for Clarinet, Violin and Piano (1932)




The Trio for clarinet (in B-flat), violin and piano (1932) by Aram Khachaturian (Арам Ильич Хачатурян, 1903, Tbilisi–1978, Moscow) is certainly one of the most frequently played pieces for this instrumentation, and one of the few works for clarinet from the former Soviet Union that has made its way into the standard clarinet repertoire. The success of Khachaturian´s work is not surprising, as the Trio is very enjoyable to both performers and the public through its lively rhythms, wide use of Caucasian folk music elements, and its overall passionate character. The performers communicate intensely in the interwoven texture among the three instruments. 

Khachaturian was still a composition student of Nikolay Myaskovsky at the Moscow conservatory when he composed the trio in 1932. The first performance took place in Paris in 1933, which was quite exceptional for that time especially regarding the fact that Khachaturian was still young and unknown. The background to the piece includes an extended visit by Sergey Prokofiev to Russia in 1932, where he heard the trio in Myaskovsky’s composition class. Within the politics of enhancing cultural exchange between the Soviet Union and France, Prokofiev was tasked to show some recent work of young Soviet composers abroad. The first performance thus took place in the Parisian Société Triton, founded by Pierre-Ocatve Ferroud in 1932 to promote contemporary chamber music, where Prokofiev was performing on some occasions as well (Streller 2003, 48). 

The trio consists of three movements with a total duration of approximately 16 minutes:
1. Andante con dolore
2. Allegretto
3. Moderato

Video ex.5.1.1: Lyric Folk Melody (Khachaturian, Trio, mvt. 1, mm. 4-10)


In the first movement, Andante con dolore, molto espressione, the clarinet enters with a smooth and singing melody on the calm, yet steady chord accompaniment of the piano (Video ex.5.1.1: Lyric folk melody). The violin joins in with its own countermelody – at the same time independent and still in very close contact with the clarinet. Clarinet and violin are involved in a constant dialogue, playing folk tunes with rich ornamentations, which sound improvised at certain moments. At times, there is an impression of speaking over each other rather than speaking with each other. The second movement, Allegro, opens with a playful 3/8 passage, pizzicato and staccato (Video ex.5.1.2: Playfulness). The following main theme, Allegretto, is characteristic through its iambic rhythm, which is again richly ornamented. The entire trio is to a great extent based on rhythmic characteristics, together with exploring the lyric qualities of the clarinet. In this trio, Khachaturian combines the authentic folk music tradition from his home region that he grew up around with the academic composition techniques he was studying at the conservatory at that time. Concerning the use of national and folkloristic motives, Khachaturian fitted well in the surrounding cultural politics under Stalin.


Video ex.5.1.2: Playfulness (Khachaturian, Trio, mvt. 2, mm. 1-30)


The final movement, Moderato, opens with the clarinet unaccompanied and presenting an uncomplicated Uzbek folk song. The clarinet sound alludes at times to the sound of the Duduk, a single reed woodwind instrument from Caucasia. Throughout the movement, this folk song evolves in diverse variations. As in the previous movements, all three performers are in constant dialogue, especially violin and clarinet with the melismatic melodies changing between the performers (Video ex.5.1.3: Conversation). The feather-light, fading end of the composition leaves an optimistic impression, which again was a recognized characteristic of that time period. 

When comparing Khachaturian´s trio to Ustvolskaya´s Clarinet Trio (see chapter 5.3), which was composed later but still under the Stalin regime, the two works show essential differences: the intense communication between the performers in Khachaturian´s work against the cool distance in Ustvolkaya´s composition; the vivid, rhythmical character in Khachaturian´s music against the fragile, transparent texture of Ustvolskaya´s trio; the optimism and joy in Khachaturian´s trio against the suspended expression of emotion in Ustvolskaya´s music.

Video ex.5.1.3: Conversation (Khachaturian, Trio, mvt. 3, mm. 99-122)



Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet

Eeva Oksala, violin

Kirill Kozlovski, piano

- - -

3rd doctoral concert "Facets of Expression" 

27.09.2016, Helsinki Music Centre