Monday, June 24, 2013

Birth of Artem Alikhanian - June 24, 1908

Artem (Russian Artyom) Alikhanian, regarded as the father of Armenian physics, was born in the historical Armenian city of Gandzak (Elizavetpol during the Russian Empire, and now Ganja, in Azerbaijan). He did not attend school regularly, but was mostly schooled at home. Later, he received an external degree from school Nr. 100 of Tiflis.

In 1930, before he graduated from Leningrad State University, he became a staff member at the Physico-Technical Institute of Leningrad (nowadays St. Petersburg), working together with his elder brother Abraham Alikhanov (Alikhanian, 1904-1970). The Alikhanian brothers, together with Piotr Kapitsa, Lev Landau, Igor Kurchatov, and others, have been credited with laying the foundations of nuclear physics in the Soviet Union.

During the siege of Leningrad by the German army in World War II, Artem Alikhanian and some of his colleagues were excused from full-time defense tasks in order to work on the design of a synchrocyclotron, the accelerator of particles eventually constructed in 1955. The Alikhanian brothers, who were not members of the Communist Party, received the USSR State Prize in 1943. They started a scientific mission on Mount Aragatz, the highest peak of the Republic of Armenia, and researched the third (proton) component of cosmic rays. They founded a cosmic ray station at an altitude of 3250 meters, and participated both in the foundation of the Armenian SSR Academy of Sciences (now National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia) and the Yerevan Physics Institute in 1943. Abraham Alikhanov—who founded the first nuclear reactor of the USSR in 1949—went on to found and direct the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics in Moscow, which he headed until 1968.

The brothers’ findings deserved them the USSR State Prize for the second time in 1948 (Alikhanov would win it alone for the third time in 1953). They initiated the creation of the Yerevan Synchrotron in 1956, together with astrophysicist Victor Hambartsumian.

Artem Alikhanian promoted the training of young physicists and from 1961 to 1975 organized and directed the International Schools of High Energy Physics at Nor-Amberd. A staunch supporter of the international co-operation of scientists, his fidelity to science, his personality, and his great erudition captivated everyone. In 1965 he was invited by Harvard University to give the Loeb and Lee lectures in Physics, and he became the first Loeb professor of Harvard University from Europe. He founded the chair of Nuclear Physics in the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute and was a professor at Yerevan State University. He received the Lenin Prize in 1970, together with his colleagues, for the work on wide-gap track spark chambers.

In 1966, director Frunze Dovlatian filmed “Hello, It’s Me!” (Բարեւ, ես եմ, Parev, Yes Em), a drama based on the life of Alikhanian (the main character is a physicist called Artyom Manvelian who has founded a cosmology laboratory at Mount Aragats). The film was nominated to the Golden Palm of the Cannes Film Festival of 1966 and awarded the State Prize of Armenia in 1967, the same year when Alikhanian obtained the title of Honored Scientist of the Armenian SSR in recognition of his scientific achievements and contributions.

Alikhanian resigned from his position at Yerevan Physics Institute in 1973 and left Yerevan, after conflicts with very high level Soviet statesmen. He passed away in Moscow on February 25, 1978. The Physics Institute was named after him, and a street in Yerevan has been named after the Alikhanian brothers. In 2010 the government of Armenia decided to rename the Institute as Artem Alikhanian National Scientific Laboratory.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Birth of Yervand Kochar - June 15, 1899

Either in photographs or personally, every Armenian has seen at least once the statues of David of Sassoun and Vartan Mamigonian in Yerevan. These are among the most recognizable symbols of the city—the David of Sassoun statue has transcended to become a national symbol—and are the work of one of the most remarkable Armenian artists of the twentieth century: Yervand Kochar.

