Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) was an Soviet-Armenian composer, who was born in Tbilisi, Georgia. Soon after his move to Moscow, Khachaturian started studying at the Moscow conservatory, where he composed his piano and violin concertos, which subsequently popularised his name in and out of the Soviet Union. Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia is an orchestral piece from Khachaturian’s 1954 ballet Spartacus, which follows the trials and tribulations faced by Spartacus as the leader of the slave uprising against the Romans. The Adagio is heard within the second act of the ballet, when the slave women are set free and Spartacus and Phrygia celebrate to this wonderful orchestral piece.

With the plot of the story in mind (as well as me not actually having a score for this piece!), the opening of this wonderful piece is led by the strings and oboe, with the first theme being heard in the upper strings after the oboe’s beautiful solo of the main theme. This sensual ascending melody is one of my all-time favourites as it oozes decadence and is so easy on the ear, and with the plot of the story in mind, this ‘love theme’ as I shall refer to it as, perfectly exemplifies the feelings of gaiety and love. The luscious strings are united at this point, and to accompany this love theme, the lower brass play warming chord progressions below, with the woodwind, notably the clarinet and flute, playing short counter-melodies to the strings, which add a whole new dimension. This section of the piece is perhaps the most famous as the love theme has been said to be one of the best ever written, which I would not for one second dispute as I love it. The strings then play an intensifying ascending sequence which leads to a break in the rest of the orchestra for no more than two-beats, as the upper strings hold their top note which is incredibly heart-rendering. The orchestra return after this climax and the woodwind lead the strings back into the lower register to begin the next section.

Back from the heights of the skies, a new motif is heard in the lower strings, which is then exploited by the violas and violins soon after. The clarinet and oboe also take a variation of this new theme and use scalic runs to intensify and progress further. The feeling of triumph is still heard within this section, though notably less than the previous section, however the drive within this section, exploited by the lower strings is one of the highlights for me in this section. The woodwind and upper strings have a musical conversation between each other, which highlights the converse between Spartacus and Phrygia. The upper strings then ascend back up into the higher register, leaving behind reality and heading for the skies once more. The brass then interject at this point with a fanfare-like motif, which is the first time the trumpet is heard thus far, and its fanfare motif becomes part of a military-like section to the piece. The tempo is also picked up here with the lower brass really pushing this new theme, which is incredibly intensifying and exciting to hear. The strings and percussion then enter and play a driving theme, which seamlessly transitions back into the initial love theme, though a slight variant of it. This climax is one of the most stupendous musical cells I have ever heard, it makes you feel so free that not even negative energy can penetrate. The strings play the love theme in their higher register which is so prodigious that the trumpet plays a counter-melody after each cell (which one day I hope to be able to play!). The blending of the textures here is so stunning that it usually makes me tear up, as it may do to you too!

The whole orchestra is united again at this point, which depicts the story of the slaves becoming free once more. The piece then slowly dies away, leading to the next section of the ballet. Khachaturian’s use of colourful harmonies and incredibly pleasing melodic lines makes for this piece to be an immense contribution to both orchestral and ballet music. This piece has also been orchestrated into an orchestral suite from the ballet, which reiterates its importance within the ballet and instrumental music. I cannot recommend this piece of music enough, its not a long piece of music and is so worth the emotional investment, and I can safely say that there is a 99.9% chance of goosebumps at any time!

Today is Valentine’s Day 2016 and I would like to dedicate this blog to all my friends and family who read my writing, you are all loved so very dearly!

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Jim C · 29th July 2017 at 12:00 am

Well stated. Thanks for the summary and analysis. This adagio may be the most romantic piece of music ever written.

Please note that Aram Khachaturian was Soviet Armenian

Iomoio · 23rd April 2018 at 12:51 pm

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