Alexander Spendiaryan (Spendiarov) was an Armenian music composer, conductor, founder of Armenian national symphonic music and one of the patriarchs of Armenian classical music. His compositions include the Almast opera and the Yerevan Etudes among others.
Spendiaryan artistic abilities were formed in early childhood. He inherited his musical abilities from his mother who played the piano. When Spendiaryan was seven he wrote a waltz. In 1890 he went to Moscow and studied for one year in the Natural Sciences faculty of Moscow University, and then in 1895 he graduated from the Law faculty. At the same time he continued his violin classes. In 1896 Spendiaryan went to St. Petersburg to show his compositions to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who greatly admired his music and encouraged him to turn deeper into his people's folklore. From 1896 to 1900 he took private composition lessons with Rimsky-Korsakov. According to Alexander Glazunov, "Rimsky-Korsakov was perfectly satisfied with the results of Spendiaryan's work and considered him a serious, talented composer with a great flair for composition".
Spendiaryan was awarded the Glinka prize three times for his three works: the symphonic picture "Tree palms" in 1908, the legend "Preacher Beda" in 1910 and the melody declamation "We’ll have a rest" in 1912. His symphonic pieces, songs and romances, choral works, and musico-declamatory pieces earned him high marks amongst audiences and professional musicians. Being a capable conductor, he was able to train the members of orchestras to play well during rehearsals. Spendiaryan led concerts in Kharkov, Odessa, Moscow, Petersburg, Doni-Rostov and New Nakhijevan. He spent much of his time in Yalta and Sudak. While he was living in Crimea, Spendiaryan met Anton Chekhov, Maxim Gorky and Fyodor Shalyapin. Alexander Glazunov was also a guest at his house.
In 1910 Spendiaryan became a member of Yalta's Russian Musical Company. The symphonic poem "Three Palms" occupies a special place among Spendiaryan's symphonic compositions. With its poetic tone, its picturesque nature, and bright colouring, it resembles the oriental programme works of the Mighty Handful. Spendiaryan toured abroad performing this original piece in Berlin, Copenhagen, New York and elsewhere. Other works by Spendiaryan include "Concert Prelude", "Concert Waltz", and "Etude of Jewish Themes", Cantabile and Prelude for the string quartet, Baracarolle, Minuet, Scherzo, romances and vocal instrumental works. "Oh Rose" (Aye Vart) was a very famous classical piece in Russia and former USSR.
In 1916 Spendiaryan performed in Tbilisi where he met poet Hovhannes Tumanian and decided to write an opera based on "The Capture of Tmpkabert" poem. In 1916 the libretto of Almast opera was ready, and Spendiaryan began work on the opera, and finished the opera's vocal score in 1923. He continued his work on the instrumentation right up to his death. The instrumantation of the forth act of "Almast" was completed by M. O. Shteinburg.
On December 10, 1924, Spendiarian, newly arrived in Yerevan from Russia, conducted an 18-member orchestra consisting of conservatory professors and students. This inaugural concert proved that Armenia had the potential to sustain a symphony orchestra. The following year, on March 20, 1925, Professor Arshak Adamian, Rector of the Yerevan Conservatory, led the first concert of the then newly founded symphony orchestra. At the time, Spendiarian accurately predicted "There will come a time, when our yet modest student orchestra will proudly bear the honorary title of the Armenian State Orchestra."
The "Yerevan Sketches (Etudes)" (1925) comprise some of the best work of Spendiaryan's last years. The Sketches are proceeded by numerous notations of folk themes, and experiments in their arrangement and harmonisation. In the Sketches Spendiaryan introduced the national dhol and dayira. In 1926 the Soviet Armenian Government awarded Spendiaryan the title of People's Artist on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his achievements in musical and public life.
Spendiaryan died after a short illness in Yerevan in 1928.