ARMENIAN FINGERPRINTS – interpreting piano music of Khachaturian and Komitas in the light of Armenian folk music

MARIAM KHARATYAN, University of Agder, Faculty of Fine Arts

Artistic research fellowship 2015-2019, University of Agder
Mariam Kharatyan, pianist

The field of this artistic research project is interpretation of classical piano music from the performer’s (my) perspective. I aim to find my way of interpretation in several major piano compositions written by Armenian composers Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) and Komitas (1869-1935). My approach to interpretation is connected to inspiration from Armenian folk music. The two composers have expressed this inspiration in their music, and through my project I investigate how Armenian folk music can impact and transform my playing/interpretation of their compositions.

I was born and lived 24 years in Armenia, from where I got many musical impressions from our folk music culture. From early childhood, I used to play many familiar folk and urban melodies by ears on piano. Beside the subconscious perception and the feeling of the Armenian folk music that came from childhood, I got my education as a classical pianist at the Komitas State Conservatory in Yerevan, Armenia.

My interest in Armenian music lead to explore in-depth the impact of the interplay between classical and folk music in my playing:

What interpretational possibilities may emerge in works of Khachaturian and Komitas when I listen to Armenian folk music and its aesthetics, and respond to it through pianistic tools of musical expression?

To investigate such musical possibilities in the project, I explore and learn the Armenian folk music, focusing on its specifics and aesthetics, folk instrument’s timbre, rhythmic and melodic patterns, the musical timing and articulation. Further, I am consciously trying to implement the knowledge that I gained from these explorations in my performances, and through my practicing process, transferring this perception into Komitas’ and Khachaturian’s music. The interplay of the folk music and the classical music aesthetics is a significant aspect of my project, bringing an element of musical “translation” from folk music inspiration to pianistic choices.

My idea of translation – the response from folk to classical aesthetics is bounded by available pianistic tools of musical expression, when trying to imitate the sound and timbre of Armenian folk instruments such as duduk, blul, dhol/dap, qanon, tar and qyamancha in my piano playing. I also aim to find nuances and pianistic features which can create the effect of dam (sustained bass), the effects of overtones/microtones on certain sections in the compositions, and musical timing inspired from the declamatory free timing of Armenian folk troubadours, Ashugh’s/Gusan’s art. All this is aimed to come closer to my imagined timbre of the folk instruments and folk music aesthetics and integrate them in my piano playing.
During the process, I search the available literature and recording archives in the Aram Khachaturian’s home-museum, the Komitas State Conservatory Library in Yerevan, the Komitas Museum-Institute and the Arts Institute in Yerevan, Armenia. I document my visits to these institutions. I meet and interview several professors (pianists and musicologists) from Armenia, to gain further knowledge about Khachaturian’s and Komitas’ music, as well as about Armenian folk music in general. During my trips to Armenia, I have organized several meetings with folk musicians to gain more profound knowledge about the specifics of the timbre of Armenian folk instruments. An essential element of the project’s investigation is the consistent and disciplined practical work with musical elements such as pedaling, articulation, dynamics, musical timing, ornaments, phrasing and structure. I use video recordings of my playing during the process of artistic work as a tool to self-evaluation and observation for creating my interpretations.

I wish to present my interpretations of Komitas’ and Khachaturian’s compositions to the audience and the professional classical field, by opening new perspectives to the established approaches of interpretation. The artistic results will be presented as a live video recording of A. Khachaturian piano concerto with Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra and conductor Eivind Gullberg Jensen, and two CDs. The first album will be chamber music by A. Khachaturian for piano, violin, clarinet and cello. The second album will be Komitas, folk dances for solo piano and selected folk songs performed on piano with duduk and blul.

The reflections will be presented as a collection of texts, including examples of scores, video and audio.