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ClassicsOnline Home » KONTOGIORGOS, G.: String Quartets Nos. 1-3 (New Hellenic Quartet)
String Quartets Nos 1–3
String Quartet No 1: Unicorn
Events of the last year brought me several times back to Paris, either as a real traveller or as voyager through memories that were embedded in mind and remained fresh, despite the passage of time. In that way I had the chance to revisit the “city of light” through pictures from books, postcards and scenes from the French cinema of the 1960s. Walks along the Seine, in the narrow streets of Saint-Germain and the Latin Quarter, pilgrimage to Notre Dame and Sacré Cœur of Montmarte and a short visit to Versailles, restored vibrant images from classic texts of Hugo and Balzac. But I experienced more intensely the old Paris atmosphere, through the paintings of the French expressionists and the vibrant descriptions of Tracy Chevalier’s book entitled The Lady and the Unicorn, which I have read recently.
The composition of this music piece was initiated one afternoon in September 2005, while I was observing in the woods of Boulogne. For this reason, the first movement of the Quartet is tonal and intensely romantic. Later on, the composition was enriched by several ideas from various music waves. Thus, one can easily recognize twelve-tone, atonal, aleatoric, and minimalistic, even pop-rock elements. All these elements construct a polytropon style, which evolves into a variable mood, now and then mild and sensational or dramatic, now and then cruel or attacking. These alternatives between classic and modern, which function as a kind of esoteric conflict in decision making during composition, are analogous to the way that Unicorn enchants, trying dynamically to dominate, destroying innocence and overcoming romanticism. So, after I had completed this work, I was possessed by an invincible power to give it a title. Thus, because “ça, c’est mon seul désir”, without a further thought, I gave it immediately the name of the mythic animal “Unicorn”.
Athens, November 2006
String Quartet No 2: de Profundis
My second string quartet, subtitled de Profundis, consists of three parts and is about sixteen minutes long.
After the recording of my First String Quartet, subtitled Unicorn, by the New Hellenic quartet in the Concert Hall of the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki on 4 February 2007, the musicians of the quartet and I went to a tavern near Fountain Square to celebrate the event. We proposed toasts over libations and expressed our mutual wishes to continue our fruitful collaboration with the composition and performance of my Second String Quartet. As we were ready to leave, a group of people sitting at the table next to us began to sing and we were struck by their singing. The strict, prosodic flow of the monophonic melody and the profound (de profundis) articulation of speech took on ritual overtones and put us all in an introspective mood. The singers, we were told, were Vlachs from Grevaina, a town located on the eastern slopes of the Pindos mountain range. It was there and then that I got the idea that my Second String Quartet should include a similar “deep” dynamism, appropriate for the same kind of overwhelming excitement that we experienced that day at the tavern and primal, positively “demonic“ power (in the ancient Hellenic sense of the word), which the members of the New Hellenic Quartet are possessed with when they perform.
Sometimes I think that if I played the violin I would have liked to play like George Demertzis, the first violinist of the quartet, and if I played in a string quartet, I would like to play with equally formidable musicians like the New Hellenic quartet. Thus, I felt compelled to write my Second String Quartet by combining the stirrings of my own soul with my recollections of the profound force and energy of the New Hellenic Quartet. It is not for me to judge as to whether I have accomplished my goal, but the result comes straight from my heart and I dedicate my De Profundis to them.
Athens, 25 October 2007
String Quartet No 3: Byzantine
I have never been overtly religious. Byzantine church music, however, always exerted a strong attraction on me, particularly during Lent, commencing with the Salutations to the Virgin and the Akathist Hymn and concluding at the apex of Holy Week, with the solemn representation of Divine Drama and the extraordinary poetry of the Crucifixus chant, “Today is suspended on a piece of wood He who has suspended the Earth from the waters” sung on Holy Thursday, and the beautiful lamentation: “Oh, my sweet spring, my sweetest child, where has Your beauty gone?” sung on Good Friday. These holy days will always remain connected with my memories and experiences as an adolescent in rural Greece. Τhe fluttering wings of the swallows and the heady scents of the wild flowers and sour orange heralded the explosive arrival of spring. As high school students, we were always eager to attend the service of the Salutations. Clean, dressed lightly in the spring weather, we slowly made our way towards the Cathedral and, when there, we, the students from the boys’ high school, congregated together in order at the right side of the church. From the opposite side of town, the students of girls’ high school climbed the hill upon which the church was located and congregated in the customary manner, segregated, at the left side of the Cathedral. The warmth from the flickering candles, the scent of oriental incense, the chanting and the mourning tolling of the bell outside combined to form a mystical, but also a romantic atmosphere. In the midst of our ritualistic devotion, our glances would turn to the left to look suddenly at the ruby cheeks and the barely outlined breasts of the girls. The ever-observant icons, the silver-plated candles and the Almighty in the middle of the dome, were silent witnesses of our less than devotional urges that laid claim to our bodies, spirits and hearts.
