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ClassicsOnline Home » MARKOPOULOS, Y.: Shapes in Motion / Pyrrichios Dance No. 13, "Nemesis" / Concerto-Rhapsody / Triptych (Grauwels, Spyridakis, Papatheodorou, Tilkin)
To honour the most representative instrument of his native Crete, Yannis Markopoulos composed his melodious Concerto-Rhapsody for Lyre in which the exotic solo instrument and orchestra display an engaging, symbiotic relationship. His Triptych awakens the listener’s imagination with the contrasting sonorities of flute, harp and strings, while Shapes in Motion establishes from primordial ideas a harmonious balance between solo piano and orchestra. The shorter works showcase his graceful musicality, love of ancient myths and concern for the environment.
By Oleg Ledeniov
Yannis Markopoulos (b. 1939)
Works for Piano, Flute and Lyre
The composer Yannis Markopoulos was born in 1939 in Heraklion, Crete. From one of the old families of the island—his father was a lawyer and later Prefect—he spent his childhood in the seaside town of Ierapetra. The Byzantine liturgy heard regularly from the church opposite his family home, Cretan traditional music, with its rapid dances of repeated small motifs, played by local instruments at the town’s weekly festivities, but at the same time the sound of the sea waves and the detonation of land-mines in the aftermath of World War II, all these formed part of the acoustic universe of the composer as a child. He took his first lessons in music theory and the violin at the local conservatory and played the clarinet in the municipal band. Meanwhile other musical experiences of decisive importance were classical music as well as the music of the wider Eastern Mediterranean and, most important of all, that of nearby Egypt, which he heard either over the radio or from musicians and travellers passing through his hometown. Thanks to his father’s extensive private library he had the opportunity to deepen his knowledge, beyond school education, in literature, philosophy, history and the arts. He began composing music during his adolescence and two melodies of this time would later become songs popular throughout Greece.
In 1956 Markopoulos moved to Athens to further his music studies at the Athens Conservatory under the composer Yiorgos Sklavos and the violin teacher Joseph Bustidui, while studying philosophy and sociology at the Panteion University. While a student he composed music for the theatre, for the cinema and for dance performances. When he was 24 he was awarded the
Music Prize of the Thessaloniki Film Festival for Nikos Koundouros’ film Young Aphrodites and subsequently his works Theseus (dance-drama), Hiroshima(ballet
suite) and Three Dances Sketches were performed by avant-garde dance groups. In 1967 a military dictatorship was imposed in Greece. Markopoulos left for London, where he enriched his knowledge with the English composer Elizabeth Lutyens, while his acquaintance with the composers Janis Christou and Iannis Xenakis played an important rôle in the
deepening of his contact with the most pioneering musical figures. In London he composed the secular cantata Ilios o Protos (Sun the First) on the poetry of Odysseus Elytis (Nobel Prize 1979) and completed the musical ceremony Idou o Nymphios, a work the composer still wishes to keep unreleased with the exception of one part of the work, the song Zavara-Katra-Nemia, a vocal composition of Dionysian character, that was released in 1966 and became one of his best known pieces. Also in London he composed Chroismoi (Oracles) for symphony orchestra and the Pyrrichioi Dances A, B, C (the first three of the 24 Dances he completed in 2001) that were performed in 1968 by the London Concertante Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. During the same year he was commissioned to write the music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest performed by the English National Theatre and directed by David Jones. In 1969 Markopoulos returned to Athens with a musical vision that would not only change the course of music in Greece but would also lend immediate moral support to the general demand for the restoration of democracy, the struggle being led primarily by university students and intellectuals. He founded a new and highly distinctive musical ensemble which included Greek local instruments. Thus the piano was combined with the lyre for the first time, while he also added instruments of his own invention, particularly among the percussion, with the intention of enriching the variety of sounds. He then selected young musicians, singers and actors, from both the city and the provinces, and collaborating with painters and poets he presented a series of performances with his musical works Ilios o Protos (Sun the First), Chroniko (Chronicle), Ithagenia (Nativeland), Thitia (Lifetime), Stratis Thalassinos Among the Agapanthi (poetry by George Seferis, Nobel Prize 1963), Oropedio (Mountain Plain) at the Lydra venue which he named a musicstudio. His most fervent supporters were indeed the students and the intellectuals who filled the musicstudio daily despite the constant interventions of the regime that would attempt to shut it down. The composer’s vision had materialised and a new musical wave had been born which he termed “Return to the Roots”. He defined it as “a project for the future, involving the process of examination, evaluation and selection of the indestructible sources of our living traditions in combination with selected contemporary art forms and elements”: the outcome was an exceptionally original sound emerging from the unique tone colours stemming from the unaccustomed blends of instruments and voices. In 1976 he composed the popular liturgy The Free Besieged, based on the poem by Greece’s national poet Dionysius Solomos, which he conducted in the crowded Panathenean Stadium, and which was presented in London in 1979. In 1977 he composed the music for the BBC television series Who Pays the Ferryman? The theme tune topped the British charts for months and gained the composer international renown. Numerous invitations for concerts abroad followed, in Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Canada, Russia, Australia and the United States. Markopoulos continued composing music for the theatre and for the cinema collaborating with directors such as Jules Dassin, George Cosmatos, Nikos Koundouros and Spyros Evaggelatos. Through both his work and his stance, Yannis Markopoulos shaped the musical landscape of the 1970s.
