Aram Khachaturian Composer
Musicology:The dates in the headnote pertain to the complete ballet itself, not to the four suites Khachaturian extracted from it. The first three were written in the period of 1955-1957 and the last in 1967, just as he was about to revise the complete ballet. Precisely why he devoted so much energy to this work is not clear.
Spartacus (ballet)Year: 1950-54
Pr. Instrument: Orchestra
- 1.Introduction. Dance of the Nymphs
- 2.Adagio of Aegina and Harmodius
- 3.Variation of Aegina and Bacchanalia
- 4.Scene and Dance with Crotala
- 5.Dance of the Gaditanian Maidens and Victory of Spartacus
- 1.Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia
- 2.Entrance of Merchants. Dance of Roman Courtesan. General Dance
- 3.Entrance of Spartacus. Quarrel. Harmodius' Treachery
- 4.Dance of the Pirates
- 1.Dance of a Greek Slave
- 2.Dance of an Egyptian Girl
- 3.At the Circus
Perhaps part of the reason is that its story of slaves rebelling against oppressive rulers was just the what the Soviet musical czars were looking to promote in their art, an allegory of the proletariat struggling against their bourgeois overlords. Spartacus was a Thracian warrior who led a slave revolt against Rome, beginning in 73 B.C. After the seizure of Mount Vesuvius, set up as their fortress, they were defeated in bloody battle by Licinius Crassus and Pompey in 71 B.C. Six thousand captured slaves were subsequently crucified on the Appian Way, including Spartacus.
The four suites extracted from the ballet consist, respectively, of five, four, five, and four numbers, and contain well over half the music from the complete work, which has over 50 numbers. The suites often incorporate music from several numbers into one movement.
Much of the music in both the ballet and its suites has that far-Eastern flavor that Khachaturian was famous for, as in Dance of an Egyptian Girl (No. 2 in Suite No. 3), or that rollicking saber-dance style, as heard in the Dance of the Pirate (No. 4 in Suite No. 2). Among the most famous music sections in the ballet is the love of Spartacus and Phrygia, which has an exoticism in its romance, a sort of slick quality to its appeal, that would not make it seem out of place in a 1950s big-screen love story.
Even though virtually none of the music is an attempt at profundity, there is a certain amount of grimness in it, as can be heard in Call to Arms, Spartacus' Uprising (No. 4 in Suite No. 4). In the end, this ballet, unpretentious and melodic, must be ranked a success. To those who admire the exotic, colorful, and folk-flavored style of Khachaturian, Spartacus and its offshoots will offer substantial rewards.
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