ClassicsOnline Home » HADJIDAKIS, M.: Piano Works (D. Kara) - For a Little White Seashell / Rhythmology / 6 Popular Pictures / Ionian Suite
The piano music of Manos Hadjidakis, best known outside Greece for his popular song Never on Sunday, is as unique as the myriad influences which nourish it, reflecting the wide-ranging interests of this popular Greek composer. The suite For A White Little Seashell comprises five preludes followed by traditional Greek dances, while the Six Popular Pictures are arrangements of rebetika songs that share a feeling of nostalgia. The intimate and playful character of his Ionian Suite complements the solemn dignity of Rhythmology, whose unusual rhythms derive from traditional melodic patterns. Trained at the Juilliard School, awardwinning Greek virtuoso Danae Kara here makes her Naxos début.
By David Denton
Maybe the name of Manos Hadjidakis is not well known to you, but his vocal number, Never on Sunday, has been named among the ten most popular songs of the 20th century. Despite this international adulation, he was often out of favour with the Greek music establishment, his upbringing in the war years leaving him with meager formal musical education. Yet throughout his career he was able to gain work in diverse fields, including ballet, cinema, song and piano pieces, four of of those keyboard compositions included in this excellent release. His lack of schooling became a benefit in music that was never hidebound by accepted formats, and was happy to move between classical and popular modes. His first published work, For a Little White Seashell, was completed when he was twenty-three, and brings together Greek dance-tunes set within a classical framework, the ten short sections being highly contrasted. We move to light music for the Six Popular Pictures, highly evocative of the sounds that tourists enjoy today in street cafes. Showing he had academic credentials, Rhythmology places Greek dances between six preludes in odd rhythms - 5/8, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8/ 13/8 and 15/8. The disc is completed by the Ionian Suite, a brief score of five cameos where he returned to the world of classics, Prokofiev’s influence often apparent. Nowhere does Hadjidakis offer outgoing virtuoso showpieces, the few technical hurdles easily surmounted by the highly experienced and much travelled Greek pianist, Danae Kara. She proves a most persuasive advocate, and if you want a sample go to track 21, the saucy scherzo finale of the Ionian Suite.
Manos Hadjidakis (1925–1994)
Manos Hadjidakis is widely known for his song “Never on Sunday”, which achieved the greatest success in 1960, winning awards both at the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar at the Academy Awards Ceremonies in Hollywood for Best Original Musical Score. Twenty years later, in March 1981, Polygram Records International of Hamburg, at a glamorous gala to celebrate the ten most popular songs of the century, included Manos Hadjidakis among the composers honoured, for his song “Never on Sunday”.
Manos Hadjidakis was born in Xanthi, in Northern Greece, on 23 October 1925, and died in Athens on 15 June 1994. His father, who was killed in a flying accident in 1938, was a lawyer from Crete, while his mother came from Andrianopolis, the modern Turkish Edirne.
Growing up in Athens during the harsh years of Italian and German Occupation resulted in irregular studies at the University and the Athens Conservatory, in consequence of which Hadjidakis was considered to be largely self-taught. He identified with a group of highpowered intellectuals and artists of the mid-war generation which included painters Yannis Tsarouchis, Yannis Moralis and poets such as Nikos Gatsos, Angelos Sikelianos, Odysseas Elitis, and George Seferis.
With the undisputed originality of his daring ideas he often aroused strong feelings, gaining notoriety at the same time. The best examples of this were his lecture in 1949 on the up-to-then scorned rebetika songs, and in 1980, when the controllers of the Hellenic Radio and Television Organization discontinued his original model for the Greek Third Radio Programme on the grounds of “provocative programming”.
From 1949 Hadjidakis remained a close associate of the modern dance company Hellenic Chorodrama and its founder dancer, the choreographer Rallou Manou, as well as of the stage director Karolos Koun and his Art Theatre. His long collaboration with both resulted in great productions that marked important cultural events for post-war Athens. These included the ballets For a Little White Seashell, Six Popular Pictures, Marsyas, The Accursed Serpent, Desolation, and the Ionian Suite. For Koun’s productions he created very successful music for plays by Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Shaw, Pirandello, Brecht, Tennessee Williams, and Lorca, music which was destined to become popular on its own merits, as, for example, the great success of his music for Aristophanes’ The Birds in 1962 at the Theatre of the Nations, later at the International Theatre Festival in London, finally to be choreographed by Maurice Béjart in 1965 as an operatic ballet at the Brussels Opera House.
In 1962 Manos Hadjidakis financed an international competition for contemporary composers in association with the Technological Institute of Athens. With Lucas Foss presiding over the jury, the prize was awarded to the then unknown composer Iannis Xenakis.
