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ClassicsOnline Home » IMPRESSIONS FOR SAXOPHONE AND ORCHESTRA - Virtuosic Works by 20th Century Greek Composers
By Hubert Culot
By Patrick Waller
By Jerry Dubins
Impressions for Saxophone and Orchestra
Theodorakis • Skalkottas • Antoniou • Alexiadis • Tenidis • Hadjidakis
Mikis Theodorakis is among the most popular and prolific composers of Greece. Without question, he is the best-known Greek composer internationally. He was born on the island of Chios, Greece, on 29 July 1925. He studied at the Athens Conservatory, and, subsequently, at the Paris Conservatoire (music analysis with Olivier Messiaen and conducting with Eugène Bigot). From 1954 to 1960 he worked in Paris and London, composing symphonic music, ballet and film music, Zorba the Greek being his most famous score. In 1960 he placed himself as a leader of the regenerative cultural-political movement in Greece centered on the union of poetry and music, composing dozens of song-cycles, oratorios, revues and music for Greek drama among other things. This movement was connected with the progressive political forces of that period, which aimed, beyond the establishment of democratic life in Greece, at a much deeper and broader rebirth of the Greek people. This was to bring him often at the centre of political life, reaching a climax with his active participation in the resistance movement against the military dictatorship (1967-74).
Cretan Concertino (2005) is an arrangement by Yannis Samprovalakis, written for Theodore Kerkezos. It was initially composed in 1952 as a Sonatina for Violin and Piano No. 1 (Cretan). The work bears the name 'Cretan' because it incorporates elements of music that can be found on Crete. The first movement is based on traditional Syrtos Chaniotikos motives, and is similar to the third one, which describes a Cretan feast: the solo imitates the Cretan lyra and the timpani the balothiés (pistol shots fired in the air during feasts), while the orchestra repeats a dance-like ostinato rhythm (Sousta), often interrupted by natural sounds of the island. During the second movement a lyrical mood, also very characteristic of the people of Crete, is evoked. The narrative saxophone cadenza follows the atmosphere of a silent summer night painted by the strings and the harp.
Theodorakis composed his Adagio for soprano saxophone, percussion and strings in 1993. The work was commissioned by the Italian trumpet-player Mauro Maur. The first version of the Adagio was written for trumpet or flute or clarinet, strings and percussion. It is dedicated to the victims of the Bosnian war: during the recapitulation of the main theme, which is full of sadness, one can hear the tam-tam imitating the sound of the bombardment. The melodic material he uses is drawn from a song belonging to the cycle Beatrice on Zero Street.
Nikos Skalkottas is considered to be one of the greatest pioneer composers of the twentieth century. He was born on 8 March 1904, in Chalkis. He started playing the violin at the age of five and graduated in 1920, obtaining First Prize and Gold Medal, from the Athens Conservatory. In 1920 he received a scholarship and studied in Berlin until 1933, first taking violin master-courses with Willy Hess, then studying composition with Philipp Jarnach and Arnold Schoenberg (1927-31). He composed prodigiously, in a personal atonal idiom, using the twelve-tone system rather seldom and somewhat reluctantly at that time. In 1933 Skalkottas settled permanently in Athens, where he encountered total indifference. He died on 19 September 1949, on the same night that his second son was born.
In 1939 Skalkottas composed his Concertino for oboe and piano. It was written in response to a request by the oboist Matthew Fortounas, who, years later, asked Skalkottas to orchestrate the piano part. The composer's premature death prevented him from proceeding with the orchestration. On this CD it is heard in a transcription for soprano saxophone and strings, orchestrated by Yannis Samprovalakis in 2005. The first movement, Allegro giocoso, is witty and playful. All the main musical elements of the composition are included in the first bars and are developed during the following part in a technically advanced way. The nostalgic and dream-like second movement contains some very interesting harmonic writing. The last movement, in Rondo form, is a tarantella full of rhythmic energy and lyricism. Skalkottas admired the sound and the endless capabilities of the saxophone, especially of the soprano saxophone, which he included in the orchestrations of many of his works. It is interesting to note that the oboe Concertino was arranged for oboe and chamber orchestra by Günther Schüller, while Piero Guarino arranged the same work for strings.
Theodore Antoniou, one of the most eminent and prolific contemporary musicians, has had a distinguished career as composer, conductor, and professor of composition at Boston University. He studied violin, singing and composition at the National Conservatory of Athens, with further studies in conducting and composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, and the International Music Centre in Darmstadt. After holding teaching positions at Stanford University, the University of Utah and the Philadelphia Musical Academy, he became professor of composition at Boston University in 1978. As a conductor Antoniou has been engaged by several major orchestras and ensembles. In 1974 he became assistant director of contemporary activities at Tanglewood, a position he held until 1985. Theodore Antoniou's works are numerous and varied in nature, ranging from operas and choral works to chamber music, from film and theatre music to solo instrumental pieces, his scores for theatre and film music alone numbering more than a hundred and fifty compositions.
