Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) was a Soviet Armenian composer and conductor. He wrote Masquerade in 1941 as incidental music for a production of the play of the same name by Russian poet and playwright Mikhail Lermontov. The play tells the story of a world-weary aristocrat who, suspicious of his wife’s adultery, becomes consumed by jealousy, murders her and is driven to insanity upon the revelation of her innocence.
In 1944 Khachaturian extracted five movements to make the well-known symphonic suite, of which the Waltz is the first – and most famous – movement. The waltz accompanies a scene at a masked ball where the play’s heroine, Nina, exclaims “how beautiful the new waltz is … something between worry and joy gripped my heart” – a brief that Khachaturian struggled with.
A former teacher dug out numerous romances and waltzes dating from Lermontov’s time to try and provide some appropriate stylistic and melodic inspiration. “Had it not been for the strenuous search”, Khachaturian freely admitted, he would not have discovered the second theme of his waltz which acted “like a magic link, allowing me to pull out the whole chain. The rest of the waltz came to me easily, with no trouble at all”.
It is at the ball that Nina’s husband’s suspicions are awoken and the music is simultaneously sweeping and beautiful but also rather menacing, hinting at the sinister fate that awaits Nina.
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