Obituary: Ghazar Sarayan

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GHAZAR SARYAN was one of the large cohort of technically adroit Soviet composers who seems to have been happy writing the kind of music that didn't trouble the regime. His Moscow training (under Shostakovich, among others) provided him with the technique that allowed him to express himself economically; and the Armenian heritage that Saryan set so much store by lent colour to his textures. The result was folk-inspired, immediately attractive music which didn't arouse the political controversies that attended the creative efforts of stronger personalities.

Saryan's awareness of Armenian culture owed much to being born the son of the painter Martiros Saryan, a towering figure in 20th-century Armenian culture. Saryan pere, indeed, was the dedicatee of the Second Symphony of Boris Parsadian, one of a large group of Armenian composers who made the journey north to study in Moscow immediately after the Second World War. Some of them - Aruntunyan, Babadzhanyan, Khudoyan and Mirzoyan, for example - are now relatively well known, though Saryan, who was among them, has been less fortunate.

Ghazar ("Lazar" in Russian) had begun his studies at the Erevan Conservatory (1934-38) with Sergey Barkhudaryan and Verdkes Talyan. His training in Moscow started with Vissarion Shebalin at the Gnesin School of Music, and in 1945 he moved to the Moscow Conservatory, where his teachers were Anatoly Nikolayevich Aleksandrov, Dmitry Kabalevsky and Dmitry Shostakovich.

Upon his graduation in 1950 Saryan joined the staff of the Erevan Conservatory as professor of composition (during which time, in 1955-56, he was also Chairman of the Armenian Composers' Union); he was appointed Rector 10 years later. Among his students are some of the better-known names in more recent Armenian music, including Tigran Mansuryan, Ruben Sarkisyan and Avet Terteryan.

Much of Saryan's compositional output was dedicated to orchestral music. His catalogue includes a Symphonic Poem (1950), Symphonic Pictures (1955), a politically requisite Festival Overture (1957), Adagio and Dance for strings (1957) and a Serenade (1959). There are also a number of film scores, as well as vocal and teaching pieces. His most highly regarded works are the Violin Concerto of 1973 and the Symphonic Canvas Armenia (1966), directly inspired by his father's paintings. Svetlana Sarkisian's thumbnail sketch in The New Grove describes his music as "distinguished by clarity of line and tasteful orchestration, together with a national colouring and a pictorial quality".

Armenia, the Symphonic Pictures and the Serenade, as well as an Aria and Toccata for violin and piano, were recorded by Melodiya during the Soviet period, but an accurate assessment of Saryan's position in posterity will have to wait for the emergence of some of his works on CD. It has happened for a number of obscure composers from the ex-Soviet regions, so it is possible that Saryan may yet have his day.

Martin Anderson

Ghazar Martirosovich Saryan, composer and teacher: born Rostov-on-Don, Soviet Union 30 September 1920; died Yerevan, Armenia 27 May 1998.