In 1980 Markopoulos married the singer Vassiliki Lavina, long-time associate, and in 1981 his daughter Eleni was born. For a period he sought a more private life with his family while preparing for the opening of a new chapter in his music, compositions that would display melodic outbursts sustained by polytonic quality and dazzling rhythms of an inexhaustible exuberance. In 1987 he founded the Palintonos Armonia Orchestra (the name derived from Heraclitus) with which he would give concerts in Greece and abroad and record many of his works. The compositions of this period include the Concerto-Rhapsody for Lyre and Symphony Orchestra, Mitroa for string orchestra, the Healing Symphony, two oratorios, two song cycles, chamber music works, four quartets, two sonatas, and five pieces for violin and piano. In 1994 he composed one of his most important works The Liturgy of Orpheus. There followed Re-Naissance: Crete between Venice and Constantinople, a musical journey in four units that strikes a balance between the opera form and that of the oratorio, and the opera Erotokritos and Areti. In 1999 he composed Shapes in Motion, a piano concerto inspired by Pythagoras and dedicated to his daughter Eleni. Some of
his latest works are Evilia Topia (Sunlit Landscapes), fantasy for solo flute; O Nomos tis Thalporis, oratorio-musical spectacle for voices, choir, wind orchestra, ballet and video projection, dedicated to the environment; and Triptych for Flute, Strings and Harp.
Pyrrichios Dance No. 13: Nemesis
Markopoulos composed the 24 Pyrrichioi Dances between 1966 and 2001 and they were first performed in their entirety on 31 August 2001 at the Herod Atticus Theatre within the framework of the Athens Festival. The 24 Pyrrichioi Dances correspond to the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, each letter forming the beginning of the title-word, the meaning of which reflects the form and style of each dance. Nemesis was an ancient Greek divinity whose activity was connected with the idea of an equilibrium, the disturbance of which inevitably
incurs punishment. The composer originally wrote this dance for violin and orchestra; in its final form, however, he changed the rôle of the solo instrument to the flute.
Shapes in Motion (Piano Concerto)
Shapes in Motion possesses the morphological characteristics of the piano concerto in its free form, that is three movements, Allegro, Lento and Presto. There is a cadenza only in the third movement. Markopoulos created a context where the piano and the orchestra coexist. He was inspired by Pre-Socratic interpretations of the natural laws and particularly by the theory of the harmony of the spheres that is attributed to Pythagoras, as well as by the present-day deepening awareness of the sounds of the cosmos.
In the first movement the initial 26 bars contain compacted orchestral and piano cells which are not repeated at any other point of the concerto and which comprise a composite prologue. The continuous syncopations of the strings in a high tessitura with chords of fifths, seconds and sevenths accompanying the piano are characteristic of the composer’s style. In the second movement there are two themes. The first begins with the entrance of the strings and the arpeggios of the piano. The second theme is interpreted by the full orchestra and is repeated by the piano. The third movement has the character of a Dionysian dance, achieved through deliberate rhythmic instabilities that govern the relation between piano and orchestra.
