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ClassicsOnline Home » PAPAIOANNOU, Y.A.: In the Depth of the Looking Glass / Associations / Erotic / Rhythms and Colours (Chardas, Theos, Papatanasiu, dissonArt Ensemble)
Yannis Papaioannou lived mainly in Athens, but also experienced a crucial period of study in Europe with musicians such as Arthur Honegger, and encountering the richness of postwar Parisian musical life. Papaioannou’s stylistic phases reflect a panorama of 20th-century Greek art-music. His creative absorption of Western techniques ranged from the impressionism of the Preludes to the more traditional nationalism of Island Dance, from a post-1950 experimentation with the modernism of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Webern, to the deeply expressive works of his final years.
Yannis Papaioannou (1910–1989)
Instrumental and Vocal Music
Yannis Papaioannou was born in Kavala in Northern Greece in 1910 but lived mainly in Athens from 1922 until his death in 1989, with the exception of the academic year 1949–1950 during which he lived in Paris and visited other European cities. This journey proved crucial for his later artistic career, since he attended classes with musicians including Arthur Honegger and René Leibowitz, and, most importantly, experienced the rich Parisian musical life, in which the seeds of the post-war avant-garde were growing. Although in the late 1940s Papaioannou had already gained a reputation as a gifted composer within the then institutionally dominant Greek nationalist musical context, from his return to Greece in 1950 onwards he was connected with the gradual advent and institutional establishment of modernist idioms. With his music he contributed to a wider rethinking of culture which was taking place in Greece during that period. At the same time Papaioannou played an active rôle for the institutional dissemination of modernist idioms, since he was the first president of the Hellenic Association of Contemporary Music and of the Greek Section of the International Association of Contemporary Music. Papaioannou’s contribution was even stronger through his fervent educational activity, since he was the first Greek composition teacher to teach modernist idioms as part of a curriculum that nevertheless included all eras of the western musical tradition.
At the age of 24 Papaioannou’s own formal music education was completed, including diplomas in harmony, counterpoint, fugue, composition and piano. The quantity and range of the books on music (and the arts in general), however, and the scores of his own library (which was donated by his widow to the Ionian University after his death) demonstrate his undying quest for information on various artistic aspects, focussing, after 1950, on the growing literature on modernist music, and especially on twelve-note technique. This quest is also expressed by his experimentation with various stylistic elements throughout his long creative career. Papaioannou left the following outline of his creative path:
(a) 1932–c.1944: Impressionistic trends.
(b) c.1944–1952: Approach to Folklore and the Greek ‘National School’, use of elements of Byzantine music.
(c) 1953–1965: Twelve-note system and ‘recent techniques’.
(d) 1966–: ‘Entirely personal style’.
This periodization dates after 1970 and, thus, inevitably provides Papaioannou’s teleological perception of his own career, giving emphasis to its last phase. As the present recording demonstrates, however, Papaioannou’s journey through styles has his own imprint, and reflects an attitude which is solidly based on his continuous dialogue with his environment (both Greek and international). On this recording Papaioannou’s music is not presented in chronological order so as to create a linear narrative of his “development”. We can rather listen to the constant dialogue with the previously mentioned environments (through the stylistic inclinations of each work) and, also within the various musical personalities of Papaioannou. It should be mentioned that, inevitably, many characteristic aspects of Papaioannou’s music are omitted, the most important of these being his symphonic work, which consists of five symphonies, one concerto for orchestra, and many concertos for various instruments. The chosen works, however, do represent the different phases of his career, while at the same time they uncover the common thread that connects the immensely stylistically different phases of his music: form in Papaioannou’s music evolves out of small sections (in some cases fragments) which, however, are generically linked through common motivic cells. In other words, form in Papaioannou’s music vacillates between the miniature and the whole.
