphony No.1 took place in 1934. Babadjanian"s first formal lessons were at the Yerevan Conservatory with Vardkes Talian (1896-1947). Talian instilled a sense of Armenian musical history in Babadjanian by insisting that his young student study the folk traditions of his country, in addition to the music of the great Armenian composer and ethnomusicologist, Vartabed Komitas (1869-1935).
Babadjanian graduated from the Yerevan Conservatory in 1947, entering the Moscow Conservatory a year later to study the piano with one of Russia"s great pianists, the legendary Konstantin Igumnov (1873-1948). A student of Alexander Siloti, Anton Arensky, Sergey Taneyev and Mikhail Ippolitov-lvanov, Igumnov passed a musical tradition to Arno Babadjanian that few were lucky to experience. Under Igumnov"s guidance, Babadjanian studied Bach"s Well Tempered Clavier, Beethoven"s sonatas, Chopin"s piano works, and the works of the great Russian composers, Rachmaninov and Scriabin. These were formative years for Babadjanian, who, as a result of his God-given talents and rigorous schooling, became an extraordinary pianist. Concurrently with his studies at the Moscow Conservatory, Babadjanian studied composition with Heinrich Litinsky (1901-1985) at the House of Armenian culture in Moscow Litinsky was one of the most influential composer-teachers in the Soviet Union who contributed several important text-books on polyphony (Problems in Polyphony (three volumes) and Imitation in Strict Counterpoint. He also taught over two hundred pupils, including Aleksandrov, Arutyunian, Khrennikov, Mirzoyan, and Peiko. In addition to being a brilliant teacher, he was an ethnomusicologist, who imbued his students with a love for their native folk-music. Babadjanian composed his expressive and powerful Polyphonic Piano Sonata in 1946 while studying with Litinsky.
In 1950 Babadjanian returned to Armenia where he taught the piano at the Yerevan Conservatory (1950-56), and also gave concerts and composed. It is during this period that he wrote one of his most celebrated works, the Heroic Ballade for piano and orchestra (1950). This romantic work is a series of gorgeously picturesque symphonic variations rooted in Armenian folk-lore and pianistically close to Rachmaninov"s keyboard style. Always aware of his nationalistic roots, Babadjanian collaborated with Arutyunian in 1950 and created another of his most popular works, the Armenian Rhapsody for two pianos.
Babadjanian was not a prolific composer; he spent much of his time teaching and giving concerts. His extraordinary Piano Trio was completed in 1952 and was followed in 1954 by his orchestral Poem-Rhapsody. The Sonata for Violin and Piano was produced in 1959, followed by the Cello Concerto, which was written for and dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich. Among his last compositions were the Six Pictures for Piano (1965), the Third String Quartet (1979) and the Nocturne for piano and symphonic jazz ensemble (1981). Arno Babadjanian died in Moscow on 15th November, 1983.
The three works on this recording provide us with an all too rare glimpse of a fertile musical mind. Babadjanian, as a composer, was always highly self-critical. Every note, every musical phrase, although seemingly spontaneous and naturally developing, was scrutinised by the composer and very well thought out. In essence, Babadjanian was a perfectionist who wanted the world to hear only his best utterances. There is no question that his Trio for piano, violin and cello in F sharp minor composed in 1952 is one of those utterances. It is a work in three cohesive movements, containing harmonies, rhythms and modes characteristic of Armenian folk-music. At the same time, the Russian classical tradition is still very present in this work. The piano writing is lush and romantic. The first movement, Allegro espressivo, begins with the austere and tragic theme of the introduction, Largo. The recitative manner of its melodies is full of deep concentration. Retaining its dramatic image, this theme runs through the three movements of the Trio, giving the music dynamism and sharpening the musical conflicts. The middle movement, marked Andante, glorifies the beauty and poetry of life with its flowing improvisatory melody. The music is bright and full of sincere lyricism. When the violin is playing in the high register, the music is free and ornamental, almost as if we were hearing the improvisation of an Armenian folk-singer. The Trio concludes with a turbulent and pathetic Allegro vivace, an energetic and driving finale in changing time, containing a wealth of imagination, melodic inventiveness and spontaneous emotionality. The sharp rhythm is typical of Armenian music. In its development we hear a bright and festive music, imbued with the sonority of Armenian folk-instruments and by the wild rhythmic energy of the folk-dance. The spontaneous, swift sweep is interrupted by a subordinate theme of the cello, which is tender and lyrical. From frenzied emotions we turn to warmth and lyricism. The reprise is laconic and concise. The suddenly raging flow of the movement comes to a stop, as though meeting an insurmountable obstacle. Only the piano bass keeps resounding the persistently repeated octaves, like stubborn blows on an invisible wall. The tension reaches its climax, and after a long pause, the movement comes to a dramatic and broad conclusion, as if all three musicians take a final upward flight off stage. The Trio in F sharp minor was first performed in 1953 by David Oistrakh (violin) , Sergey Knushevitsky (cello) and Arno Babadjanian (piano) and was subsequently recorded by them for Melodiya.
