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Orchestral Librarians’ Digest #2

Khachaturian’s Gayane – A Musical Rubik’s Cube

by Robert Johnson, Music Librarian, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Khachaturian’s colourful full-length ballet Gayane (also spelled Gayaneh or Gayne) is rarely produced as such outside Russia or former Soviet Bloc countries. Some of the music, however, is very familiar through frequent performances as stand-alone pieces or within the context of three suites extracted from the ballet by the composer. The ubiquitous Sabre Dance is the most obvious example, but more musically satisfying is Gayane’s Adagio, the sublime two-part invention made famous through its use as a musical analogue for the loneliness of space in Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey (subsequently imitated by James Horner in the initial section of his score for the movie Aliens). You might reasonably expect that a performance of several excerpts from Gayane, chosen from the published suites, would pose no great problems for an orchestral librarian.

Boosey & Hawkes, which represents the Russian Authors’ Society for the UK and British Commonwealth countries (except Canada), doesn’t publish study scores of the Gayane suites, but their online shop offers them for sale in the scholarly and beautifully type-set Japanese Zen-On edition. When a selection of movements from these suites was confirmed as part of an upcoming concert by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, I purchased a set of Zen-On scores and our British conductor did likewise. In due course he sent us his choice of movements, designed to illustrate the “exotica” theme of the concert – five from Suite No.1 and three from Suite No.3. I duly ordered performance materials for these suites from Hal Leonard Australia.

It was shortly after the music arrived that I discovered we had a problem. Checking our list of movements to be performed against the scores I realised that the materials provided for Suite No.1 – published by the Anglo-Soviet Music Press and distributed by Boosey & Hawkes – contained three different movements from the study score I had purchased. Fortunately the missing movements happened to be ones we didn’t intend to perform on this occasion, but on further comparison of the two scores I discovered that there were significant variants between the different versions of each movement. All had been modified in various ways, ranging from matters of dynamics and phrasing to alterations in harmony and instrumentation, and several cuts. Most importantly, the movement the conductor had specified to open his selection – Ayesha’s Awakening and Dance – had been substantially cut, omitting among other things the eerily atmospheric slow introduction, recorded twice by Khachaturian himself. In addition a well-known saxophone solo had, in the Anglo-Soviet edition, been unaccountably assigned to a flute.

What could be the reason for these discrepancies? The answer lies in the convoluted history of the ballet itself and in the diverse network of publisher representation for the Russian Authors’ Society (RAO) throughout the world.

In 1940 Khachaturian was asked to compose a new score for the Kirov Ballet to a libretto based on a few scenes from his 1939 ballet Happiness. Khachaturian salvaged some of the music from this earlier ballet to re-use in Gayane, but the majority of the score was freshly composed. This original version of Gayane, in 4 Acts and 5 Scenes, was first staged in Perm, near the Ural Mountains, in December 1942. In 1957 the ballet was revived at the Bolshoi Theatre, with a new libretto designed to suppress the more militaristic aspects of the original plot. The changes to the storyline – essentially dictated by Soviet politics of the time – necessitated modifications of the existing music and additional music for some new scenes. This revised version of Gayane was eventually published in 1962, the ballet now described as being in 3 Acts and 7 Scenes.

It appears to be around this time that the Anglo-Soviet edition of Suite No.1 came into being, using the revised version of the score and omitting three movements from the original suite in favour of movements deemed to be more “popular”. Gayane’s Adagio had not yet appeared in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (the trigger for its own popularity), so ironically it was rejected from this version of the suite. If you consult the Zinfonia database, a separate movement called the Dance of Gayaneh as published by Boosey & Hawkes is given the subtitle Gayaneh’s Adagio, with the correct instrumentation listed, but on the publisher’s own online catalogue no such subtitle is given for that movement and the instrumentation differs from that of Gayaneh’s Adagio. In the only complete recording of the revised version of the ballet there are no fewer than three sections called Dance of Gayaneh, but none of them is Gayaneh’s Adagio. How on earth are orchestras supposed to reliably identify this movement if they wish to hire it?

Confusingly, in the revised version many movements of the ballet changed their position and function in the overall scheme of the work and were given new titles, even when the musical material remained more-or-less identical to that in the original version. Fire became Storm; Ayesha’s Awakening and Dance became Village in the Mountains and Monologue of Ayshe; Gayaneh’s Adagio became Invention (at least in Khachaturian’s 1977 recording) or possibly Dance of Gayaneh (according to Boosey & Hawkes); or perhaps it was completely eliminated – it’s difficult to be sure. Trying to make sense of the differing facets of the original and revised versions of the ballet is like fiddling with a musical version of Rubik’s Cube.