Concerto Piccolo for alto saxophone and orchestra was written in July 2000 and is based on ideas that the composer had conceived earlier. It was composed for Theodore Kerkezos, to whom it is dedicated, and is at the same time a birthday present for the composer's son, William. As implied by the title of the work, it is rather short compared to other concertos, and is in three movements: I. Cadenza a piacere - Allegro, II. Danza and finally III. Epilogo: Cantilena - Cadenza. It starts with a cadenza for the saxophone that is followed by an Allegro section of complex Greek rhythms. The second movement is of a dance character and includes many high notes for the solo. The third movement begins with an expressive song for the solo instrument. The concerto concludes with the double basses humming (singing the note E at a lower octave) and the saxophone playing the cadenza of the introduction, with imaginative tonal changes. The work was first performed by Kerkezos and the Symphony Orchestra of the Municipality of Thessaloniki, under the baton of the composer, at the Thessaloniki Megaron Concert Hall in 2001.
Born in Athens in 1960, Minas Alexiadis studied music theory and composition with Yannis Ioannidis and then with Günther Becker (Diploma in composition, Robert Schumann University, Düsseldorf). He also is a law graduate with a doctorate in musicology from the University of Athens. He has composed opera and musical theatre, chamber, electronic and symphonic music, as well as instrumental concertos, music for the cinema, for the stage and ballet music. Many of his compositions have been performed and broadcast worldwide, awarded prizes, recorded and released on LP and CD in Greece, Germany, Italy and Japan. A member of the administrative board of the Greek Composers' Union from 1989 to 2002, and general secretary of the Greek National Opera from 2002 to 2006, Minas I. Alexiadis is currently (2006) Assistant Professor (Opera and Musical Theatre) at the Department of Theatre Studies of Athens University.
Phrygian Litany, entirely based on diatonic modal material, the Phrygian mode, is inspired by the archaic and traditional music of Asia Minor and the southeastern Aegean islands. Through micro-imitation, linear counterpoint, ramification, augmentation and diminution, phase shifting, pedal tones and other devices, this piece is conceived as a extended cantabile in a symmetrical "processional" arch form, comprising an original compositional concept and introducing a non-European view of the idiom called "sacred minimalism". The piece is dedicated to Theodore Kerkezos.
Vassilis Tenidis was born in Larissa in 1936. While studying law at Athens University, he also worked at the guitar and musical theory. He has experimented with most genres, including orchestral works, chamber and choral music, jazz and film scores, but he devoted himself mainly to the theatre, writing incidental music for more than two hundred plays, ancient Greek tragedies and comedies as well as classical, modern and avant-garde productions. He conducts the music ensembles of Greek Radio-Television and is a titular member of the Union of Greek Composers.
The Rhapsody of Pontos is dedicated to the late distinguished conductor Odysseas Dimitriadis. In writing this work the composer, some of whose family members were from Pontos, was inspired by its folk-music and by the particular scales and rhythms of this land. For this reason the players' dexterity is tested (the writing for the soloist being even more demanding) and in many parts of the score, in order to express themselves, they are required to invent methods that are far removed from those which they normally use. The sound of the saxophone imitates the musical idioms found in Pontos, and especially that of the best-known instrument of the land, the Pontos lyra. For a while Kerkezos had to live with and learn from the musicians of Pontos, who introduced him to the wonderful and unique way of performing their well-crafted music and the special qualities of their melodies and rhythms. In his composition, Tenidis incorporates elements drawn from the tradition of Pontos, including war-dances, laments, Christmas carols, and war-cries. The world première of the work was given by Kerkezos and the Bucharest Radio Orchestra (Bucharest, June 1997). The soloist has arranged and edited the cadenza.
Manos Hadjidakis was born in Xanthi, Northern Greece, on 23 October 1925. At the age of four he started learning the piano, and during 1940-43 he studied theory and harmony. He also studied philosophy at Athens University, while being nurtured in the company of artists and intellectuals of stature, such as Seferis, Elytis, Tsarouchis, Gatsos and Sikelianos. From 1945 on, when he began his collaboration with the Greek National Theatreand the Art Theatre, he composed music for Greek drama, as well as incidental music for the contemporary repertoire. Along with his work for the theatre, from 1946 on, Hadjidakis composed music for a great number of Greek and foreign films. In 1960 he was awarded an Oscar for his song in Jules Dassin's film Never on Sunday.
The long and fruitful collaboration of Hadjidakis with Maurice Béjart and his 20th Century Ballets began in Brussels, in 1965, with a performance of The Birds by Aristophanes. During the period 1966-72, he lived in New York, where he wrote some of his most important works, Rhythmology, Magnus Eroticus and Reflections. He also began writing The Era of Melissanthi, an autobiographical musical story in a post-war setting. He formed and conducted the Orchestra of Colours (1989-93) and was head of the Third Programme of Greek National Radio (1975-81), which he revolutionized. He died on the afternoon of 15 June 1994.
Constantine P. Carambelas - Sgourdas
Gioconda's Smile was composed with a blend of despair and reminiscences. The theme is a solitary woman in the big city. Each song is a monologue, and all the songs together tell her story. A story which is modern, and yet, at the same time, old. And if the songs had lyrics, they would be approximately like this:
Mr. Knoll (Seventh movement from Gioconda's Smile): On my way out, a blond youth approached me. Everyone around us vanished and we were left by ourselves, the two of us, with him staring at me half sadly, half ironically. He said to me:
"I'm a case of a Young Man who would like to meet you". I answered that I was all alone and wasn't ready to receive him. And I wanted very much to, but I didn't dare. He smiled at me, and said: "What a pity!" and placed his visiting card in my hands. But by the time I saw what was on it, he'd vanished. The visiting card had only two words printed on it: Knoll, Death.
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