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The Ballet "Antigone" and its consequences

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"Antigone" was Theodorakis's first real recognition in the world of western classical music..

Antigone ar Covent Garden
ln 1959 Theodorakis's ballet "Antigone" was premiered at Covent Garden. It was his first real recognition in the world of western classical music. Its reception was generally favourable, although N. Goodwin, writing in the Musical Courier, described it as 'a servicable but thickly orchestrated and episodic score derived from Stravinsky, Hindemith and Greek folk song'.

Enthusiastic praise came from balletomane A. L. Haskell: 'Here at last we have a complete ballet in the Diaghileff sense of the term in which the collaboration between the choreographer (John Cranko), composer (Mikis Theodorakis), and designer (Rufino Tamayo) serves the story to perfection ..."

Theodorakis's score is a magnificent example of writing for narrative ballet. Every note advances the story and throughout there is the a feeling of the inevitable tragic climax'.

Again, Theodorakis had attempted a synthesis of Greek melodic material with the techniques of modern compostlon he was studying under Olivier Messiaen. ln many ways it was his most successful work to date. It also marked a turning point in his career. 'When I was writing my Antigone', he said in an article written in 1966, '1 used mathematical computations in the relationships of sounds to such an extent that I felt a lack in my knowledge of mathematics. Then I saw two roads opening ahead of me: I could either start my mathematics or attempt a radical return to the roots' (In: Our Generation, 1966)

But the decision was based on more than Theodorakis's inadequate knowledge of mathematics. He noticed, during the performance of Antigone, that the audience responded coolly to the greater part of the ballet, but that the opening " section,where the chorus dirge is based clearly on Byzantine melodic , elements, made an obvious emotional impact. This chorus section is, to use his own words, 'smooth as a Byzantine melody, supported by very simple harmonic lines springing from the Byzantine "isson" [a sort of cantus firmus supplied by the cantors]. And in this lies the success of Antigone. ln this art, my own true self was to be found. It was then that I realised my path was the return to the roots".

Theodorakis was on the threshold of international success as a composer.
If he had remained with Xenakis in Paris he might now be in the inner sanctum of the avant-garde. Everywhere that Xenakis goes the crItics are sure to follow. He uses fashionable techniques with the skill of a trained mathematician to support them. He justifies his works in almost incomprehensible prose. His Greekness lends a faint exoticism to his otherwise European approach, and provides him with the titles for his compositions, but it has little more to do with the sort of rnusic he is now writing than Picasso's bulls link him to I Spanish art. This is not necessarily a criticism of Xenakis as a composer; it simply means that he chose a certain path as a composer, one that Theodorakis rejected, and by his rejection removed himself from the attention of international 'serious' musical criticism.

For a short period, from 1960 to 1967, Theodorakis's music and that of some of his fellow composers in the 'serious popular' field received critical attention from the intellectual world of Athens but the dictatorship interrupted the normal course of cultural life in Greece I and by the post-Junta period there were so many non-musical factors involved with Theodorakis's music that critical impartiality was out of the question.

Theodorakis's decision to return to Greece in 1959 was based on his dissatisfaction with the ability of contemporary compositional techniques to communicate with a wide audience and on his desire to establish a vital national school of music in Greece, something which Xenakis and Mitropoulos had both urged him to do.

He was conscious of having a mission, a key role to play in his country's cultural and political development. His sense of historical importance was heightened and perhaps exaggerated by the events of the dictatorship. He became a Byronic figure of a hero complete with an entourage of admiring women, but in 1959, when he returned to Athens and set about what seemed an impossible task of revitalising his country's musical life, he was a little known-figure on the fringe of the musical establishment, equipped with nothing but his musical talent and a sense of his importance as a vehicle to express the dreadful events of his country's recent history.

© Gail Holst: Theodorakis. Myth & Politics in Modern Greek Music, 1980

Composition: From 1958 to 31 August 1959 in Paris
10 Sections:
1. Antigone - Hémon (Andante cantabile)
2. Choeur (Allegro marcato)
3. Entrée et Mort du Roi (Andante con moto)
4. Jocaste - Antigone
5. a) Etéocle - Polynice - Antigone
5. b) Choeur (Marcato)
6. a) Mort de Jocaste & Antigone - Les Frères - Choeur
6. b) Etéocle - Polynice - Antigone & Antigone - Hémon
7. Etéocle - Polynice - Danse des Poingoals
8. a) Femmes - Antigone - Hémon
8. b) Mort de Jocaste & Antigone - Les Frères - Choeur
9. La Guerre - Choeur des Femmes
10. Finale
Creation, le 19.10.1959 at Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London
Chorégraphy: John Cranko
Music Direction: Hugo Rignold

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