Cello Concerto (Khachaturian)

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Aram Khachaturian wrote his Cello Concerto in E minor in 1946 for Sviatoslav Knushevitsky. It was the last of the three concertos he wrote for the individual members of a renowned Soviet piano trio that performed together from 1941 until 1963. The others were: the Piano Concerto for Lev Oborin (1936); and the Violin Concerto for David Oistrakh (1940).

Although the last written of the three, the Cello Concerto was the first one Khachaturian had considered writing, when he was a cello student at the Gnessin Institute.[1]

The work was premiered on 30 October 1946[2][3] (or November 1946[4]), in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, with the dedicatee Sviatoslav Knushevitsky as soloist. The conductor was Aleksandr Gauk.[5]

The Cello Concerto is the least known of the three concertos,[6][7] and has not entered the core repertoire of cellists in the way the other two have for pianists and violinists. It has received relatively few recordings.[8]

The work is said to echo Khachaturian's painful experiences of war-time.[4] It contains many allusions to folk material and dance rhythms such as the ashoug.[1] It has been described as more of a symphony with cello than a cello concerto.

The three movements are:

  • 1. Allegro moderato
  • 2. Andante sostenuto - attacca
  • 3. Allegro (a battuta).[9]

The opening movement contains sections of a brooding quality, and even quotes the Dies Irae.[6] It is rhapsodic and changeable in its moods.[7] It contains a lengthy cadenza but has little by way of thematic development.[10]

The central Andante has been described as 'introspective and melancholy',[6] 'nocturnal and seductive',[10] 'dramatic and stern',[8] and 'menacing, oriental and melismatic'.[5]

The third movement is full of bustle and tension.[7] However, its energy level decreases until just near the end, when it concludes with a fast coda.[8]

The work was one of the reasons Khachaturian was ousted from the Composers Union,[7] and he and other Soviet composers were denounced for formalism in the Zhdanov Decree of 1948.[6]