Schirmer, which represents the RAO in the USA and Canada, and Sikorski, which represents them in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and many other territories, still distribute the original version of Suite No.1 (the same version as the Zen-on score), as do several other publishers  (Universal, Fennica Gehrman, etc) for the regions they serve. Uniquely, the Anglo-Soviet Music Press seems to have produced its own suite, quite at variance with the one published elsewhere and widely regarded as standard. Boosey & Hawkes’ reaction when I pointed this out was to suggest that Zen-On had produced its own version of Suite No.1 – which, frankly, is self-evident nonsense. Zen-On’s score is, in fact, the only edition of the original score to have been produced with the advantage of good scholarship, the editor having studied with Khachaturian himself in Moscow in the 1960s. If performance materials could be produced from Zen-On’s edition of all three suites and made available internationally, orchestras would be far better served than they are currently by the hand-written parts published by the Anglo-Soviet Music Press.

Searching for a solution to my immediate Gayane problem I consulted Boosey & Hawkes’ online catalogue and discovered that they offered for hire a single movement entitled Ayesha’s Awakening. As originally published, the movement I needed is clearly divided into the slow introduction of Ayesha’s Awakening and the quicker Dance, so it seemed likely that this would solve my problem. After a few days Boosey & Hawkes London responded via Hal Leonard with a query: Did I really want them to send this set of parts from their warehouse in Germany? They confessed that it was a pretty ropey set, and they sent me sample pages of both the saxophone part and the score (which didn’t match) to show me how bad the materials were. At least the saxophone solo was intact, and the rest of that page matched the Zen-On score. I requested that they send me a scan of one complete part so I could check it against the score. Unhelpfully they declined to do so, but they did confirm that the last rehearsal number in their parts and in my score were identical. This at least was encouraging, so I asked them to send the materials as quickly as possible.

A week later the performance materials for Ayesha’s Awakening arrived. They were indeed as poor as Boosey & Hawkes had warned – hand-written parts, all produced in 1950 by the same copyist, but each string desk part set out differently on the page. No allowances had been made for page-turns in the wind parts and there were frequent passages where musicians had been forced to write out missing bars as inserts. In short, this was the most inept piece of music copying I’ve seen in many years, and the hapless copyist had preserved his incompetence for future generations to witness by signing and dating each part.

But there was worse news. Despite the fact that the parts were identified by the publisher as Ayesha’s Awakening, they all began at rehearsal no. 3, the start of the Dance section. The slow introduction for which these parts were specifically named was completely missing! If Boosey & Hawkes had granted my request to see a scan of one complete part I would at least have been forewarned. I had run out of time to explore further options through official channels, so I did the only thing I could – I hired a copyist to write out parts for the opening section from the Zen-On score. Not, strictly speaking, adhering to the letter of copyright; but, after all, we had done our best to comply and were certainly paying good money for so-called “professional” materials that had proven to be grossly inadequate.

The existing recordings of Gayane don’t particularly clarify matters. The only apparently complete recording is by the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra under Georgian conductor Jansug Kakhidze, using the revised version of the score. Originally issued on LP by Melodiya in 1978, this has been variously re-issued on CD by Russian Disc, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab and Vox. A 1976 RCA recording by the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the Armenian Loris Tjeknavorian professes to be a complete recording of the original 1942 ballet, but in fact it comprises just three-quarters of the score – all the movements of the three suites (re-ordered) plus an introductory passage and two short scenes. A more recent Naxos CD by the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andre Anichanov confuses matters still further. It claims to present Suites Nos.1 to 3, but most of the movement titles don’t match those in either the 1942 or 1957 versions of the score, so the provenance of this selection is something of a mystery. Gayane’s Adagio in this recording opens with a solo cello rather than the cello section as scored, and the movement ends with a new and unexplained two-minute scene, never previously recorded. Did Khachaturian actually write this himself? It feels vaguely fraudulent. Overall, despite its incomplete nature and a less than ideal CD transfer, the most satisfactory recording is Tjeknavorian’s for RCA.

Khachaturian himself conducted recordings of limited selections from the ballet on at least three separate occasions – 8 movements with the Philharmonia Orchestra for HMV in 1954, 5 with the Vienna Philharmonic for Decca in 1962, and 6 with the London Symphony Orchestra for EMI in 1977, not long before he died. Both of the earlier recordings used the original version of the score, while the last used the revised version. Gayane’s Adagio is included in all three recordings, but for this last one it bears the title Invention – an accurate if inelegant title, presumably in line with the revised score. It is puzzling that in the so-called “complete” recording of the revised version of the ballet, this movement – arguably the single most perfect piece of music in the entire work – is notably absent.

Robert Johnson, © 2015.

This article was published in conjunction with the Orchestral Librarians’ Digest #2 (August 2015).