(BEING CONTINUED FROM 13/03/16)
George Couroupos25 takes our thought a little step further:
“[…] Music is the ultimate limit of poetry in its flight from the sphere of the conscious
to that of the unconscious, through a rebaptism of the signifieds, achieved by the original
combination of the words and their rhythms and sounds. For poetry, music is the ideal of
absolute freedom. […] Music owes much to poetry. And I am not speaking only of the folk
song, of course, but of all vocal music that is based on poetry, directly or indirectly. Greek
music, particularly from Matzaros to Kalomiris, and from Mitropoulos to Theodorakis, seems to have an ardent desire to be renewed through poetry, through the shared archaic womb that brought forth both forms, like Siamese twins. We should, however, avoid oversimplifications.
The intention of the song-maker who sets a poem to music within the framework of a popular or vernacular tradition is not the same as that of a composer-intellectual who pits his wits against a work of poetry.”
Hence, if for Couroupos a work of art music seeks to yoke itself to poetry’s discourse in
order to create a new musical entity that, in effect, both ‘transubstantiates’ the poem and
advances musical thinking, it is a quite challenging idea to gropingly touch their diplomatic
ramifications through some widely known examples that follow.
2.1. Three representative examples reflecting the Modern Greek contribution towards
2.1.1. The Great Erotic
The Great Erotic is a cycle of eleven songs for two voices, mixed chorus and twelve
instruments (string and plucked ones), composed in 1972 between New York and Athens,
which, literally speaking, does not entirely belong to the Modern Greek poetry set to music.
However, it is chosen among others, due to its peculiar nature, since it includes a Greek
traditional song and poems by Sappho, the biblical King Solomon, George Chortatsis,
Dionyssios Solomos, Constantine Cavafy, George Sarantaris, Myrtiotissa, Pantelis Prevelakis,Odysseas Elytis and Nikos Gkatsos. Although the title may mislead us to believe that it constitutes a purely erotic oeuvre and an anthem to love, Manos Hadjidakis himself has made it clear: “Only a foul could imagine that you write such a work when you are in love. Such works, as the Great Erotic is, are written when you don’t bother whether you are in love or not. You have sorted your thoughts out and you feel free of reflecting”. He also describes the deeper meaning of this work and gives an answer to the attack he faced for his ‘superficial’behavior to release the Great Erotic in such an ‘inopportune time’ for Greece (i.e. during the Junta of Colonels): “At that time, many people wondered why I turned back and made my Great Erotic during the dictatorship. I made it out of expediency when I realized what was missing from our place. It was not the slogan. It was the lack of the great human values,previously negated. And I was vindicated in retrospect, because the slogans elapsed, but the concepts and the value of the Great Erotic, whose songs were not just mere love songs but songs on love, remained. Nonetheless, I suffered the attack of several people then, who wondered what did he come to give us in ’72 in the dictatorship? I gave you exactly what I saw was then missing. And the Great Erotic was just the bearer of the deeper human emotions that were about to be humiliated” (George Hadjidakis 2002).
The musical bridges cannot be demolished, as far as there are people, who feel and have
the need to sing for love, for life, for our fellow-man, each time the cruel image of History
turns its page26. With a fervent, throbbing and lasting passion, Hadjidakis transformed the
contemporary Greek song and gave birth to something that could be called original Greek
song. As an original Greek work both of poetic and musical elaboration, the Great Erotic
comprises and reconciles the Greek tradition, the byzantine hymns and the Greek poetry
within the framework of popular songs, but above all, Hadjidakis’s orchestration smoothly
punctuates the elegance of words, while accentuating their meaning. His ingenuity managed to transform the poems into a concrete work of high artistic value and serve those universal values of humanity as they were depicted through this recursion to the relevant Greek poetic script27. As Yannaras points out28, the language is created, formulated and developed by people with certain needs: its expressive dynamism is not an outcome of randomness, an aleatoric result, neither a product of ideological standards (or racial superiority), but a tool to express the inner workings of their soul. For the Greek cultural diplomacy, the Greek linguistic legacy constitutes a comparative advantage of the Hellenism, which however seems rather enfeebled in its contemporary treatment. Still, the Great Erotic offers very generously a timeless journey to the Greek language, embellished with different musical styles. Perhaps,Manos’s Hadjidakis words may leave an indelible stamp on this perspective of consideration for his work: “If I rest free, my Hellenic nationality would be a reality that I could not be able to deny, as far as it is interwoven with my language and my personal history. The only thing I can do is hoping to become a true for you, as well…“29.
