Alexander Arutiunian

Image for artist

Alexander Arutiunian


• 1920 2012


Alexander Arutiunian is ranked among the most important Armenian composers in the generation after Aram Khachaturian. His style is quite approachable, and like Khachaturian's, often exotically colorful, exhibiting folk-like Armenian traits, and catchy melodies. But he also employed neo-Classical elements in his works, especially from the 1960s onward. Arutiunian was born on September 23, 1920, in Yerevan. He exhibited musical talent at an early age on the piano and entered Yerevan's Komitas Conservatory while still in his teens. There, he studied piano with O. Babashian and composition with Barkhoudarian and Varkes Talian, graduating in 1941. By now, Arutiunian had decided on a career as a composer: he had joined the U.S.S.R.'s Union of Composers in 1939, but more importantly had already written his first major composition, his piano concerto (1940). While it showed great promise, it was not ultimately a success. For one thing, it appeared at a time when Khachaturian's then-new and masterful piano concerto (1936) was attracting much attention both in the U.S.S.R. and abroad. The war disrupted further education for Arutiunian until 1946, when he enrolled at the Moscow Conservatory and studied composition with Ilya Litinsky, Nikolai Ivanovich Peyko, and Viktor Zuckermann. He left in 1948, offering as his graduation piece a patriotic work, Cantata on the Homeland, for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, an effort for which he received a U.S.S.R. State Prize. This was a difficult time for Soviet composers since they were expected to write stylistically tame music, often on patriotic texts or subjects. Arutiunian composed two of his most successful works in the coming years, the trumpet concerto (1950), written for virtuoso Soviet trumpet player Timofei Dokshitser, and the Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (1951). He also engaged in a collaborative work with a lesser composer -- fellow Armenian Arno Babadjanyan -- an unusually self-effacing gesture even for a young composer. Their effort produced the 1950 Armenian Rhapsody for Pianos (2). In 1954, Arutiunian was appointed artistic director of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, a post he held until he reached age 70 (1990). Arutiunian managed to avoid falling into disfavor with Soviet cultural bosses in the post-Stalin era -- a not necessarily easy task -- composing unadventurous though well-crafted works like his symphony (1957) and horn concerto (1962), the latter achieving some currency in the repertory. In 1960, he was given a government commendation when he was named a People's Artist of Armenia. In 1965, Arutiunian joined the faculty of the Yerevan Conservatory where he taught composition. Two years later, he produced one of his most important compositions, the opera Sayat-Nova. In 1975, he joined the Union of Armenian Cinematographers, Arutiunian having been active over the years in composing several film scores. Two years later, he was given a professorship at the Yerevan Academy. Arutiunian remained active in composition in the 1980s and early '90s, producing a fairly substantial body of work, including his popular quintet for brass, Armenian Scenes, and his tuba concerto (1992). His retirement from the artistic directorship of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra in 1990 signified his curtailment of musical activity, though hardly his complete withdrawal from it.