Friday, August 08, 2014

CCC 112 - Mikis Theodorakis

Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis is the subject of this week's Consonant Classical Challenge. The state purpose of the challenge is to identify living composers writing tonally-based music of quality. If there's one thing that collectively the series has shown, it's that there are many ways for a composer to use tonality. In the case of Mikis Theodorakis, his harmonic structures can be very simple or extremely complex, depending on the purpose.

Theodorakis studied with Olivier Messiaen, from whom he learned an expanded view of tonality. Theodorakis is also vitally interested in the traditional music of Greece, which (like most folk music) relies on triadic harmonies with much repetition.

Theodorakis is best known for his film scores, which include "Zorba, the Greek," "Z," "State of Siege," and "Serpico." Those who only know him through this body might be surprised as the more thickly textured sounds of his concert music.

His Symphony No. 3 is a large work for chorus and orchestra. While based on Byzantine hymns (part of Greece's musical heritage), one can also hear some jazz elements. This is a somewhat dark work, and bears some resemblance to the orchestral music of Messiaen., but mostly toanl and dark. Personally, I hear the influence of Messiaen.

Theodorakis has strong ideals, which has lead to conflict. During the Regime of the Colonels, he was first imprisoned and then exiled for his outspoken opposition to tyranny. After the fall of the Colonels, he returned and resumed acting on his beliefs. Theodorakis has served as a member of the Greek parliament several times, and is a champion of education and social justice.

His piano concerto articulates these larger-than-life conflicts. It's expansive, and although tonal, the music's not locked into major/minor. In some sections there's a Stravinsky-like leanness to the score. To my ears, there's a continual contest of wills between the soloist and the orchestra. It's not pretty music, but it's thrilling.

The Fantasia in G minor, by contrast, uses more traditional, albeit thickly textured chords. Somewhat formal in structure, the work sounds almost neo-classical with folk elements cleverly woven in.

Despite Theodorakis' large catalog of first-rate compositions, he'll always be best known for his score to "Zorba the Greek." Although many think Zorba's dance a simple folk tune, it's actually an original work by Theodorakis.

When I researched Mikis Theodorakis for this series, I wasn't sure I would find anything of value. Would it all be as simple and folk-like as "Zorba, the Greek?" Not at all. Theodorakis' classical works are not only well-constructed compositions, but his strong passions imbue them with authenticity of expression and a restless energy. I would love to hear a complete cycle of his symphonies -- and much more besides.

Recommended Recordings

The Classic Collection

Mikis Theodorakis - Symphonic Works III / Symphony No 2

The Symphonies - The Moscow Symphony Orchestra

Mikis Theodorakis - Symphonic Works Iv / Symphony No 3

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