In 1964 Hadjidakis founded and directed the Athens Experimental Orchestra, which during its brief existence, from 1964 to 1967, introduced to the public fifteen Greek composers. In 1967 he moved to New York, where he mainly worked for the theatre (Jules Dassin’s Ilya Darling with Melina Merkouri) and the cinema (after America, Americaby Elia Kazan, and Jules Dassin’s Top Kapı, he produced film scores for three Hollywood motion pictures: Blue, Fade In, and The Heroes). In 1972, returning to Athens, he was appointed director general of the National Opera House (1974–76), head of radio programmes (1975–6), director general of the Athens State Orchestra (1976), and director of the Third Programme of Hellenic Radio (1975–1981) which, owing to its originality played an influential rôle in the cultural life of the time. In 1989, Hadjidakis founded and conducted his own orchestra, which he called the Orchestra of Colours. Eight months before his death, in November 1993, his old friend and colleague Maurice Béjart presented his choreography on the Hadjidakis song-cycle The Ballads of Athina’s Street at the Athens Concert Hall.
The music of Hadjidakis includes works for the piano, great song-cycles, among them the CNS Cycle, Mythology, Melissanthi’s Era, and Magnus Eroticus, music for classical drama, music for about fifty plays for the theatre, orchestral music (Gioconda’s Smile, recorded on Naxos 8.557992), film music for over sixty Greek productions and eighteen scores for foreign films by companies including Twentieth Century Fox, MGM, and Warner Bros.
Piano compositions by Manos Hadjidakis present a highly original and autonomous world of sound, which cares little for formal structure, its improvisatory character intrinsic to the nature of the music. Manos Hadjidakis’ strong personal aesthetic criteria and convictions led him into choices which included, together with an awareness of Western European musical trends, melodic designs based on the tetrachord of ancient Greek scales, the Asia Minor song and dance tradition, the rebetika (urban street songs comparable to the blues), the sound of popular instruments, and folk tradition. All of these contribute to his uniqueness.
The suite For a White Little Seashell, Op. 1, was completed in 1948 and dedicated to the film director Nikos Koundouros, for whom Hadjidakis provided very successful film scores. The suite includes five pairs of preludes followed by Greek traditional folk-dances. In these dances the composer succeeds in preserving their folk character by respecting the small-scale proportions in all musical parameters. The preludes are free, evocative pieces recalling sounds, or imagery particularly favoured by the composer, for example his fondness for Prokofiev in Conversation, where the Hasapiko dance is intertwined with harmonic progressions à la Prokofiev; the March, echoing the French school, which held a special place in his heart, especially Satie; his love for his native Crete, manifested in Mantinada, with its Cretan expressiveness. In 1957 the work was choreographed by Dora Tsatsou for the Hellenic Chorodrama, founded and directed by Rallou Manou.
The Six Popular Pictures, Op. 5, written in 1950, are piano arrangements of six rebetika songs, unknown at the time, which later won wide popularity. Hadjidakis aroused strong feelings and reactions when in his 1949 lecture at the Karolos Koun Art Theatre he challenged the established view by arguing the importance of rebetika and that their roots and authenticity can be traced back to Byzantine music and orthodox chant. The instinct of an artist once more proved to be right. These rebetika songs based on six dance rhythms share a common feeling of sorrow, nostalgia over what is lost for ever, idealized beauty and unfulfilled longings. The work as choreographed by Rallou Manou, a pupil of Martha Graham, in 1951, with costumes and stage designs by Yannis Moralis, marked an important point in the history of Hellenic Chorodrama.
The Ionian Suite, Op. 7, composed in 1953, contains five short movements, spare and light in texture. They are intimate and playful in character with a naivety echoing Federico Mompou, whose music Hadjidakis liked. The first and third movements play around with humorous dissonances of seventh chords and occasional bitonality. The second and fourth movements are typical “Hadjidakian” melodies, recalling so many of his magnificent songs. The last movement, Scherzo, evokes the popular entertainment music of the Greek community in Tatavla in Constantinople (the modern Kurtuluş in Istanbul). The Ionian Suite was also presented by the Hellenic Chorodrama of Rallou Manou in 1960, this time choreographed and danced by its principal dancers Andreas Peris and Rena Kambaladou.
Rhythmology, Op. 26, his last piano composition, epitomizes the strong Hellenic identity of Hadjidakis’ music. This work was completed in New York City in 1971, its completion coinciding with the death of the Nobel Prize winning poet George Seferis, to whom it is dedicated. A strong admirer of George Seferis, Hadjidakis provides through musical means a metaphor of Seferis’ poetics throughout the unfolding of Rhythmology. The work consists of six pairs of pieces, with the first piece of each pair based on an odd rhythm, starting in 5/8 and succeeded by 7/8, 9/8, 11/8, 13/8, and 15/8. The odd metres emerge mostly from the melodic patterns and not necessarily, as one might assume, from dance patterns. It is the very inflection of the melodic curve that gives birth to such metres, from which the composer aims to extract all the lyrical potential rather than treating them as rhythmic pieces or dances. Each second piece in these pairs is a Hasapiko, a traditional popular dance of Byzantine origin, in duple time and of moderate speed. Each Hasapiko bears a dedication to a constellation, and serves as a poetic resolution to the preceding piece in odd rhythm. This serves to create a mosaic of very old melodic patterns deriving from popular traditional music. The inlay of this mosaic often has a surprising, solemn dignity of expression, and bears the mark of the Greek people's yearnings as they were captured by the music of the collective consciousness, often referred to as Romiossyni.