Yervand Kochar (Kocharian) was born in Tiflis (Tbilisi, Georgia) in 1899. He graduated from the Nersisian Lyceum in 1918 and in the meantime (1915-1918) studied in the O. Schmerling School (Art School of the Caucasus Association for the Promotion of Fine Arts). After a year at the State Free Art Studio of Moscow, he returned to Tiflis in 1919 and participated in his first exhibition, the second fall show of Georgian painters in the same year. He received a diploma of professor of fine arts and technical studies from the Soviet Georgian government in 1921, and in 1922 he left to study abroad. He first sojourned in Constantinople and then in Venice; he had exhibitions in both cities. He settled in Paris by 1923, where his art enjoyed a good reception. His participation in the Salon of the Independents in 1928 was accompanied with scandal: two of his works were vandalized, and the press printed sympathetic echoes. Those works were the first examples of his new direction, “Painting in Space,” also called tri-dimensional painting. He gave his first solo exhibition in the same year. In an international exhibition, “Panorama of Contemporary Art,” also held in Paris (1929), Kochar presented his works, along with avant-garde artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Robert Delaunay, Georges Braque, Joan Miró, and others. He participated in exhibitions of French painters in Prague, Brno, Bratislava, New York, and Brussels (1935), and London (1936). Polish-French art critic Waldemar-George (1893-1970) defined his painting in the following terms: “The dimensional painting of Kochar is one of the conquests of modern art, as significant as the pure forms of Brâncuşi and the structures of Picasso and Braque . . . The dimensional painting has crushed the boundaries of sculpture and one-dimensional painting. It has reformed the visual laws, opening a third way before painters and sculptors. It is about time to tribute honors to Kochar the creator, which he truly deserves.”

Kochar was a well-known artist in French circles in 1936 when he decided, surprisingly, to repatriate to Soviet Armenia for good. However, his innovative art was not well-received by the regime, particularly in Stalinist times. He was charged with formalism, which was something tantamount to “enemy of the people,” the standard accusation that cost prison and exile to Siberia for many. He even was imprisoned on politically motivated charges between 1941 and 1943, but was eventually freed thanks to the intervention of two of his school friends, Anastas Mikoyan and architect Karo Halabian. He married scholar Manik Mkrtchyan (1913-1984) and had two sons.

Over the years, Kochar created graphic works, plaster busts, statues, and designs for theatrical plays. The political “thaw” after the denunciation of Stalin’s crimes in 1956 by Soviet strongman Nikita Khruschev helped him to achieve actual recognition. He created the statue of David of Sassoun in 1959, which was placed at the square of the Yerevan railway station, and won the State Prize of Armenia in 1967. He said: “Whatever you have seen at the studio, I do it myself. And this [the statue of David of Sassoun] is for Caesar. However, I pay Caesar with pure gold.”

His first solo exhibition in Yerevan, after thirty years, was held in 1965; other solo exhibitions followed in 1971 and 1978. His works were also exhibited in Moscow (1973) and Baku and Tbilisi (1974). He never traveled outside the Soviet Union, but his collected works were exhibited in Paris (1945 and 1966). He earned recognitions such as Emeritus Artist of Armenia (1956), People’s Artist of Armenia (1965), Soviet Order of Red Banner (1971), and People’s Artist of the Soviet Union in 1976. He created “The Eagle of Zvartnotz” (1955), the obelisk-type monument set at the entrance of the ruins of the church of Zvartnotz, near Holy Etchmiadzin. Some of his most important paintings of his last years were “Extasis” (1960), “The Disaster of War” (1962), and “The Muse of Cybernetics” (1972). His major last work, the statue of Vartan Mamikonian, was inaugurated in 1975 on Khanjian Street, near the actual location of the open-market Vernissage.

