Khachaturian Spartacus Program Notes
Aram Khachaturian (1903-78) is Armenia’s most famous composer. The second-most is probably Arno Babajanian… it’s fairly safe to guess that most people with names ending “-ian” have Armenian ancestry (this includes the celebrity family the Kardashians!). Khachaturian was celebrated through most of his career in the USSR, as a composer who successfully incorporated folk elements of Armenian music into a symphonic style leaning on Rimsky-Korsakov more than his contemporaries Shostakovich or Prokofiev.
Spartacus is Khachaturian’s third ballet, premiered by the Kirov (Leningrad) in 1956. Based on a historical story, it’s a well-chosen plot line for a Soviet climate: the slave/proletariat leader (though former king) Spartacus leads a rebellion against immoral and conquering Westerners, the Romans. Finding some success, he rescues his wife Phrygia (their love scene is the first movement, Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia). The suite continues with one of those ballet scenes lending spectacle if not plot development: Entrance of the Merchants - Dance of a Roman Courtesan - General Dance. Sadly, Spartacus’s rebellion fails - his allies quarrel, and Spartacus is betrayed by the mercenary pirates on whom they depended.