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Young Aram Khachaturian had aptitude and a strong desire to study music. At the age of nineteen he was gambling that they would be enough to get him into a first-rate music school. Khachaturian was born on June 6, 1903, in Tiflis, in the Republic of Georgia, where he grew up improvising Armenian folk songs on the piano. He was a biology student when he heard his first symphony orchestra in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, a performance that he said “shook him to the depths.”

Khachaturian’s closest advisor at the time was his brother, who steered him toward a career in biology, a discipline that became more and more at odds with Khachaturian’s inclinations. “What, after all, did I know about biology?” Khachaturian reflected in later life. “I must admit it was difficult for me to get used to the subject I had to study, to the laboratory work and to dissecting frogs.”

Khachaturian decided to put his musical inclinations to the test by applying to the Gnessen Music School, a small but important family-run institution in a cramped old house on a Moscow side street. “I faced the admissions committee without even the most elementary knowledge of theory,” Khachaturian recalled later. “To demonstrate my voice and ear I blithely sang a soulful romance that caused the members of the committee to smile.”

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To show his piano aptitude, Khachaturian fell back on his familiarity with Armenian dance tunes and easily passed the tests for ear, rhythm, and musical memory; although this was the first time he had taken such a test.

The committee decided unanimously to enroll Aram Khachaturian in the school. He would go on to become a teacher there on his way to becoming a major composer of the twentieth century.