Fragmentary texture, which is often created by the unexpected exact repetition of small phrases, is one of the impressionistic characteristics of the three Preludes with which this recording begins. These Preludes belong to the two series of Twelve Preludes for piano that Papaioannou wrote in 1938 and 1939 respectively. All the Preludes from the first series were presented in the first concert exclusively devoted to Papaioannou’s music (Athens: Athens Conservatoire Hall, 9 April 1938) in which he also served as a pianist. The “impressionistic” musical material (extended tonal harmonies, parallel chords of a colouristic effect, pentatonic and whole-tone scales) alludes to the subject-matter of each Prelude, which is suggested only by the subtitles in brackets, clearly in the manner of Debussy:  Night in the Country,  Morning at the Beach and  Watercolour. Similar impressionistic elements can be found in the Serenade for cello and piano of 1937  and the Scherzo for piano of 1938 . The last, however, also reflects Papaioannou ’s continuous concern with formal models of the western tradition (here a rondo) and contrapuntal textures (with clear allusions to Bach, a lifelong source of inspiration for him).
During and after the Second World War Papaioannou experimented with elements of Greek musical traditions (folk-song and the Byzantine). There is a clear expression of patriotism and nationalism in the programme notes that he wrote for the two emblematic works of this period (the Symphonic Legend Vassilis Arvanitis of 1945 and his Symphony No 1 of 1946). The Island Dance (Mytilene) of 1944 for violin and piano ( arranged for cello and piano) is also heard in Vassilis Arvanitis serving the musical depiction of its programme. While in Island Dance we can hear a typical Greek folk-song rhythmic pattern (syrtos), the song Farewell Roses of the same year  is based on the modal vocabulary of this tradition and contributes to a wide repertoire of Greek nationalist music written to poetry by Kostis Palamas.
The extra-musical references of Papaioannou’s music changed according to the aesthetic priorities of each period of his creativity. Thus, the song Candles of 1953  confirms his post-1950 experimentation with modernist means, since it is based on an emblematic poem by Constantine P. Cavafy—a symbolic figure of the history of Greek literature, because of his free approach to verse and his emphasis on marginal themes of Greek history. In Candles post-tonal harmony (uncertain tonal centres, chords based on fourths and fifths, etc.) together with the counterpoint between the piano’s sparse texture and the rich vocal line, give a poignant musical depiction of human loneliness.
In general the works of the period 1950–1965 show a personal adoption of musical elements derived from the historic western modernist movements. Thus, the Corsair Dance No 1 for piano of 1952 , which was initially the music for the first number of the ballet Pirates, clearly alludes to Stravinsky’s early ballets through its repetitive textures and post-tonal harmony. The Suite for piano of 1959  finds its historical predecessor in the neoclassical twelve-note music of Schoenberg, while Oraculum for piano of 1965  bears Webern’s influence in its fragmentary texture, absence of melodic lines and concentration of expression.
Stylistic allusions become even stronger in Fourteen Children’s Portraits of 1960. This work encapsulates Papaioannou ’s three musical properties (the composer, the teacher and the pianist). Moreover, it aptly reveals a salient feature of Papaioannou’s educational attitude: to give to his students a first acquaintance with different eras of western musical culture, but also with aspects of Greek musical traditions. In the three Portraits that are included on the present recording Papaioannou offers an introduction to the waltz , to Greek folk-song  with the characteristic kalamatianos metric pattern (7/8) and to linear counterpoint .
The remaining works included in this recording belong to the last phase of Papaioannou’s creative life. During this period the emphasis was initially on the exploration of timbre and the virtuosic potentialities of classical instruments. The work Rhythms and Colours for solo cello of 1974  exemplifies a wide repertoire of Papaioannou’s works for solo instruments from this period (for violin, flute, tuba, piano etc.). A similar attitude, however, is also discerned in works for small ensembles of the same period, such as the Associations of 1978 . In the works of the last decade of Papaioannou’s life (In the Depth of the Looking Glass of 1984 for lyric soprano, flute and piano , A Poet at the Sea of 1986 for soprano and instrumental ensemble , and Erotic of 1986 for piano ) the sense of individuality acquires a new meaning, through the development of a melodic, almost expressionist, style, in which slowly evolving melodic textures tell a story full of sharp contrasts and deeply expressive gestures.
Papaioannou’s music essentially offers, in miniature form, a panorama of the agonies that shaped twentieth-century Greek art music. The most interesting element about the stylistic references in Papaioannou’s music is, I believe, the way in which they have been creatively absorbed into an idiomatic approach, which offers a good example of how rich, imaginative and fruitful the transplanting of western aesthetic issues into a ‘peripheral’ cultural context such as that of Greece could be.
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PAPAIOANNOU, Y.A.: In the Depth of the Looking Gla...