Program Notes

Arno Babajanian (1921-1983)
Piano Trio (1952)

Notes for: July 11, 2006

Arno Babajanian is an unfamiliar name in the United States, but he is a national hero in his native Armenia and is well known in Russia where he spent much of his time when Armenia was part of the Soviet Union. He won recognition not only as a composer but also as a concert pianist and teacher. In 2003, a monument to Babajanian was unveiled in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and this year Armenians are celebrating his 85th birthday not only in Armenia but also in Russia, France and the U.S.

Babajanian was born in Yerevan and studied at the Yerevan Conservatory. He then studied at the Moscow Conservatory and at the House of Armenian Culture in Moscow under Heinrich Litinsky, one of the most influential composer-teachers in the Soviet Union. In 1950, he returned to Armenia to teach at the Yerevan Conservatory, and from that base undertook concert tours throughout the Soviet Union and Europe. In 1971, he was named a People’s Artist of the USSR.

Much of Babajanian’s music was rooted in Armenian folk music and folklore. His father had been an accomplished folk musician, and at the Yerevan Conservatory his teachers instilled in him a sense of Armenian musical history and insisted that he study the folk traditions of his country. At the time, Armenia was undergoing a musical renaissance with the establishment of the Armenian Phiharmonic and Opera Theatre, and the Philharmonic gave the premiere of his youthful Symphony No. 1.

Babajanian’s music was initially a blending of Armenian folk elements and the brilliant virtuoso style of Aram Khachaturian, also an Armenian, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. The folk influence is seen in his heavy use of folk ornamentation and the irregular rhythms of peasant music. His later works were influenced by the chromaticism (use of half-steps) of Prokofiev, the complex rhythms of Bartók, and the 12-tone system of Schoenberg.

The Piano Trio was considered one of Babajanian’s major works. Movses Pogossian, the violinist in tonight’s performance, has provided the following additional information about the trio:

“The Piano Trio was written in 1952 and was dedicated to violinist David Oistrakh and cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky. It was originally to be premiered by Lev Oborin, the third member of the Oistrakh-Oborin-Knushevitsky Trio, but it was the composer, himself a formidable pianist, who ended up premiering the work with Oistrakh and Knushevitsky in the packed Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The performance was highly successful, and led to the instant fame of the piece in the Soviet Union and, especially, Armenia.

“The trio is a passionate three-movement romantic piece with memorable melodies and virtuoso writing for all three instruments, especially the piano. The first movement, an allegro in sonata form, starts, in a dramatic unison of the strings, with the trio’s main theme, which appears in every movement. The outer movements are in the key of F sharp minor, while the soulful middle movement is in C major.

“The last movement, written mostly in a fiery 5/8 meter, alternates two main contrasting themes, one of aggressive and the other of lyrical character, and culminates in the last monumental return of the main theme of the work, ending then in a short stormy coda.”

Copyright © 2006 by Willard J. Hertz