am setting to work with a feeling of enormous creative
excitement” – wrote Khachaturian on the
1st page of the score of the ballet ‘Spartacus’
in Jule 9, 1950.
On the last page the author’s remark says: “The
work on ‘Spartacus’ lasted three and a half
years. I worked mainly in summer. On the whole, ‘Spartacus’
was written in 8 months. I finished it in February 22,
1954. The entire music was written in Old Rouza in the
Composers House of Creativity. Aram Khachaturian.”
How did the intention to write a ballet on an antique
plot arise? The idea belonged to a well-known theatre
critic N.Volkov. He – the author of libretto of
a number of ballets, including B.Astafyev’s “Bakhchisarai
Fountain” and S.Prokofiev’s “Cinderella”
– turned to “Spartacus” in 1933.
When composing “Spartacus” prior to his
50-year jubilee, Khachaturian was already a fully developed,
mature artist, the author of many remarkable works.
Volkov’s libretto was providing for an extremely
beneficial material for the composer’s inspiration.
Having the intention to create a ballet about Spartacus,
Volkov immediately rejected the idea of melodrama. He
was rather interested in the heroic style. He did not
set the novel “Spartacus” of Rafaello Giovanniolli
as the basis for the ballet’s story. Poring over
ancient historians, Volkov believed only two of them:
Appian and Plutarch.
Khachaturian was preparing to creation of the ballet
“Spartacus” on his own way. He went on a
tour round Italy. There the composer studied antique
pictures and sculptures, saw Ancient Rome’s constructions,
triumphal arches erected by slaves, gladiators’
barracks and Coliseum. He often went through the places
Spartacus and his comrades had used to pass. All that
evoked musical images. And, though the Spartacus’s
rebellion had taken place in the far past – over
2000 years before – the story seemed extremely
actual to Khachaturian.
According to Khachaturian’s words, he was preparing
to the creation of “Spartacus” for 3.5 years.
He faced many difficulties During the work on the ballet:
there were no folk or other music of Spartacus’
epoch, which the composer could use. However, he did
not even try to create the music of that epoch’s
He wrote the music for “Spartacus” the same
way the composers of the past used to do, when they
turned to historical themes. Telling about the past
he skillfully kept his creative style and writing manner.
ballet is written in modern language, with application
of contemporary methods of the musical-theatrical form.
The main personages in the ballet are pictured with
specific and repeated musical themes. Except for individual
characteristics there are common and national ones,
as far as the folk is the main and leading hero of the
work. Such is the theme of Rome, the theme of oppressed
For the first time, “Spartacus” was staged
by Leningrad Theater of Opera and Ballet (now Mariin
Theater) on 27 December, 1956 (coreographer L.Yakobson,
conductor P.Feldt). Live sculpture groups used as an
art background for the pictures of the ballet were a
successful innovation of the stage director.
On March 12, 1958, at Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the
distinguished ballet-master Igor Moiseev carried out
the long-awaited staging of “Spartacus”
(conductor Yu.Fayer). It was a grandiose and entertaining
performance. The audience was especially impressed by
the mass scenes where nearly whole ballet staff of Bolshoy
Theater was engaged.
1968, Y.Grigorovich staged the third production of “Spartacus”
in Bolshoi Theatre. He called it “a performance
for four soloists and corps de ballet”. However,
this time Khachaturian’s score sounded completely
in a new manner – freshly and contemporarily.
“If the sense of the new ‘Spartacus’
should be expressed in one word, then I choose the word
‘modernity’”, – wrote the famous
Soviet ballerina Galina Ulanova. Under conducting of
Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Khachaturian’s music acquired
new strength and highly tragic sounding.
It is the third, Moscow staging of “Spartacus,
that prompted us to review many of the ideas about Khachaturian’s
work and the range of the variety of imaginary-emotional
spheres of human life, expressed in his music. It also
made us to hear many other compositions of Khachaturian
Kchachaturian was awarded the Lenin Prize for the ballet