The Soviets

Growing up we had a monolithic evil force in the world – I’m part of the tail end of the generation that considered the USSR and its brand of communism to be existential threats to not only the USA, but to basic human decency.  And that’s the way it was cast – an epic battle of good versus evil.  Of course almost nothing is as simple as that; over the years I’ve been able to rid myself of most of the binary thinking that my childhood culture set up in my synaptic framework.  Even as a child part of me knew it wasn’t true – the space program’s budding partnerships, international athletics, great chess champions – I remember wondering about how these wonderful things could come out of pure evil.

The great Soviet composers of the 20th century are another case in point that I’m only starting to learn about.  I have, over the past few months, been trying to gain an appreciation of the some of the modern era’s greatest composers, which turns out to be impossible without an appreciation for some of the Soviet greats – Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Khachaturian, to name the most prominent.  It seems the Soviet government had a love/hate relationship with many of its greats – most came in and out of favor with the government.  It’s generally the artists and intelligentsia of a culture that pose the biggest threats to its dominant power structures, of course.

It was actually just yesterday that I learned anything at all about Aram Khachaturian aside from his name –  I ran across his Violin Concerto on Youtube, and listened to two performances, one by the Russian Haik Kazazyan, and one by the German Arabella Steinbacher (I confess to bailing on the Russian’s performance about halfway through when I noticed one by Steinbacher in the “suggested for you” video list – she’s one of my favorites).  The concerto has complex melodies that hold my interest, and there are some interesting juxtapositions of orchestral instruments with the soloist.   According to Wikipedia it follows a relatively typical compositional structure for a concerto, but the final movement in particular conjures Armenian folk music.  Khachaturian wrote the work for David Oistrakh, one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century.  It was completed in 1941.

Despite listening to Steinbacher’s, the theme of this post made me want to link to Russian Haik Kazazyan’s 2008 performance with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra.  It’s also a video performance, whereas the one I found of Steinbacher was audio only:

Thanks for reading.


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