“The Magic Flute” of Mikael Tariverdiev

by Yulia Berry

Composer Mikael Tariverdiev’s talent emerged early: he wrote his first ballet at the age of 13, and his student works were performed at the same concert as compositions by Prokofiev. Tariverdiev’s songs and musical themes are heard in classic Soviet cinema, such as “Seventeen Moments of Spring” and “The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!” as well as in 130 other Soviet films. He received 18 international awards, including the American Academy of Music Award for his vocal and instrumental compositions. He is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the winner of the most awards for music written for films.

His life was like a real adventure novel, where there was everything: incredible fame and success, black envy, Shakespearean betrayal of his beloved woman, being ostracized by his colleagues, and visiting Chernobyl.

Mikael Tariverdiev was born in Tbilisi, Georgia (former Soviet republic) He stumbled upon music by accident, seeing a neighbor’s piano and running to play it. Soon the owners got tired of his frequent visits and convinced his father Leon Tariverdiev to buy his son a piano. Thus, an instrument appeared in the family, and the young musician entered a ten-year school at the Tbilisi Conservatory.

Tariverdiev quickly got tired of practicing. At school, he was required to play scales and his least favorite piece, “The Funeral of a Doll,” by Tchaikovsky. “What a doll! I never had a doll! The very name insulted my dignity,” the composer recalled about his childhood feelings. His mother had to almost force him to sit down at the instrument. However, soon Mikael not only mastered it masterfully, but also began composing.
Recording his own tunes and compositions proved to be a challenging task.

When I learned to record, I understood one rule: the first stage of learning or skill is recording music, and upon examination, it turns out to be much poorer and less interesting than what you imagined and played. The next stage is recording invented music, and it sounds as you imagined it. And much later, you record composed music, and it sounds more interesting than you imagined

Mikael Tariverdiev.

Soon the young musician developed a new hobby – reading. He didn’t have enough time to just read books for long, so Mikael came up with a trick: he put books on the music stand, read and improvised at the same time. “As a result, I developed quite a great technique,” Tariverdiev said. Talk about multitasking!

One of the composer’s first works was the anthem of a school in Tbilisi. At the age of thirteen, he wrote his first ballets – “On the Shore” and “Interrogation” – with librettos by his classmate Georgy Gelovani. The performances were directed by Vakhtang Chabukiani, a soloist and ballet master of the Leningrad Theater of Opera and Ballet named after S.M. Kirov (now the Mariinsky Theater), who lived in Georgia at that time. “On the Shore” and “Interrogation” were performed on the stage of the Tbilisi Theater every Sunday throughout the entire concert season in 1946-1947.

The composer’s youth coincided with the post-war wave of arrests in Soviet Union. The families of friends suffered, his father was arrested, and the mother was threatened with trial for being from a wealthy family. Therefore, after music school and college, Tariverdiev did not go to Moscow, as he wanted, but entered the Yerevan Conservatory to be closer to his mother. However, in less than two years he decided to move to Moscow.

In the capital, Tariverdiev applied to the Gnessin Music Pedagogical Institute. There were many applicants: seven people competed for one spot. Applicants were allocated classes to prepare for entrance exams. Tariverdiev’s program was not as grandiose as that of other contenders: just a few romances and piano pieces. However, he performed them virtuosically. While Tariverdiev rehearsed, the rector of Gnessin, Yuri Muromtsev, entered his room three times, but the young musician, not recognizing the famous conductor, told him to leave the room each time. The examination board evaluated his program as “five plus”, which was the highest grade. “You rode into the institute on a white horse,” said the head of the composition class, Aram Khachaturian.

In the dormitory where Tariverdiev lived, there was one piano for eight people, so the composer practiced the piano and organ in Khachaturian’s class. He soon became Aram Khachaturian’s favorite student.

