Spartacus Suite No. 2 : Work information

Aram Il'yich Khachaturian ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Simonov (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Spartacus Suite No. 2
Work number
1955-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Alan Peters
Dick Lewzey
Recording date

Track listing

  • Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia 10:36 min


Khachaturian is perhaps the archetypal Soviet composer: in mixing Russian traditions with local folklorism he represents the Soviet ideal of socialist realism in the arts.

The composer's third ballet, Spartacus, was composed in 1954 and staged in 1956, winning the Lenin prize in 1959. The story centres around the character of Spartacus, a slave who leads his comrades against their Roman oppressors.

Khachaturian keenly felt the relevance of the subject:

" that many oppressed nations of the world are intensifying their struggle for national liberation and independence, the immortal image of Spartacus has acquired particular significance."

and composed a passionate, post-Romantic ballet. He later extracted four orchestral suites from the ballet allowing the work to reach new audiences in the concert hall; the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia has become particularly popular.

The Composers

Aram Il'yich Khachaturian

Born in Tbilisi, Khachaturian played the horn as a young boy and taught himself to play the piano.  Moving to Moscow in 1921 he persuaded the Gnesin Music Academy to overlook his lack of formal training and accept him as a student.  He began there in 1922 as a cellist, taking composition from 1925.  After a few well-received chamber works, he gained entry to the Moscow Conservatoire, studying under Miaskovsky and others from 1929 until the end of his postgraduate studies in 1937.  Prokofiev had championed his 1932 Trio for clarinet, violin and piano in Paris, and in keeping with the political mood of the time he dedicated his First Symphony (1935) to the 15th anniversary of the Soviet Armenian Republic.  A Piano Concerto (1936) and Violin Concerto (1940) confirmed his reputation abroad and his Pesnya Stalina (Song of Stalin, 1937) temporarily served to stand him in good stead with the authorities.

From 1939 Khachaturian acted as head of the Union of Soviet Composers, constantly in fear of the repercussions were he or his charges not to follow the party line.  Although his works of the 1940's were not especially confrontational or experimentational, as head of an organisation which represented Prokofiev and Dimitry Shostakovich, he too was seen as guilty of the nebulous crime of 'formalism', receiving severe censure in 1948.  Prior to this he had written some of his most accessible works, such as Gayane (1942), from which comes the famous Sabre Dance.

From 1950 he began to conduct and to teach composition at the institutions he had previously attended.  After Stalin's death in 1953 it became safer for him to champion other composers' artistic freedom, although he himself remained essentially conservative in outlook.  The ballet Spartacus (1956) was among his later successes and during the 1960's he attempted to redesign the traditional concerto form.  The Soviet authorities became increasingly lenient towards Khachaturian, perhaps realising that in him they had their ideal composer; a writer of popular, emotive, folkloric music.  He died in 1978.