Khachaturian (1903-78) - Adagio
of Spartacus and Phrygia
originally intended to become a biologist but, as luck would have it, got
sidetracked into a musical career. A staunch Armenian, virtually all his
music celebrates the Armenian national culture, replete with exotic colours
and vibrant, sometimes almost brutal rhythms. His melodic devices are frequently
Mugam-derived, often inciting toccata-like passage-work which can, occasionally,
seem maddening to western ears. Khachaturian's music is not intellectual;
in fact it can often sound brash to the point of luridness.
ballet Spartacus was produced in Leningrad in 1956 (so it's roughly
contemporary with West Side Story, though there all similarity ends).
Huge expanses of its spectacular action are accompanied by propulsive,
bruisingly rhythmic “toccata-like passage-work”. Thus the Adagio,
when it arrives, sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb, as the most
memorable (if not quite the only) tune in the ballet. But, what
a magnificently full-blooded tune! Even if you think the opening of Bax's
would have been more apt, you can understand the use of this music, with
its refulgently aspiring melodic line, for the seafaring TV saga The
Onedin Line (dammit - I promised myself I wasn't going to mention that!).
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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