ClassicsOnline Home » KALOMIRIS, M.: Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2 / Lyrics / Minas the Rebel (Russian State Symphonic Cappella, Karlovy Vary Symphony, Fidetzis)
Manolis Kalomiris is honoured as the father of Greek national music. The inspired orchestration of Kalomiris’s Piano Rhapsody No. 1 by Gabriel Pierné moved Byron Fidetzis to orchestrate the second of these, sub-titled Song of the Night. The versatile soprano Julia Souglakou, whose wide-ranging repertoire includes operas by Greek composers, interprets Lyrics, a setting of poems by Angelos Sikelianos, and the renowned Greek actress Eva Kotamanidou recounts a small miracle In St Luke’s Monastery. The symphonic poems Minas the Rebel and Death of the Valiant Woman present in purely orchestral garb contrasting tales of vengeance, valour and visionary transformation.
Manolis Kalomiris (1883–1962)
Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2 • Lyrics • In St Luke’s Monastery
The two Rhapsodies of Kalomiris were written in the year 1921—there are no manuscripts to inform us of precise dates—and were published five years later, in Paris, by the Menestrel Publishing House. The reason why the first, which the composer had dedicated to José Iturbi, was originally shown special interest, is because in 1925 it was orchestrated by the French composer and conductor Gabriel Pierné. Pierné’s orchestration of the piece was a personal gift as well as a clear sign of his respect for the Greek composer.
Notably, in this music Kalomiris dared approach French harmonic language, experimenting with an aesthetic element to which Pierné’s impressionist orchestration directly draws our attention. There are two manuscripts of this orchestral score in Kalomiris’s Archives. One of them, apparently in a copyist’s hand, bears Pierné’s signature as well as a dedication, while the other one has been copied by Kalomiris himself. We already know that the composer worked on his pieces repeatedly and often revised his orchestral scores, but his reason for copying the full score is unknown. He may have done so, of course, for purely practical reasons, the need, perhaps, for one more full score in order for the piece to be performed. He even dated the manuscript in French—Mardi le 12 Mai 1925. Nevertheless, both the handwriting and the quality of paper show the copy to have been made many years later. So the composer had only meant to produce one more copy, perhaps to protect the first manuscript, which might have been copied by Pierné himself, from possible damage, often the case in performance. The Rhapsody in its orchestral form was first performed on 12 December 1925 at the Kentrikon Theatre in Athens, where Dimitris Mitropoulos conducted the Recitals’ Association Symphony Orchestra. The full score was edited by Kalomiris in 1957.
Kalomiris gave Rhapsody No. 2 the title Song to the Night. In the French edition, immediately above the French translation Chant à la Nuit, one can also see the Greek title in Latin characters. Similar to that title is the Evening Song, translated in French as Chant du soir, which Kalomiris gave to one of his easy piano pieces for Greek Children. Rhapsody No. 2 followed the orchestral process of Rhapsody No. 1, sixty years later, when it was orchestrated by the conductor Byron Fidetzis. He comments:
‘The Second Piano Rhapsody, composed in 1921, belongs to the composer’s second creative period, as seen by the orchestrator or the piece itself. The works which were composed after the Symphony of Levendia, such as The Pedlar, the Trio for piano, violin and cello, the Piano Rhapsodies, the second cycle of the Iambs and Anapaests, and, finally, the Symphony of the Simple and Good People, are considered to belong to the above mentioned period, which, for the composer, is probably much more interesting and important than his last one. This period is characterized by the influence of French music, with its innovations in both harmony and orchestration. Not unreasonably then, many of his works belonging to the period in question were printed and performed in France, including the Trio I Love You, and other works’.
The fact that the prominent French composer and conductor Gabriel Pierné orchestrated Rhapsody No. 1 is of primary importance. It also became the original source of inspiration for the orchestration of Rhapsody No. 2, together with the orchestrator’s personal opinion that this particular work is the best piano piece ever composed by Kalomiris. In this scoring, which took place between the years 1987 and 1988, two things were mainly kept in mind; Kalomiris’s relationship with the French music of the first decades of the twentieth century, as well as the way in which the composer himself orchestrated other works of his, compositions similar to this one in terms of texture and atmosphere.
The orchestrator dedicates this work to his old friend Alexis Zakinthinos, in the hope that it is does not betray the original.
The Songs of Sikelianos, widely known under the title Lyrics had its première in Athens in May 1937. The first two songs (Aphrodite Rising and The Holy Virgin of Sparta) were composed in 1936 and the last one, The First Rain, in 1937. In the composer’s manuscript there are nine bars from a fourth song, which was supposed to have the title Panas. These songs, the only ones that Kalomiris composed based on poems by Sikelianos, are one of his most interesting musical approaches and at the same time a unique symphonic achievement.
Music’s interrelationship with narration became one of Kalomiris’s regular preoccupations from the year 1943. In addition to the symphonic poem In Saint Luke’s Monastery, he composed two more works for narrator and orchestra: In the Palaces of the Art of Song, to a poem by K. Palamas (1943–46), and The Destruction of Psara, to a poem by D. Solomos (1949?). Yet, in the music memoirs From Captain Lyras’ Life and Longings, for narrator, soloists and orchestra, the narrator plays a considerable part as well. Besides, in Symphony No. 3, the so-called Palamiki, for orchestra, with dramatic recitation, Kalomiris seems to have built all four parts of the Symphony upon the narrator’s rôle.
