Gayanes Adagio from Gayane

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Gayane’s Adagio From Gayane

Aram Khachaturian                          
Born June 6, 1903 in Tbilisi, Georgia
Died May 1, 1978 in Moscow, Russia

By Marianne Williams Tobias
The Marianne Williams Tobias Program Note Annotator Chair


Aram Kachaturian was the most renowned Armenian composer of the twentieth century, and the first composer of Armenian ballet music. Gayane, his second ballet, was re-worked from his first ballet titled Happiness, written by Khachaturian in 1941-1942, with revisions (mainly to the plot) in 1952 and 1957. It premiered on December 3, 1942 in Perm, Russia, with the Kirov Ballet and Stalin in attendance. One year later, Khachaturian joined the Communist party, but this did not save him from government punishment, asserting that his music was anti-people and formalist and in 1948, he was put on the Black List.

The title refers to the heroine Gayane, who unfortunately is married to Giko, a hopeless drunk, arsonist, and smuggler of public money.  Gayane conspires with a Soviet guard to foil her husband’s schemes, is later stabbed by Giko, but survives, and in the end remarries.  Although the ballet was only moderately successful, three suites featuring ethnic dances from the second and last act have been alluring and popular, especially the Sabre Dance. Ultimately, Gayane’s Adagio (in the first suite) became well known and popularized through Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, produced in 1968.

The music set for strings only, opens in lower registers, singing an exquisite melody, which moves slowly and smoothly. In the ballet, the Adagio is intended to give comfort to Gayane, who is anguished by the fact that her husband is not only horrible, but also treasonous. She has, at this point, learned that Giko has plans to set fire to the cotton warehouse (owned by the state) with his friends and to run away. The music has a powerful effect and potent sadness within its quiet dynamics, restraint, and fluidity.

The last performance of Gayne’s Adagio from Gayane was December, 1964 conducted by Arthur Fiedler.

© Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016 

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