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ClassicsOnline Home » DRAGATAKIS: Piano Works (Complete)
Dimitris Dragatakis’s compositions combine elements of the musical traditions of Epirus in the north-west of Greece with the contemporary music of his age. This first recording of Dragatakis’s complete solo piano music eloquently reveals the varied stages of the composer’s career, from the first undated works to his final compositions, presenting us with a satisfyingly complete image of this most distinguished Greek composer.
By David Denton
This is the first time I have come across the name of Dimitris Dragatakis, a Greek musician who was well into his forties before embarking on a composing career. To that point he had played viola in the Greek National Opera Orchestra and taught violin at the National Conservatory. Born in 1914, his career was interrupted by the Second World War and the ensuing national conflict in his homeland. Though he had composed only 130 works on his death, he was highly regarded in Greece, eventually becoming President of the Greek Composers’ Union. Stylistically his early piano music - here represented by three works, Nostlgia, Butterfly and Little Ballad - is rooted in traditional tonality, just occasionally straying into a more ambivalent key structure. By the time we reach the 1960’s for the two Sonatinas, we are in the world of Berg and Webern, each movement brief and stripped down to the bare basics. They are well-structured and with interesting rhythmic patterns, though it will take time to get to know them. This mood of abstract music continues into the eight short movements that make up Antiques from 1972, teasing remnants of music of a long gone era flitting in and out of the music. The last five tracks take us through to his death in 2001 - Anadromes II, Etudes l & ll, Inelia and Monologue No. 4 - arriving at the point where Dragatakis has married atonality and tonality into a harmonic cohesive whole. Lorenda Ramou is one of the best known Greek pianists on the international circuit and received dedicated works from Dragatakis, working with him in the preparation for performance. We can take it that we are in safe hands with a disc that represents his total keyboard output. Technically they do not set out to give a showcase for the soloist’s brilliance, though the fragmented nature must present problems of creating a cohesive entity. Most are here receiving their world premiere recording, the sound quality as good as they come.
Dimitris Dragatakis (1914-2001) Complete Solo Piano Music
The Greek composer Dimitris Dragatakis was born on 22 January 1914 in Platanousa, a remote, mountain village in Epirus, and died in Athens at the age of 87 on 18th December 2001. His musical interest was obvious from a very early age, using what nature provided, such as leaves and stalks, to fashion instruments. Later he studied music formally at the National Conservatory of Athens, with an interruption during World War II and the ensuing civil war, completing his studies in 1955. For many decades he played the viola in the orchestra of the Greek National Opera and taught violin and music theory at the National Conservatory. In the 1950s he took up musical composition systematically, creating from that time to the end of his life more than 130 instrumental, vocal, scenic and electronic works, with the main body of his musical output consisting of orchestral and chamber music. He received numerous awards and prizes for his work, the first being in 1958 from the Greek Composers’ Union, followed by many others, such as the Maria Callas Award from the Third Programme of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation in 1997 and the prestigious G.A. Papaioannou Award from the Academy of Athens in 1999. In March 2001 he was appointed lifelong Emeritus President of the Greek Composers’ Union, having served as Vice-President for the previous six years. The works of Dragatakis have been performed in Greece and abroad, and many compositions of his have been published and recorded.
Dimitris Dragatakis studied music theory under Leonidas Zoras and Manolis Kalomiris, both composers who belong to the Greek National School of Composition. Nevertheless his musical language was formed independently of his teachers, based mainly on two elements: his close relationship with the Greek musical tradition of his birthplace and his personal interest in the musical trends of the mid-twentieth century. More specifically, Dragatakis has combined selective elements of the musical traditions of Epirus (pentatonic scales, pedal notes, glissandos, and other elements) with the contemporary music of his age (free atonality, plain forms and rhythmic ostinatos, new instrumental combinations and sound effects, all derived mainly from post-modernism and minimalism). In this way a style of musical writing modern in concept but traditional in origin was gradually formed, establishing a new relationship with Greek musical tradition, unlike that of the Greek National School of Composition. As a whole the music of Dimitris Dragatakis is both simple and complex, modern and traditional, dramatically expressive and remarkably introverted.
Dragatakis himself was not a pianist and did not consider the piano to be a means to virtuoso display, but rather an instrument for musical creation. This is illustrated in his piano works which span the length of his musical career, with every change in his musical writing represented in these works. In the piano works of Dimitris Dragatakis are included eleven solo piano works and two compositions for two pianos (Anadromes IV [Retrospections IV], 1983, for two pianists and Antiloghi [Retorts], 1988, for four pianists). This recording includes all the solo piano works of Dragatakis. Butterfly (written before 1949) is a simple piece with strong reference to the musical tradition of the composer’s birthplace, while Nostalgia (again from before 1949) and Little Ballad (1949), by combining traditional Greek elements with romantic harmony, reflect the influence on Dragatakis of the Greek National School of Composition. With Sonatina No. 1 (1961) and Sonatina No. 2 (1963) he moves progressively into atonality and a generally “modern” way of writing, according to the then contemporary musical trends. His six remaining piano works, Antiques (1972), Anadromes II [Retrospections II] (1977), Etude I (1981), Etude II (1981), Inelia (1997) and Monologue No. 4 (2001), expressions of the composer’s maturity, wonderfully combine twentieth-century music with traditional elements of Epirus, especially the pentatonic scales.
While very little is known of his first piano works, we have more information through Dragatakis himself about the later ones. He described Antiques as “eight miniatures that summarise human history”. His visit to a sculpture exhibition of Grigoris Semitekolo, with exact replicas of ancient Greek statues, was the stimulus for this work. Anadromes II belongs to a group of five works of the same title. According to Dimitris Dragatakis, these compositions have as a basic characteristic the simple use, without elaboration, of some common musical ideas that refer to his past. Etude I and Etude II (1981) derive their musical ideas from Dragatakis’s incidental music for the Medea of Euripides, composed in 1968. Finally, Monologue No. 4 is the last in a series of solo works of the same title, having in common, among other things, the absence of bars, and frequent tempo changes.
A number of the piano works of Dimitris Dragatakis are dedicated to individual Greek pianists, who in most cases gave the respective premières of these works: Small Ballad is dedicated to Kiki Papalouka, Sonatina No. 1 to Chara Tombra, Antiques to Nelli Semitekolo, Etude I to Lorenda Ramou and Inelia to Elena Mouzala, Inelia deriving from the pianist’s first name, Elena (original: Eleni; composer’s same-sounding spelling: Aileni; retrograde order: Inelia). The pianist Lorenda Ramou collaborated with the composer for the performance of Etude I and Etude II on 8th December 2000 at the Auditorium of the French Institute of Athens. After Dragatakis’s death she presented Monologue No. 4 for the first time in a recital with the complete solo piano works of Dragatakis (February 9th, 2005, Auditorium of Philippos Nakas Conservatory, Athens). Her interpretative approach masterfully reflects the personal style of the composer and the various facets of his work.
The piano works of Dimitris Dragatakis have many times gained the interest of Greek pianists. This first commercial recording of Dragatakis’s complete solo piano works eloquently reveals the varied stages of the composer’s career, from the first undated works to his final compositions, presenting us with a satisfyingly complete image of this most distinguished Greek composer.
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DRAGATAKIS: Piano Works (Complete)