In Saint Luke’s Monastery, a piece for narrator and orchestra, is the composer’s second symphonic poem after The Pedlar (1920–24). Kalomiris himself in the full score mentions that words should freely interlink with music. Still, the music precisely underlines meanings and images, prolonging the thoughts and visions of Sikelianos, and justifying, at the same time, the form of the symphonic poem. The text’s dramatic atmosphere is transmitted to Kalomiris’s music language. The composer, on the other hand, found in the large orchestra the palette he needed. Yet he never became particularly preoccupied with Sikelianos’s poetry, and only set to music three of his poems forming the song cycle From the Lyric Poems of Sikelianos, and the military song Onward. The piece was first performed on 25 May 1937, at the Olympia Theatre in Athens, with Takis Karousos reading the narrator’s part. It was conducted by Leonidas Zoras. In 1959 Kalomiris published In Saint Luke’s Monastery in the form of a piece for violin, piano and narrator. The composer had given primary importance to the violin solo in the original score as well. In this version Kalomiris dedicated the piece to the actor Thanos Kotsopoulos, who had taken part in the first performance of the Palamiki Symphony as the narrator on 22 January 1956.
The plot of this symbolic poem takes place in the night of Holy Saturday, just before the profoundly joyful news of Christ’s Resurrection. At first the poet describes the warm, religious atmosphere in the monastery of Saint Luke with the candles, flowers and aura of the spring night. The congregation is waiting anxiously. Suddenly, a young villager, who was believed to be dead, returns from the war. His appearance in the entrance of the church at the very moment of the Resurrection is shocking for his fellow villagers. But even more shocking is the fact that, although all remembered him as a dancer, who impressed the girls with his dance in the village’s feasts, now he is standing on a wooden leg, as another tragic victim of the war. The soldier’s mother runs among the crowd and hugs her son’s wooden leg. People burst out in a scream of horror, while the poet watches the whole scene as in a dream, with tears in his eyes.
– Filippos Tsalahouris
Minas the Rebel, Corsair of the Aegean • The Death of the Valiant Woman
The symphonic poem Minas the Rebel was brought to completion on 16 September 1940, as one can see on the last page of the hand-written full score which is kept in Kalomiris’s house in Faliron. There is one more handwritten full score which only mentions the year 1940.
The piece is based on Kostis Bastias’s novel, published in the late 1930s. It met with great enthusiasm from both the critics and the public; in 1940, Bastias was awarded the Stefanos Mavrogenis Prize by the Academy of Athens.
Kalomiris expressed his heart-felt admiration for the author and the book in a review which was published in the newspaper The National, on 14 March 1939. Deep in his soul, the great excitement that the book caused him, was automatically transformed into music. To mention only a few of his words in that review, “… my soul is still filled with the complex, multicoloured sounds of this unique sea symphony, those sounds which moved my soul with all the fierceness and music of the blue Aegean sea”.
The work was first performed in the National Theatre of Athens on 18 October 1940, only ten days before the outbreak of the Greek-Italian war. The Athens Conservatory Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Leonidas Zoras. Kalomiris mentions the date and performers of that concert in his hand-written full score, noting that the performance was excellent as a whole.
Born in Siros, Minas the Rebel, an inexperienced seventeen-year-old boy, seeking vengeance upon the corsair Giakoumis who had taken his sisters, goes to sea on a pirate ship. He becomes captain of the ship with the help of Styliani, a woman taken captive by the previous captain, and marries her when the revolt ends. With time, he becomes the terror of the Aegean sea. A West European admiral, defeated by Minas, takes Styliani and her child in order to hand them over to the Sultan’s harem. Minas beats the French ships only to find his child dead and his wife breathing her last. In a fit of rage against God, he sets out to loot Mount Athos. On reaching the first monastery though, and on hearing the abbot and monks praying, he suddenly loses his sight and has a vision of his wife sitting beside the abbot with her child in her arms. Shattered by this vision, he repents of his sins, finds peace and joins the monks.
Kalomiris composed The Death of the Valiant Woman, his symphonic poem in “ballet form”, as he called it, in 1943; he worked, however, on the piece after that date as well, during the years 1944 and 1945.
The piece is dedicated to the memory of the young Simone Seaille, both a friend and a comrade to Krino, the composer’s daughter, who had been arrested and executed by the Germans for her participation in the French Resistance, shortly before France was liberated. Simone was the daughter of the singer Speranza Kalo (Elpida Kalogeropoulou), who was a good friend as well as a collaborator with Kalomiris, later becoming a relative of his too, since her son Jean, married the composer’s daughter.
The Death of the Valiant Woman praises the bravery and self-sacrifice of the heroic Greek women who will fight the enemy with no less courage than that of the Greek men. Neither the time of action nor the enemy is clearly defined, but since the piece was composed in the middle of the German occupation it most probably refers to that historic period. The piece has an intensely epic character, its melody being based on the popular Dance of Zaloggo, which permeates the whole piece in its numerous variations. The work was first performed in 1943, transcribed for piano by Kalomiris, at the Rex, with Loukia Sakellariou as choreographer and leading dancer. In its orchestral form it was first performed by the Athens State Orchestra at the Olympia in 1945. It was conducted by the composer himself. Finally, the work was fully staged by the National Greek Opera, choreographed by Angelos Grimanis, with the composer once more conducting the piece.
By killing one of the enemies who had invaded her village early that morning, the Valiant Woman encourages the rest of the women to fight together with their men. She gets to the front line and fights beside her loved one, being badly wounded. Without letting anybody understand her pain, she fights on, heartening the other women also, until the enemy retreats. She leads the dance of victory together with the rest of the village women, only to sink to the ground, dead. Slowly, her death turns from lament to glorification, and everybody thinks that they can see Liberty rising imperiously on the horizon, while the hymn Christ Has Risen is heard everywhere…
– Myrto Economides