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Aram Khatchaturian (1903 - 1978)


Waltz from "Masquerade", Op.48A

Aram Khachaturian was an Armenian who worked all his life in the Soviet Union. For the geographically challenged, Armenia is in the Caucasus area, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, just north of Turkey and Persia. He wrote symphonies and concertos and several ballets; one of these is "Spartacus", made famous for the theme to "The Onedin Line".

Masquerade is a play by the Russian author Michail Lermontov, a contemporary of Pushkin and Tolstoy, who was writing in the early 19th century. There is an enjoyable five movement suite from Khatchaturian's music to this play, which begins with this happy Waltz.

Spartacus, Suite No. 2
I. Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia
II . Entrance of the Merchants - Dance of a Roman Courtesan - General Dance
III . Entrance of Spartacus - Quarrel - Treachery of Harmodius
IV . Dance of the Pirates

Khatchaturian was not a Russian, but came from Armenia , in the far south of the Soviet Union , quite close to the border with Turkey and Iran . The area is an interesting mix, kept cool by breezes from the Black sea and Caspian sea , with the high snowy mountains of the Caucasus to the North, but with a feel of the Middle East in its ancient architecture. The folk music of the area is very ancient indeed, and all of Khatchaturian's music has its roots in this rich and complex music.

His ballet Spartacus is based on the slave uprising which occurred in ancient Rome in about 70 B.C. He was conscious of the potential parallels with socialist politics – the masses of ordinary people rising up and throwing off their oppressors. The Soviet authorities loved it, and put a political spin on the ballet, but Khatchaturian didn't mind. He just used the story as a framework for lots of dramatic dances and exciting music – gladiators, soldiers, slave girls – with a strong hero in Spartacus, the leader of the revolt, and a love story thrown in for good measure.

The ballet was first produced in 1956, and had successful productions in both the Kirov in Leningrad and the Bolshoi in Moscow . He then extracted three different orchestral suites from it, which include contrasted dances from the ballet. Tonight we play the second, which starts with the famous love scene between Spartacus and Phrygia . This is quite long, with one glorious main theme and two contrasting themes. The second movement has three sections: a fast and gritty “Entrance of the Merchants”, a slow and sexy “Dance of a Roman Courtesan”, and an energetic general dance. This leads immediately into the third movement which is quite dramatic. It starts with the Entrance of Spartacus himself, followed by a fast and furious quarrel and a slow, quiet ending. The suite ends with a very short Dance of the Pirates.

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