The music, images and life of Soviet film composer Mikael Tariverdiev

'Lost In Music'  A Short introduction to Mikael Tariverdiev


In 2011, Stephen Coates of the band The Real Tuesday Weld found himself sheltering from the cold in a cafe in Moscow with a friend. Fascinated by the music that was playing, he asked the waitress and was told ‘it was something from the old times'. It turned out to be the soundtrack for the Sixties cult Soviet film 'Goodbye Boys' composed by Mikael Tariverdiev. 

That year he listened to not much else and began a journey of discovery that led to the composer’s widow, to a defected filmmaker, to a Steinway piano taken from Herman Goering and to the wonderful world of an acclaimed Russian composer who is almost completely unknown outside his own country.

This journey has produced ‘Film Music’ the first major release of Tariverdiev's film music in the West. The recordings are completely new transfers made from original half-inch tapes in the Tariverdiev family apartment in Moscow. They contain several versions of tracks which have never been released, even in Russia. Stephen and Photographer Paul Heartfield worked with the late composer’s wife Vera Tariverdieva and Konstantin Chernozantonsky using Tariverdiev’s original Hungarian reel to reel machine to make the transfers for this release.

The songs have been chosen for Earth Recordings by Vera and Stephen and are published by Stephen’s publishing company Antique Beat. They are thematically programmed around Vera’s intimate knowledge of her husband’s music. It is with her blessing and dedication to see his legacy live on that we are able to bring his music to new audiences. 

Born in 1931 in Tbilisi, Georgian SSR to Armenian parents, Tariverdiev was a highly esteemed artist remembered for his work in film and music in Russia. His repertoire includes scoring for successful cult TV films ‘Seventeen Moments Of Spring’ a 1973 twelve-part Soviet television series based on the novel of the same title by Yulian Semyonov and the romantic comedy  ‘The Irony Of Fate’ (1976), one of the most famous and popular Soviet television productions ever made. Both programmes remain highly regarded with the latter regularly being aired on national television at Christmas.

Tariverdiev came to public attention by working with his lifelong friend, the director Mikhail Khalik on the coming-of-age film ‘Goodbye Boys' (Dosvedanya Malchiki) in 1964. The pair went on to produce several other films together until the early 1970s when Khalik’s refusal to cooperate with the censor led to his defection. 

Although cinema and music was the root of Mikael’s passion he also enjoyed creating alternative styles of dialogue with his audience. He began to work on vocal cycles (musical settings for poetry) and although this was not usual for a cinematic audience, he began to experiment. In the film ‘A Man Follows The Sun’, directed by Khalik, his setting of Semyon Kirsanov’s poem ‘You Have Such Eyes’ against impressionistic scenes marked the beginning of an aesthetic he developed through the 1960s and called ‘The Third Trend’. Choosing to go against the formality of the Soviet musical academic establishment, he sang some vocal cycles himself, pronouncing words emotionally and so connecting with the style of French Chanson and the Russian Bard tradition.

Tariverdiev scored over 130 films during his lifetime, he also wrote classical music for more than a hundred romances, ballets, operas and chamber vocal cycles. He received many awards for his work including 18 international prizes; the American Music Academy's award (1975), three Nika awards for the best film scores of the year, USSR State Prize (1977), the Lenin Konsomol prize (1977) and  the title of People's artist of Russia (1986). Aside from writing music he also went on to be Head of the Composers’ Guild Of Soviet Cinematographer’s Union.

‘Film Songs’ unveils the extraordinary life of an unusual composer who was acutely aware of the political environment although it was not central to his work. The 3LP boxset is beautifully packaged within hard outer slipcase and comes with a 24 page booklet bursting with unseen documents and materials from the Tariverdiev home. The rare photographs come from Mikael’s personal collection including stills from the film sets he was working on, his and Vera’s apartment and images of his studio.

Friend Mikhail Khalik on Mikael Tariverdiev: 
“There is probably no one in the artistic world who knew Mikael Tariverdiev as well as I did. We met in 1956. We were students. A young man, big-eyed and smiling like someone out of an Italian film, joined our class (the class of Sergey Yutkevich) and this young man said to us:
‘Listen up guys, we’re all geniuses here, aren’t we? Let’s make genius films. I’ll help you!’ 

And help he did, even with our student projects back in ’56. In 1957, we began our diploma projects as students of Aram Khachaturian. We made our first proper film together in a professional studio, an adaptation of Fadeyev’s novel The Rout. It became the first diploma film ever to make it into the cinema. We were very young and we wanted to show everything we were capable of. Naturally there was nothing groundbreaking about the film; it did not speak in a particularly new language. But it was our first, and we had, as it were, grown some muscles in making it. By the time of our next film, ‘A Man Following the Sun’, we had found our language. Mikael became quite famous after that – and so did yours truly, for a while.

Our work developed in tandem quite naturally of its own accord. At first it was because we were both young and shared the same notions of beauty. And after that first collaboration, I did not want to work with anyone else. I saw and heard in Mikael’s music, in his style, a sense of harmony that was close to my own. Besides, we talked to each other a lot and discovered we had much in common— including similar details in our past. For example, I had lived in Tbilisi during the war. These childhood memories turned out to be helpful and we suddenly realized we were on the same wavelength. What else did we have in common? Perhaps the most important thing was our sense of freedom. Of course we understood what kind of place we lived in; one had to deceive the authorities to get anything done. Nevertheless, we were free on the inside and never gave that much thought, or we did so only after we had finished something. Then we would sit there thinking if it would get passed by the censor or not, and what we had to do and what kind of lies to tell for that to happen. But in the middle of working on something, I remember very well that we felt completely free. Both of us.”

Stephen Coates and Paul Heartfield, are also responsible for the ‘X-ray Audio’ an exhibition and event series that discusses the post war risky trade of bootleg ‘bone music’ released in Russia. ‘Bone music’ releases were recorded onto X-rays plates as a means to get past the ruthless state controlled Soviet recording industry. “In an era of unprecedented ubiquity for recorded music, it’s almost impossible to imagine that people could go to such lengths to hear a song.” Guardian.