With Aram Khachaturian (left)

Mikael Tariverdiev wrote his first music for cinema in his fourth year of study. Young film directors came to the Gnessin Music School in search of a composer. Everyone refused – they didn’t want to write songs for free, but Tariverdiev agreed, even despite the upcoming exams. It was then that the composer entered a new world: he saw how cinema was created. Tariverdiev composed the music quickly, and it was performed by the Gnessin Youth Orchestra.

“I was always extremely interested in cinema,” said Mikael Leonidovich. “I loved this atmosphere, in cinema I could perform various creative experiments, and this turned into a kind of fuel for working in other genres. And, finally, cinema and television films gave reaching an incomparably larger number of viewers. In general, I am convinced that if Mozart lived today, he would certainly write music for films.”

In 1957, Tariverdiev was accepted into the Union of Composers, and he was welcomed by the already famous Dmitry Shostakovich. Soon another pleasant event happened: the star of the Soviet opera stage Zara Dolukhanova wanted to perform Tariverdiev’s vocal cycle based on the poems of a famous poetess Bella Akhmadulina. The first concert took place in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall of the Moscow Philharmonic. Tariverdiev’s musical works were performed alongside the works of his idol, composer Sergei Prokofiev.

The composer recalled:

“There hung a concert poster that etched itself into my memory: “Mikael Tariverdiev, first section, Sergei Prokofiev, second section.” Seeing the printed poster made me want to shout, “People! Look at the poster!”

The concert took place in front of a full hall. Zara Dolukhanova invited Tariverdiev to go on stage, but he refused.

“I was afraid that I would definitely fall if I climbed the stairs,” the composer recalled. “Zara leaned towards me, I kissed her hand. It was the happiest day of my life.”

Betrayal according to Shakespeare

Tariverdiev, according to his own claim, experienced Shakespearean betrayal by his beloved woman. This refers to a famous actress Lyudmila Maksakova, for whom the composer was ready to go to prison. Their romance lasted three years, but ended tragically in an instant. On May 9, 1967, a couple and friends had dinner at the famous restaurant “National”, drinking alcohol. Tariverdiev’s car, driven by Maksakova, hit a person. Three days later, the sixteen-year-old boy died. Tariverdiev courageously took the blame, stating that he was driving the car himself. At the decisive moment, Maksakova simply left Moscow, leaving her risk-taking lover to the mercy of the investigation. After that, he ceased all communication with her. The composer spent two years in a pre-trial detention center, after which he was released under an amnesty.

This was not a momentary weakness for the actress. On the contrary, Maksakova’s subsequent fate confirmed that dismissing dear and close people from her life was quite normal for her. Many years later, she renounced her own daughter and even publically expressed satisfaction when her son-in-law was shot to deaf.

The legendary “Seventeen Moments Of Spring”

In 1968, Yulian Semyonov, one of the pioneers of “Investigative journalism” in the Soviet periodicals wrote a script for a film about a Soviet spy and showed it to film director Tatyana Lioznova. “Seventeen Moments of Spring” portrays a Soviet spy operating in Nazi Germany. Tariverdiev was offered to work on the music for it.

One of the most striking and memorable scenes of the film “Seventeen Moments of Spring” is the meeting of Stirlitz (SS Standartenführer, Soviet intelligence officer who worked in the interests of the USSR in Nazi Germany) with his wife in the cafe. This scene is one of the most difficult in the film: its participants do not speak and practically do not move in the frame: for five and a half minutes they are in the same set without a single word. The actors are completely deprived of expressive tools; according to the plot of the film, they cannot even be shown that they are familiar.

Tariverdiev says:

“The intelligence officer’s wife goes into a cafe with shopping, accompanied by a man from the embassy, not even suspecting that on this very day she will see her husband right now. And in this cafe there is already Stirlitz (spy, her husband). The accompanying man asks to look to the right, but discreetly, and she sees her husband. The slightest reaction could cost him his life.

When they told me about such meetings, it simply shocked me. And I wrote the music. Eight minute prelude. This episode in the film turned out to be unprecedented in terms of the duration of the music. About eight minutes and not a single word.

