Aram Khachaturian

Active - 1945 - 2003  |   Born - Jun 6, 1903   |   Died - May 1, 1978   |   Genres - Dance, Theater, Drama

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This post-Romantic Russian composer of earthy, directly emotional scores has had his music excerpted in approximately 25 feature-length productions. The majority of these feature the music of Khachaturian's popular ballets Gayane (1942) and Spartak (Spartacus, 1954).

In the Coen Brothers film The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), after the original Mr. Hudsucker jumps out of the skyscraper window for unknown reasons, the character Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) is hired from the mail room as the perfect imbecile to head Hudsucker Industries in order to drive down the price of stocks so that the chairmen of the board can buy up the remaining stock on the cheap. Barnes shows a drawing of a perfect circle on a pad of paper of his as yet unnamed invention, "You know, for kids." He demonstrates what will become the hula hoop at a board meeting which the board decides to manufacture thinking that this will be the ultimate dumb idea that will drive investors away. The energetic pulsing of the Sabre Dance from the ballet Gayane crescendos onto the soundtrack. Excerpts (arranged by Carter Burwell) from the original music are heard while the audience sees the plans sent by pneumatic tubes to the design department, while the advertising department tries to find names for the whatiz (the shazam, the hipster, the daddy-o, the hoopsucker, the hudswinger). The budget department figures the cost and adds a dollar. The proving facility blows up a test dummy but the hula loop it was wearing passes with flying colors. Millions are manufactured but don't sell until a shopowner discards a bunch which haven't sold into an alleyway. One escapes and rolls down the street nearly causing a wreck. It circles around a small kid and falls flat to the sidewalk. The kid stares at it, steps into the circle and begins rotating it around his waist and then each ankle. Older kids, just let out from school, see him do this, in slow motion, and, to the full melody of Khachaturian's original score, they rush into the previously seen store (where the price quickly rises from "free with any purchase" to "$3.99 each") and the novelty device becomes the monster success of the 1950s.

Seven other films excerpt music from the ballet Gayane which include the ever-popular Sabre Dance: Morto the Magician (2001) (uncredited music), Patriot Games (1992), Aliens (1986) (uncredited music), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Onkel Toms Hütte (Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1965), Billy Wilder's brilliant tragi-comedy One, Two, Three (1961), and Kontsert masterov iskusstov (Concert of Stars, 1952).

Khachaturian also composed patriotic cantatas, such as Pesnya Stalina (Song of Stalin, 1937), and served as deputy chairman and vice president of the organizing committee of the Union of Soviet Composers, so it was somewhat surprising when, in 1948, Khachaturian, along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich, was censured for modernist and "formalist" excesses. Khachaturian's music is rooted in his Armenian homeland, so it was probably guilt by association rather than his music that brought him trouble, although he was forced to publicly renounce his "cosmopolitan" tendencies. His ballet Spartacus expresses the struggle for political freedom with vivid, energetic lines and has been excerpted in many dramatic contexts, such as Caligula (1979), the television series The Onedin Line (1971), Mayerling (1968), and Spartakus (1977).

Khachaturian also composed original music for several films which were later arranged by him to be played in concert: Stalingradskaya bitva I, II (1949-1950) became the orchestral suite The Battle for Stalingrad (1952) and Tuaurnaya oda pamyati Vladimira Il'yicha Lenina (1949), based on a biopic of the revolutionary leader.

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