Yervand Kochar passed away in Yerevan on January 22, 1979. Five years later, a museum dedicated to his art opened near Yerevan’s Cascade. A street in the city bears his name, as well as the art school of the city of Hrazdan.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Birth of Aram Khachaturian - June 6, 1903

Thirty-five years after his death, Aram Khachaturian remains the most widely known Armenian classical composer of all times. His “Sabre Dance,” the electrifying dance of the final act of the ballet “Gayane,” made him known on a popular level worldwide. A few years ago, the first notes of the “Sabre Dance” were even the score for an advertisement of hair shampoo in American TV, while some music of his other world-famous ballet, “Spartacus,” appeared most recently in the animated film “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”

Khachaturian was born in Kojori, near Tiflis (Georgia), on June 6, 1903, the youngest of five children. Young Aram was admitted to the Commerce School in Tiflis in 1913, but he preferred music. He learned to play woodwind instruments and became a member of a woodwind orchestra.

His elder brother, Suren, who was the stage director of the Second Moscow Art Theatre, took him to Moscow in 1921, where he entered the Gnessin Musical College. The future composer did not even know how to read music at the time. He quickly showed his talent for composition and in 1925 Mikhail Gnessin suggested he join his newly-opened composition class. Four years later, Khachaturian transferred to the Moscow Conservatory. He graduated with highest grades and composed his first big work, the First Symphony, in 1934, after marrying his classmate, composer Nina Makarova, the year before. In 1937 he became deputy chairman of the Moscow branch of the Composers’ Union, and then was appointed chairman of the Organizing Committee of Soviet Composers in 1939. The first ballet also came out that year. It was initially called “Happiness,” but Khachaturian later reworked it into the ballet “Gayane.”

The years 1936-1947 were the most prolific in Khachaturian’s life. He wrote music for dramatic performances and movies, songs, and religious music, including the Concerto for Violin (1941), the Concerto for Cello (1943), the Second Symphony (1946), the Third Symphony (1946), and the Symphonic Poem, later entitled the Third Symphony (1947).

The composer joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1943. In 1944 he composed the music of the anthem of Soviet Armenia. However, he temporarily fell from official favor in 1948. The Symphonic Poem, ironically written as a tribute to communism, earned Khachaturian the wrath of the Party. Andrei Zhdanov, secretary of the party’s Central Committee, delivered the so-called Zhdanov decree in 1948. The decree condemned composers Dimitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Khachaturian, and others as "formalist" and "anti-popular." The three named composers had already become established as the so-called "titans" of Soviet music, enjoying worldwide reputation as some of the leading composers of the 20th century. Nonetheless, all three were forced to apologize publicly.

Despite this episode, Khachaturian returned to official favor. He received numerous state awards both before and after the decree: for example, four Stalin prizes (1941, 1943, 1946 and 1950), one Lenin prize (1959), a USSR State Prize (1971), and the title of Hero of Socialist Labor (1973). Khachaturian went on to serve again as Secretary of the Board of the Composers' Union, starting in 1957 and was also a deputy in the fifth Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union (1958–1962). In 1951 he became professor at the Gnessin State Musical and Pedagogical Institute (Moscow) and the Moscow Conservatory.

Although Khachaturian lived outside Armenia, he has been an iconic figure for generations of Armenian composers, and many important names, such as Arno Babajanian, Alexander Harutiunian, Edgar Hovhannisian, and Tigran Mansurian, among others, were particularly influence by him. Most of his works are saturated with centuries-old motifs of Armenian culture. Khachaturian encouraged young composers to experiment with new sounds and find their own voices. His colorful orchestration technique is still noted for its freshness and vitality.

Khachaturian’s ballet “Spartacus” premiered in December 1956, and its music was featured in various series and films in the West. His seventieth anniversary was officially celebrated in Moscow and Yerevan. He passed away in Moscow on May 1, 1978, and was buried in the “Gomidas” Pantheon in Yerevan, together with other great Armenian personalities.

The composer’s picture is featured on the 50 dram Armenian banknote, as well as in various Soviet, Armenian, and Russian stamps. Various streets in Armenia, Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan are named after him. His house-museum was opened in Yerevan in 1982.