The accompanying person says: “Now I’ll go buy some matches,” and a scene begins where Stirlitz meets with the same glances. In this place, all the noise was removed – all the real sounds of the cafe, the clinking of dishes, the knocking of appliances, all the creaks, movements – all the sound was removed, only music sounded.

The scene of the meeting with the wife is infinitely large by cinematic standards. It lasts almost two hundred and fifty meters, that is, about eight minutes, without complex words, without obvious movements, only the approach of the camera.

By all cinematic standards this should be endlessly boring, it is simply impossible and in theory should have been reduced to about twenty meters. Lioznova (film director) kept all two hundred and fifty meters and won.”

Watch this iconic scene with the famous music:

The series is considered the most successful Soviet spy thriller ever produced and the most popular television series in Soviet history, attracting more viewers than the incredibly popular hockey games. During showing the city streets were empty. Even the crime rate has dropped significantly. Power stations had to simultaneously increase production as the switching on of so many televisions caused a spike in electricity consumption.

Seventeen Moments of Spring remained extremely popular after its first run in 1973. In 1995, after another re-run, Russian commentator Divanov noted:

“Just like 20 years ago, city streets are empty during the showing… A drop in the crime level almost to zero is noted in cities, which testifies to the popularity of Seventeen Moments.”

Since I was born in the Soviet Union, this music has always been dear to my heart. Together with the great pianist Miles Fellenberg, we performed “Improvisation”, arranged by Elena Elenova, in Boston in March of 2024.

Another betrayal by collegues and audience

After this film, Tariverdiev was at the peak of his popularity. However, his colleagues were very jealous of his fame. In 1973, someone sent a telegram to the Composers’ Union claiming to be from famous film composer Francis Lai. In it, Tariverdiev was accused of plagiarism – supposedly the music for “Seventeen Moments of Spring” was actually written by the French composer.

Later, it turned out that Lai himself knew nothing about the telegram. However, Tariverdiev’s reputation seriously suffered. Although the number of concerts did not decrease, almost every time he was asked if he had stolen music from Lai. “Since then, I hate the audience,” the composer shared.

Music heritage

Tariverdiev was involved in the creation of 132 Soviet films. In 1977, the film with Tariverdiev’s music – “The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!” – received the State Prize of the USSR.

Tariverdiev wrote more than a hundred songs and romances. In his late years, the composer has composed predominantly instrumental works. During his career, he created four ballets, five operas, a symphony, three organ concertos, two violin concertos and orchestra, and a viola concerto with string orchestra. Tariverdiev has won 18 international awards, including the American Academy of Music Award.

Below watch a video of Mikael Tariverdiev’s performance of William Shakespeare’s 102nd sonnet set to his own music. I think the beautiful and deep meaning of this sonnet incredibly accurately reflects the composer’s life motto, and he chose this sonnet not by chance.

Michael Tariverdiev – Love (Sonnet of Love) 102 sonnet by Shakespeare. Fragment concert “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” – 1982. Performed by the composer himself.

My love is strengthen’d, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear:
That love is merchandiz’d whose rich esteeming
The owner’s tongue doth publish every where.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,
And stops her pipe in growth of riper days:
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough,
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
Therefore, like her, I sometime hold my tongue,
Because I would not dull you with my song.

William Shakespeare

I am convinced that he loved the flute because he often included it in his music. He even wrote the beautiful melody “The Magic Flute”:

The Magic Flute by Mikael Tariverdiev

Requiem for Chernobyl

In 1986, Mikael Tariverdiev visited Chernobyl and saw empty houses.

“I didn’t intend to write anything about Chernobyl. In the spring of 1987, the Symphony for Organ arose in me. It came all at once, in its entirety. I felt as if I were just a receiver who caught the echo of some wave,” he recalled.

The composer initially performed the symphony in a recording studio and only then transferred it to paper.

