Sunday, 20 January 2013

Mirzoyan: Armenia's Composer-King

Talking of the tuneful old Supreme Leader of Soviet music, Tikhon Khrennikov (as I was a few posts ago), I failed to spot until recently that his (apparently) far more benign counterpart in Armenia, Edward Mirzoyan, died late last year at the ripe old age of 92. Unlike Khrennikov, Mirzoyan's name - and it's a name I've seen from time to time but whose music I've never heard a note of until now - seems not to have become mud, despite his high-flying Soviet career. Unlike Khrennikov then, not a controversial composer; indeed, all I've seen on my researches are highly appreciative (sometimes loving) comments from Armenian admirers. I may (or may not) be missing something, but the internet never lies and that must be the case. (Is this the time for that /sarc thing to be employed?)

That self-same internet has provided me (and, thus, you) with some opportunities to explore the music of Edward Mirzoyan. 

The most-regularly posted piece by Mirzoyan is Shoushanik, a short work named in honour of an early Armenian queen-saint (whose story seems a distressing one). Rather surprisingly, the music's Armenian folksong-inspired turns of phrase (literally) find themselves integrated into melancholy string writing (plus poignant tunes and minor-key harmonies) that seems (to an attuned and English ear) far from unlike our own Edward - Edward Elgar - and his dear-to-every-Englishman-who-loves-classical-music-and-likes-the-music-of-Edward-Elgar string-orchestral gems. As an Elgarian myself, I find it hard to resist such an easy-on-the-ear tribute. It would make a good soundtrack to a heart-tugging movie too. 

Such late late-Romanticism is, perhaps, a little at odds with the composer's reputation as a neo-Classical composer. To see that side of him you need to listen to his largish scale Symphony for Timpani and String Orchestra. This has more than a few film-score-like passages too (usually a good sign), is full of attractive music, strongly tonal in harmony - despite some occasional Stravinsky-like asperities -, and has a good deal of melody (not, it must be admitted, - at least according to my brain - of the highest kind of memorability) which keeps the listener listening. If I were to name a key influence on the symphony I would say 'Shostakovich'. Certain passage just have that Shostakovich feel about them. (Plus, I would swear to hearing the DSCH motif pass my ears - in the first movement - at some stage). The first movement also has twinges of Bartók. I'm sure you will hear what I mean as you listen. Again, what I presume to be specifically Armenian folk music touches grace the piece's melodic flow. Given my chain of pieces on the waltz, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the pleasing second movement is a (Shostakovich-style) symphonic waltz. The dejected slow movement is particularly attractive, with many a heart-tugging dissonant suspension along the way. There's a second theme that most clearly goes down the (presumably) specifically Armenian folk melody route and a piercingly emotional climax (stark and aggressive).  The finale is cheerful, like Shostakovich on happy pills - though (being, I suspect, a Romantic at heart) the composer recalls the slow movement and its pangs of melancholy at a couple of points. The vigour of (presumably Armenian) folk music is felt from time to time too. The ending is firmly affirmative. Khrennikov would have approved.

Talking of waltzes (as I have been, lest you haven't noticed), there's a waltz in his attractive Album for my Grand-daughter for solo piano. We're seeing yet another side to the composer here, writing winning piano miniatures. There are six movements - "Morning", "Mariam", "Meditation", "Play", "Sad Waltz" and "Toccatina". The first piece makes especially attractive use of dissonant harmony, while the second has plenty of Bartók about it. The fourth piece (if suitably orchestrated) is somewhat in the spirit of Stravinsky's Petrushka. That winsome waltz is wistful and somewhat sentimental. If these child-friendly piano pieces are a bit too easy-to-play for you (you pianist-hating sadists!), then there's always the the Poem for piano, full of dramatic rhetoric and clangorous (slightly Messiaen-like) piano writing initially, though the music turns inward for its middle section. 

For very late Mirzoyan, you are welcome (as I was) to try the Introduction and Perpetuum Mobile of 2007, for violin and piano, written in memory of the Armenian Genocide. The melodies are dyed with Armenian folk colour, though the harmonies are full of unobtrusive mid-20th Century-style mainstream dissonance. Liszt and Rachmaninov would have been taken with his use of the very old Dies Irae plainchant. Fancy that still being used in a 2007 piece for violin and piano!

Did you like the music of Edvard Mirzoyan?

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