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“I 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.
Aram 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 style.
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.
The 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 slaves.
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.
In 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 anew…
Kchachaturian was awarded the Lenin Prize for the ballet “Spartacus”.