Triptych for Flute, Strings and Harp
Among the latest works composed by Markopoulos in the period 2001–2006 are the three Triptychs, for solo piano, for guitar and strings, and the present work in
three movements, Andante moderato, Adagio and Andantino scherzoso, bearing, respectively, the names Mitir (Mother), Esperio Fos (Evening Light), Agapi (Love). The first movement, Mitir, consists of alternating motifs of a basic, autonomous melody. In Esperio Fos the composer uses as a basis the melodic theme of one of his older songs, remoulding the form of its composition with frequent dialogue between the flute, the strings and the harp. The third movement, Agapi, is in the same mood but evolves through three musical themes. The first theme presented by the strings has the rôle of an introduction. The second follows with the flute, progressing in variations throughout virtually the entirety of the composition. Midway a new rhythmic theme arises in the strings, that merges with the theme of the flute. It could be said that with the Triptych Markopoulos aspires to awaken in the listener a feeling of romantic contemplation.
Concerto-Rhapsody for Lyre and Symphony Orchestra
Markopoulos wrote his Concerto-Rhapsody with the aim of honouring the lyre, the most representative instrument of his native Crete, establishing in his composition the essence of musical symbiosis and associations of expression between a local instrument and the symphony orchestra by means of his melodic conception, his rhythms, his harmonic structures and the tone colours of the transparent orchestration that characterize his personal style.
The symbiosis and the similarity of sound between the lyre and the orchestra develop in the first movement, where the orchestra begins by accompanying the lyre’s extended melodic line, while in the second movement there develops an organized dialogue with the exposition of the basic theme by the orchestra. In the third movement (Presto) the symbiosis is converted into musical contrasts, even conflicts, where the composer has the lyre rendering motifs of a popular Cretan dance. The work was given its première in the summer of 1987 in the Nikos Kazantzakis Park Theatre of Irakleio in Crete and was conducted by the composer. Later it was performed in Athens at the Lycabettus Theatre, in London and in Brussels. Since then it has been performed numerous times, the main interest of the Concerto-Rhapsody being in its originality of form and distinctiveness of sound. In 2001 the composer made a further elaboration on the work, expanding the symphonic element with a greater number of strings. It is in this new version that the work has been recorded.
Note: The lyre is a stringed instrument whose existence is documented since the Byzantine period in the ninth century. It is has three strings tuned in fifths (D-A-E) and is mostly played in Crete. The lyre player does not use the tips of his fingers to play, as for instance with the violin, but his nails, plucking the strings from the side.
Little Fantasy for Flute and Piano
Little Fantasy for Flute and Piano is a chamber music work. It was composed by Markopoulos in the spring of 2005. The theme is marked by a spare rhythm, with finely coloured variations. It had its première in June 2005 at the Athens Festival.
Lamento forms part of the work Two Classical Sketches for Flute and String Sextet, composed early in Markopoulos’s career in 1958 during his studies at the
Athens Conservatory and influenced by the pre-classical period. Beneath the solo flute theme that develops through variations, the accompaniment of the strings, expressed in restrained polyphonic terms, is developed through counter-themes and contrapuntal elements. When the work was recorded, Markopoulos added the harp to the score, which begins with chords in arpeggios before the entrance of the basic theme on the cello; he also gave the harp a counter-theme in the middle of the piece. Lamento is in C minor, with the last four bars
providing a coda.
Evilia Topia – Sunlit Landscapes, Fantasy for solo flute
Evilia Topia (Sunlit Landscapes), a fantasy for solo flute, was given its première by Marc Grauwels in the Central Hall of the UNESCO Building in Paris in
February 1997 in a concert given by Markopoulos at the invitation of the international organization. The concert, whose theme was the conservation of the global environment, featured The Liturgy of Orpheus. Markopoulos based the work on the pentatonic scale and on a form of aleatoric scale. It was dedicated by the composer to Marc Grauwels.
Recorded at the Auditorium of the VRO Orchestra, Zaal Eden, Leuven, Belgium, in June 2003 (track 1); at Studio Steurbaut, Ghent, Belgium, from 19 to 21 September 2007 (tracks 2–4, 8–11 and 13); and at Jardin du Mayeur, Mons, Belgium, on 19 October 2007 (tracks 5-7 and 12)
Brussels Virtuosi prepared by its principal violinist and resident conductor, Jean-François Chamberlan
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MARKOPOULOS, Y.: Shapes in Motion / Pyrrichios Dan...