In his book “I’m Just Living” Mikael Tariverdiev wrote about the symphony:

This is a requiem, this is a tribute to the memory of those people who protected us from troubles”

The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986, when the No. 4 reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. It’s one of two nuclear accidents rated at the highest severity level on the International Nuclear Event Scale, alongside the 2011 Fukushima incident. The emergency response involved over 500,000 personnel and cost an estimated 18 billion roubles, approximately US$68 billion in 2019 inflation-adjusted terms. It’s considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Please watch the video of the first movement of the Symphony for organ below. I must confess, its effect was so intense and compelling that it took me several attempts to finish watching it.

The fact is that on April 26, 1986, my family and I were in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, just 465 km (288 miles) away. I remember the moment when we learned about this disaster. This was a few days later. They didn’t immediately tell people what happened. And although I was a little girl, I remember this feeling of oppressive anxiety and despair of people realizing the scale of the disaster and not being able to do anything. We managed to leave soon, but the thought of those people never leaves me.

In 1994, while vacationing in Yalta, Tariverdiev recorded his last composition – the Piano Trio. Two years later, the composer passed away. Unfinished works remained in his personal archive. In 1998, the Mikael Tariverdiev Prize for Best Music was established as part of the main competition of the Open Russian Film Festival “Kinotavr”.

His widow, Vera Gorislavovna Tariverdieva, a musicologist, is deeply involved in upholding the memory of Mikael Tariverdiev. She is the president of the Mikael Tariverdiev Charitable Foundation, the author of the book “Biography of Music,” which chronicles the life and work of Mikael Tariverdiev, and the artistic director of the Mikael Tariverdiev International Organ Competition.

Mikael Tariverdiev with his wife, Vera Tariverdieva

Boris Pokrovsky, famous stage director of the Bolshoi Theatre between 1943 and 1982, in his interview from 1996 said about Tariverdiev music:

He is always easy to recognize among other composers. In music of all genres, Mikael Tariverdiev has his own unique voice. Sometimes he pays attention to the old days, and sometimes, on the contrary, he throws things much forward, usually for our lives. But every time he gets into our soul, into our heart.

…I think about how sad it is that Mikael left us. Because, I think, he would be needed more than anyone right now. He is needed now in order to try to preserve in the hearts of each of us a feeling of tenderness, kindness and sadness. Such a national feeling of light sadness, without which Russia cannot exist. And which Russia really needs.

From the book “Mikael Tariverdiev. I’m just living. Vera Tariverdieva. Music biography”
M.Tariverdiev, Snow above Leningrad (now Saint-Petersburg), flute and organ

I would like to complete the story about this brilliant composer with his own words, which show his essence and the composer’s desire for the noble goal of making people’s lives better, more sublime, more beautiful:

The destruction that occurs in the soul is reflected in art. For some, it is as a protest and the introduction of an approach to spirituality, warmth, tenderness. For others – as a reflection of the destruction that we see in life. Today I can say calmly: I like music with melody, no matter what kind. I like music that is addressed to the soul, to God. I want good. I cannot live inside this evil, but in art I perceive this same evil.


Vladimir Kudrya’s flute orchestra at the anniversary pedagogical concert of the Gnessin Music School, dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the department of wind and percussion instruments. November 2022. M. Tariverdiev “Seventeen Moments of Spring”. Solo by Vladimir Kudrya on the same flute that sounds in the legendary film. Piano part: Renata Vakhitova.

Yulia Berry


Yulia Berry is founder of Web Flute Academy, The Babel Flute, The Babel Flute Courses and New England Flute Institute, creator and developer of the popular “All about Flute” Mobile app and the First Global Game for Flutists, highly experienced flutist and mentor teaching at all levels, with a Doctor of Music Arts degree focused in Flute Performance, Pedagogy and Music Education from the Saint Petersburg State Conservatory named after N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov (Russia).

She has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in prestigious venues around the world, and has been praised for her virtuosity, musicality, and expressive playing.

Yulia Berry is known for her expertise in flute pedagogy, innovative and effective teaching methods, which emphasize technique, musicality, and artistry, and her dedication to helping students achieve their full potential as flutists.

She wrote many articles on the connection of the flute with art and the role of the flute in the arts and cultures of different eras and cultures.