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Sarkis Barkhudarian

(1887 - 1973)


There are outstanding composers whose works differ by the depth of idea, various scales of construction, novelty of the musical language, and power of the emotional impact on the mass audience. Their names are in the center of attention of the world musical community. But there are masters of musical art, who create pieces that are small in form yet full of artistic significance delivering true aesthetic pleasure to listeners of classical music.


The People's Artist of Armenia, Honored Art Worker of Georgia, composer, pianist and professor Sarkis Vasil’evich Barkhudarian is among such masters of “small forms”. For more than 50 years of artistic activity, Sarkis Barkhudarian has created many works of various genres. Among them - the ballet Narine, the children's opera Keri-Kuchi, the symphonic poem Anoush (based on the homonymous poem written by Hovhannes Tumanyan in 1892), the orchestral suite for the 10th anniversary of the Transcaucasian Federation, the overture 1942, marches for the brass band, solo chamber works for piano, violin, cello, a number of romances and songs, music for dramatic plays and movies, adaptation of Armenian folk songs, etc. However, Barkhudarian's piano pieces are of the greatest artistic value, due to their distinctive national color, elegance of form, subtlety of taste and unfading beauty of musical images. Sarkis V. Barkhudarian was born on September 7, 1887 in the city of Tiflis. Barkhudarian's family had eight children. The third child was the future composer.


Sarkis’s mother - Varduhi Ivanovna Saipian - was his first teacher. It was her Sarkis was obliged to for the first acquaintance with the Armenian folk songs. At the age of five-six he was delighted to listen to street musicians, who often came in to their neighborhood. Seeing such a love of music in his son, the composer's mother acquired a piano. At the age of ten Sarkis began studying piano. After two years of home education Sarkis Barkhudarian was enrolled in the Tiflis Music School. At the Tiflis Music School piano department Barkhudarian was first studied under the mentorship of Ya. K. Stakhovskaya, and then Professor L. L. Truskovski. In those years Barkhudarian's artistic propensity began to reveal. He could improvise for hours behind the piano. Possessing an excellent musical memory, Barkhudarian made great progress in playing piano. At that time, Barkhudarian was attracted by accuracy, clarity of language and richness of images he found in short yet deeply profound stories and novels of Anton Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant. Suchlike laconicism hereafter affected Barkhudarian’s piano miniatures.


By the beginning of the 1900s he attempted to compose his own music. His first work named Waltz was written on April 25, 1903. Barkhudarian’s album, which dates back to 1903-1909, contains about 40 records of small piano pieces (Lullaby, Mood, Farewell Song, Brook, waltzes, songs, etc.). These works, different in character, are marked by melody, distinctive lyricism and direct influence of Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Schubert and others. When he was 12, Barkhudarian together with his family arrived in Armenia for the first time. They visited the cities of Ani, Alexandropol and Etchmiadzin. Here he had his milestone meeting with Komitas and played several piano pieces to him. Komitas highly appreciated the musical abilities of the boy. That meeting made an unforgettable impression on Barkhudarian. In 1907, Barkhudarian graduated from the Tiflis Music School and decided to entirely devote himself to music, to become a pianist. In September of 1907, Barkhudarian went to Berlin and entered the Berlin Royal Conservatory, Professor Johann Schulze’s class. Lessons taken in Berlin proved to be very useful for the development of the piano playing technique. At the same time, Barkhudarian continued composing piano pieces. Simultaneously with his studies at the Conservatory, Barkhudarian enrolled in the University of Berlin, Department of Law. The future composer read a lot of scientific and fiction literature, visited the cities of Dresden, Freiburg, Leipzig, etc., and got acquainted with the history and culture of Germany.