2.1.2. The Ballad of Mauthausen
A very recent survey of the Special Eurobarometer 399 on cultural access and
participation (published in November 2013) concluded that the European culture loses ground and efforts should be concentrated to bring it at the heart of people’s interest. A Europe detached from its cultural background will face more difficulties to establish its political integrity, since, according to Etienne Balibar, the invention of the form of a pluralistic state that exceed the contrast between the “national sovereignty” and the “continental hegemony”along with an open cultural process, where all the European nations can indiscriminately take part, are sine qua non elements30.
Through the spectrum of cultural diplomacy, it has been already proposed a Pan-European campaign concerning the return of culture at the forefront of the European
affairs, where Greece can play a pivotal role 31 . Based on the European Cultural
Convention (1954), the article 128§1 of the Maastricht Treaty, the principle of subsidiarity
and thus the principle of cultural equivalence that Greece has proposed during the
negotiations of this article as well as on Ioannis’s Kapodistrias vision of a united Europe that could establish global peace32, it is argued here that Europe has indeed common history and therefore common historical memories, especially in modern times that could lead to realization and sensitization over the common culture of the European edifice, which can unite people on an emotional level. Such a view could be seen through the Ballad of Mauthausen by Iakovos Kampanellis and Mikis Theodorakis.
This cycle of songs was composed in 1966, when Iakovos Kambanellis presented his
songs at Mikis’s Theodorakis home. The poems constitute an autobiographical chronicle,
based on their writer’s experiences, when he was a political prisoner for two and half years in the Nazi concentration camp in Austria during the Second World War. The composer,
hearkening the elegiac character of Kambanellis’s work, decided to underpin it by the timbre of the violoncello, the flute and the tambours, while the use of new and modern musical colors, as the electric guitar is, was perfectly supported by Maria’s Farantouri voice, who actually made her debut with these songs. As Theodorakis admits, he set the poems to music,since, apart from his own experiences of imprisonment during the Italian and the German occupation, he realized that this was the only way to get close to young people and remind them of a time of history we should not forget. Even if at first sight, the songs of Mauthausen seem to be destined to reach people who had suffered from fascism and fought against it, their chief destination is to sensitize all people not to lose sight of the crime of the Nazis, as it is the only way for such things never to happen again; besides Theodorakis still commits himself to protect the younger generations from this danger and remains a leading example to follow33.
Kambanellis recounts events that do enliven the recent common European historical memory and can unite people through emotions, since this work is not only a condemnation to war and the violence or frenzy it implies, but also a hymn to love, which is able to flourish even in a nightmarish environment and keep alive the hope for life34. It is noteworthy that in April 1995, in the London Times Literary Supplement, the review over an anthology of poems concerning the Bible and the Holocaust (“Modern Poems on the Bible” by D.Curson), the “Song of the Songs” of the Ballad of Mauthausen was the one of the two summital poems on the subject.
The Ballad of Mauthausen has already been presented in numerous concerts around the
world. In Israel, it is considered to be equivalent to the national anthem, while the most
moving performance was undoubtedly its global premiere inside the German concentration
camp “Mauthausen” in 1988, attended by the then Chancellor of Austria Franz Vranitzky,
having at his side Iakovos Kambanellis. The later concert was held in three languages: Maria Farantouri sung the original songs in Greek, Elinoar Moav in Jewish and Gisela May in German; it was attended by tens of thousands of people from all over Europe, honoring the memory of the 122,797 victims of Nazi atrocities (3,700 Greeks among them), who had left their last breath in the crematoria of Mauthausen during WWII35. In its current form, the songs are performed by Maria Farantouri (Greek), Elinoar Moav – Veniadis (Jewish) and Nandia Weiberg (English).
The Ballad of Mauthausen could serve the purposes of an original Greek cultural
diplomatic proposal that shares a direct reference to the European affairs on the one side,
underlying the principles on which Europe has been founded, while the questions this musical cycle treats have international repercussions in any case. As History shows its menace face for once again, the honest Greek contribution towards a friendly and peaceful world seems more than incumbent.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
M.A. in Art, Law and Economy, International Hellenic University. Ph.D. candidate,
International Center for Music Studies, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
26 (George Stefanakis 2004, 9)
27 (Nikos Grosdanis 2002, 18)
28 (Christos Yannaras 2001, 76-77, 84, 88)
29 (Lambros Liavas 2004, 175)
30 (Eleni Tzoumaka 2005, 96-97)
31 (Ibid, 35)
32 (George Christoyannis 2006, 154-155 and 200)
33 (Yannis Flessas 1994, 11-12,23).
34 (Andreas Brandes in Mikis Theodorakis 1997, 148-149)
35 (George Logothetis 2004, 92)