The Sonata in B flat minor for violin and piano was composed by Babadjanian in 1959 and dedicated to Dmitry Shostakovich. Stylistically the work is distinguished by intense dynamism and dazzling virtuosity .Babadjanian creates a work full of psychological discrimination and structural clarity. Although we hear from time-to-time, echoes of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Babadjanian"s independent style always prevails. According to Sahan Arzruni, "the entire Sonata is based on two contrasting melodic ideas, propulsive and frenzied versus gentle and ethereal." The Sonata is finely wrought, at times brutal, at times fiery, with moments of extraordinary lyricism and haunting beauty that could only have come form the pen of Babadjanian. Miriam Gargarian provides us with additional comments: "The first movement begins with a dramatic arpeggio by the violin. The three rising tones heard next in the piano evolve into the first theme of the Allegro energico. The second theme, in quiet contrast, consists of a beautiful chant-Iike melody in the violin accompanied by repeating chords in the piano. The movement ends in quiet suspense with a B flat chord that is neither major nor minor." She continues: "In the second movement, Andante sostenuto, the piano and violin begin in quiet imitation until the piano begins a folk-like melody. After the development, rapid scale passages, marked Presto, follow in the muted violin and piano. At the conclusion of this movement, the first melody in G sharp minor is heard, and a "trace" of the Presto ends this movement." It is interesting to note that, Babadjanian always imbued his music with Armenian melos, without necessarily directly quoting any particular folk or traditional melodies. His ability to remain true to his roots, yet establish a unique musical style as the corner-stone of his genius. Gargarian concludes: "The final movement, marked Allegro risoluto, is most distinguished by its scheme of changing meters, ending the work with grandeur, marked Maestoso." Arno Babadjanian"s Sonata is the first significant large-scale composition in the Armenian string repertoire.
Babadjanian"s Impromptu for piano dates from 1944, when the composer was still influenced by Sergey Rachmaninov"s brand of romanticism, and the music of the Armenian composer and musical pioneer, Sargis Barkhudarian (1887-1972). Despite these musical loves, Babadjanian clearly established a musical voice all his own. The gently lyrical and dreamy theme of the Impromptu has dance-like elements. The rhythmic character of the melody is reminiscent of the rhythms of various Armenian folk-dances (Enzeli, Darchni, and Nunufar). However, the regular chordal accompaniment veils the dance-like character of the melody. Babadjanian was more likely attempting to paint a musical portrait of a memory of a dance or a reminiscence, rather than the dance itself. Rarely performed, it is a haunting encore to a recital of extraordinary music. As Alan Hovhaness has so eloquently written: "I admire the beauty and perfection of Arno Babadjanian"s music; he has built his music on the simplicity of truth, creating his own deeply expressive music."
Ani Kavafian has been a member of New York"s Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society since 1979. A student of the legendary Ivan Galamian at the Juilliard School, she was a recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize and the Young Concert Artists International Audition. She now serves on the faculties of the Manhattan School of Music and Mannes College of Music in New York. She plays the Muir Mackenzie Stradivarius, made in 1736.
Suren Bagratuni was born Yerevan, Armenia, where he attended the Tchaikovsky Centra Music School and the Komitas State Conservatory. He later studied with Nathalia Shakhovskaya at the Moscow Conservatory. He is the winner of the Silver Medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Competition and first prize at the 1988 Vittorio Gui International Competition in Florence, where he also won the Special Chamber Music Award. A member of the Moscow Conservatory Trio, Suren Bagratuni is currently a professor of cello at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He plays a 1775 Marco Novello cello.
Avo Kuyumjian studied at the Vienna Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts with
Dieter Weber, Alexander Jenner and Georg Ebert. He won first prize at the Rombro-Stepanow
Competition in 1978 and in 1981 he took first prize at the Sixth International
Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna. He is a founding member of the Vienna
Piano Quartet and is currently professor of piano and chamber music at the Vienna
Academy of Music.