After finishing his studies at the Berlin Conservatory, Barkhudarian returned to Tiflis but decided to go to Saint Petersburg to pursue musical composition studies at the conservatory. In 1909, Barkhudarian studied the composition in the class of Rimsky-Korsakov’s apprentice - Mikhail Gnesin, and later, after Gnesin’s departure from Petersburg – in the classes of Y. I. Vitol (composition and musical forms analysis) and M.O. Steinberg (instrumentation). In 1909, Barkhudarian met another outstanding Armenian composer - Alexander Spendiarov. During his study at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Barkhudarian composed a series named Oriental Dances consisting of four pieces. The series was published in 1913 in St. Petersburg and was acclaimed enthusiastically by the musical community - composers A.K. Glazunov, A.K. Ladov, M.O. Steinberg and others. In 1914, Sketches and scherzos were written, as well as excerpts from the future piano sonata. In 1917, Barkhudarian graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory and returned to Tiflis. In the same year, Barkhudarian first met Armenian lyricist poet Hovhannes Tumanyan and showed his symphonic poem Anoush to him. After the October Revolution, Barkhudarian was appointed as the Head of Musical Department of the People's Commissariat of Education of Armenia. In 1917-1923, Barkhudarian composed Nocturne, Lullaby, Fairy Tale, Naz-Par for piano and other works. Ter-Grigoryan, a well-known musicologist, wrote about Naz-Par: “Naz-Par is a pearl in its beauty, a delicate lacy Armenian solo dance, airy like a dream.” At the same time, Barkhudarian toured as a pianist with great success. He played in Tiflis, Baku, Alexandropol, Moscow, and Saint Petersburg. The concert programs contained his piano pieces as well. Alexander Glazunov, an outstanding Russian composer, spoke about Sarkis Barkhudarian: "I can testify that Sarkis Vasil’evich Barkhudarian has a huge artistic talent. His works are inspirited with a bright Armenian national color, distinguished with sincerity, elegance and harmony of form, which proves that their author is a great musician". In 1923, Barkhudarian became the Head of the Department of Composition at the Tiflis Conservatory. He worked for more than 30 years in this position, simultaneously visiting Armenia and teaching at the Yerevan Conservatory. Melodiousness is the essential feature of Sarkis Barkhudarian's piano works. Melody is always the strongest speaker of various spiritual states. Oriental Dances, being the young composer’s earliest efforts, are in fact the first original Armenian theme works for piano in Armenian music. Hence the significant role of Sarkis Barkhudarian in Armenian music as the first representative of Armenian original piano literature. At that time, other Armenian composers’ piano pieces and series already existed, however, specifically Barkhudarian’s piano pieces stood out with their extraordinary artistry and brightness of content. They had a stunning Armenian national flavor. Astoundingly subtle perception of the rhythmic side of native Armenian folk music organically links Barkhudarian’s art with Armenian folklore. There are great contrasts in his works. Bright and temperamental (Oriental Dances, Circular Dance), gentle and graceful (Naz-Par, Dance of Narine), smooth and rhythmic (Lullaby, Nocturne), Scherzos (Scherzo, Snake-dragonfly). Sargis Barkhudarian has plays constructed in bipartite forms. Those are Dance of Gulnara, Circular Dance, and H-Moll Sketches. But the 6/8 size is considered to be the main thing in his piano pieces, which is also the most typical for the Armenian folk dance music. Such plays as Oriental Dances, Naz-Par, Watercolor, Dance of the Girl, Dance of Gulnara, Smooth Dance, Dance of Narine, Dance of Nanochka, etc. belong to the 6/8. Barkhudarian embodied the plot of Hovhannes Tumanyan’s Anoush in his symphonic poem. Some fragments were recomposed for the piano. Among them - Sorrow of Anoush, Circular Dance, Song of the Girls, etc. Sarkis V. Barkhudarian made a significant contribution to the field of the Armenian piano miniature. His piano miniatures are attracted by the clarity and imagery of the musical language. Even in the "small form" Barkhudarian showed himself as a great master. His piano miniatures are genuine masterpieces of Armenian piano music.

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