In the Byzantine Quartet, I attempted to capture the essence of my memories of this ecstatic atmosphere as well as the lyricism of the poetic text and the musicality of hymns. Often I kept unchanged entire melodic phrases and fragments of the original Byzantine hymns, while introducing further melodic elements, thus giving an additional dimension to the harmonic structure of the quartet, which lies beyond the one-dimensional persistence of the issocrates, the drone that the choir sings against the lead cantor’s rich melodic utterances.
Agria, Pelion, October 2011
My Mother’s Violin
My Mother’s Violin is a piece for solo violin of time duration approximately 5:40. It consists of a theme and variations that are played in a single movement. This work was composed in March 2007, but was modified several times before reaching its final form two years later.
From the early steps of her life, my mother was fond of music. Thus, in her youth, she declared her desire to learn the violin. Her very keen and generous father satisfied promptly her desire. He bought and offered her a brand new violin of Italian construction by Luigi Montanari of 1904. He then invited Mr Saratsis, the best violin teacher, at that time in his home city of Lamia, to train her. She studied violin very meticulously, under difficult conditions, often at the laundry in the humid dark basement of her family home in Diakou Square, to avoid annoying her family by the monotonous repetition of scales and technical exercises. Seven years later her teacher confessed to her father that his daughter had already exhausted with success the full repertoire that he could teach. Therefore, in his opinion, to proceed further and complete her training, she should continue studies at the Athens’ Conservatory. As expected, the answer was definitely negative, with no comments and without any single hope for further discussion. My mother fell into a deep depression that took her a long time to get over. After that she not only did not touch the bow again, but also could not even stand hearing the sound of a violin.
I retrieved my mother’s violin from a trunk, filled with useless objects in our family house in Diakou Square and I kept it as the most precious possession. After several years I sent it for full repair and I have restored it completely. Personally, for emotional reasons, I consider it the most precious article of my family heritage. To maintain it in good condition, I decided to lend it for certain periods of time to violinists, including my excellent collaborators George Demertzis and Sergiu Nastaja. According to their expert opinion, this violin is an elegant and charming instrument that has not the powerful sound of a concert instrument, but produces a sweet velvet sound. I feel extremely pleased with this description, for it fits excellently the calm character and the shy profile of my mother.
The composition starts with a pleasant melody, which is quickly developed. After some short events and passages, sometimes diverging from typical violin-writing, it acquires a dramatic character.
I should mention that my friend, the excellent violinist George Demertzis, who has performed this music piece in an outstanding way, recorded it and offered the recording to me with love, as a wedding present. I have to express my sincere thanks to him from the depth of my heart.
Athens, 21 November 2010
Mixitropia for strings is a short, one movement composition. As the title indicates, it consists of a series of melodies in the Phrygian mode (the archaic Phrygian, not the Phrygian of the Gregorian chant tradition), which alternate with the minor and occasionally major scale of Western European music. This mixture of modes, often in a manner inconsistent with the traditional use of this material, causes chromatic discrepancies between the sixth and seventh scale degrees of the respective modes and these discrepancies give the composition its unique character. The D minor harmony (sometimes modal and other times scalar) is the dominant element with the root of the chord assigned almost consistently to the double basses and cellos. The melodic patterns repeat in different configurations and often with unprepared transpositions, which become increasingly dense towards the end. Intermediate passages reminiscent of Baroque music further disturb the otherwise minimalist unfolding of the composition.
This work was composed during the early part of March 2011 and, a year later, I transcribed it for string quartet. The title was coined by my mentor and dearest friend, composer Christos Hatzis, to whom Mixitropia is dedicated.
Agria, Pelion, 1 June 2012
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