Mikis Theodorakis: I like craftsmen, people who work with material such as wood, iron or leather. Besides the craft itself, there is the joy of doing, of creating, of making something. This creative enjoyment is essential tome. The form it takes depends on the influences or the concrete needs of the moment, but also on coincidence.
Beginning of the score of ELEKTRA
When I was comrnissioned with the ballet Zorba during my visit to Verona, the mere fact that I was in the aura of Verdi's Aida and Puccini's Turandot gave me the idea of delving deeper into lyrical conception. After the triumph of Zorba, I told Mr. Ernani, the director of the festival: Since I have lived that much close to the atmosphere of Verdi, Puccini and Bellini, I shall write one piece for each of these great composers..."
I have always been fascinated by the atmosphere of the opera, since the approach to the essence of its music is fundamentally different from the approach to absolute music. There is the magic of theatre, costumes, scenery and direction. It is the essence of life, and those who take part in it are truly creative. They become creators of types and characters, almost demiurges.
Through my work with the opera, I had the opportunity of giving my inspiration a new dimension, and it was this fascination which led me to begin composing Medea and Electra.
At the same time, I returned to my roots. In my youth I was already intensely aware of tradition, mythology, the gods and demigods. Now that the gods are dead and the waters of poetry have dried up, I feel the need inside me to immerse myself in our mythical history and to look on the great figures of the past in my work.
Guy Wagner: Initially, however, you approached a contemporary myth, a 20th Century Greek myth. The subject of your first opera was the poet Kostas Karyotakis, who committed suicide. You compared his life with that of Dionysus and the betrayal he had to suffer - an element, one could say, which you rediscovered in yourself; since you have often been the victim of betrayal.
Mikis Theodorakis: I began Karyotakis around 1985 as an opera buffo on the basis of music with many caricatures, avant-garde music for me, especially with respect to the harmonies and the rhythms. It was my first attempt at writing an opera.
When I then returned to the ancient myths, I initially chose Medea, which I believe to be the tragedy of all tragedies.
Up to that point, I had fixed my attention more closely to "lyricism", but in an opera you also have the dramatic element of tragedy: It is an area which gives the composer a great chance of expressing himself and the whole labyrinth representing passions.
I finally had the opportunity of entering into my natural domain, namely melody. From Mozart to the Italians, opera forms a suite of melodies, of, one could say, developed songs.
These composers, however, unlike the Greeks in the 18th and 19th Centuries, had orchestras at their disposal and could apply all the technique of European musical studies. What for? To compose songs!
Had Verdi been born in Greece, had he been Tsitsanis or Theodorakis, and had I been an Italian, I would always have written operas.
When I write operas, I can surrender myself to the melody, because opera, as I have already said, is a melodic suite.
In Medea, this 'suite' is five and a half hours long, without recitatives. Everything is melody. Later, melody and rhythm combine. The melody is horizontal, but it needs supports, pillars, and these pillars are rhythm and harmony.
The harmonic language of my music seems very simple, but it is highly developed. It is a language representing the fruits of fifty years' experience. Should anyone take the trouble to study my music, if he analyses the harmonic language and travels from Medea to Electra, I believe he will experience many surprises.
Guy Wagner: What l have discovered in Medea and Electra is this: The voice of Medea or Orestes represents an independent flow, whilst the instruments, strings on the one hand and woodwind on the other, also represent separate currents. The orchestra does not de facto take over the melodic lines of the soloists, but remains autonomous, even as it supports the voices.
Mikis Theodorakis: You are quite right. I develop an opera like an oratorio or a symphony. It is an enormous symphony, an enormous oratorio and I think that, thanks to opera, one will finally see the difference between me and other composers; and that one should no longer judge the ancient world by words alone, as one does now, but through music, through my music, since one is thereby far closer to the ancient spirit.
Guy Wagner: What about the musical structure of "Electra"?
Mikis Theodorakis: There are great arias for Electra and Clyternnestra. Electra has a great, very tender theme, like a song. And this main theme is taken up at the end by Chrysothemis, closing the tragedy.
Guy Wagner: When developing your work, do you integrate themes from earlier works into newer pieces (i.e. contrafracture, as defined by the musicologist Peter Zacher) as an underlying principle?
Mikis Theodorakis: Yes, there are themes which I did not wish to leave in the dark and which returned by themselves. When I compose a melodic line, at a certain point in time I am unconsciously led to a theme which is not new, but suddenly there. Thus there are themes based on works from 1942 in my newest pieces.
That is why I always wished to transcribe an entire tragedy into music, all the more so since it is known that the great authors of tragedy in ancient times were also musicians.
Sophocles wrote music for his tragedies. Traces of it have been rediscovered. Tragedies were therefore sung from beginning to end, not only the chorus parts, but also the leading characters' texts.
We Greeks can identify with the spirit of tragedy in an extraordinary way. I myself started working with the National Theatre in Epidaurus and Athens in the nineteen fifties and cannot even tell you how many theatre scores for pieces by Aristophanes, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides I composed. Thus it is normal for me to return to these treasures, because for me, Medea or Electra are nor two thousand years' past, but represent our world, the divided world of today.
Electra and Orestes' feelings are always true, their dramas are the same as today's.
Thus, I am now returning to the sources of ancient tragedy, with the confidence that I am not only writing something contemporary, but also that I can express the spirit of universal harmony with our myths.
Guy Wagner: If I understand you correctly, the entire "Electra" drama refers to the fact that universal harmony has been violated.
Mikis Theodorakis: Agamemnon kills his daughter: he defies universal law. Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon: she defies universal law. Electra and Orestes become instruments of universal law, the great law of universal harmony, but by killing their mother, they complicate matters further and enter into a new cycle of crime.
We are condemned to be damned, because we are perhaps the only beings on Earth and in the Universe, which do not heed the law of universal harmony.
Guy Wagner: Why is the figure of Electra so close to your heart?
Mikis Theodorakis: She is a young girl, a beautiful young girl who is so alone, a princess who married under the shadow of her father, who loves her father so dearly...: There is something magical about the figure. On the other hand, her hate for her mother is rather unnatural.
Electra loves the shadow of her father; she loves her brother Orestes, the liberator who is also a symbol of harshness, of blood. He returns, out of love for his sister and father, whom he must avenge. But in doing so, he himself becomes a victim.
One must understand Clytemnestra too, however. She saw how her husband killed her daughter.
Much is said about her, though Cassandra is not talked about Agamemnon brings his mistress into the palace.
This is pure patriarchy. Clytemnestra, the wife who kills her husband - that is matriarchy.
Patriarchy and matriarchy represent the basic structures of civilization and its development. I have the impression that through the characters of Clytemnestra and Electra, I touch on the sources of human nature, descend deep into the human soul and express the deepest depths of the human soul.
With these thoughts in mind I composed Electra, and gradually felt as if I was creating myself. For the last five years, I have lived with the texts of Euripides and Sophocles and worked on them. Five years which have become the best of my life, because the whole day long - mostly opposite the Acropolis, giving me the feeling that my house was on the foundations of the house of Sophocles, for we know he lived here where I live, in Athens - I could delve deep into the universal harmony I seek.
These statements by Mikis Theodorakisare part of discussions held in Vrachati between July 21 and 23, 1994 and published as "Bilanzen" (Recordings) in Guy Wagner: Mikis Theodorakis Ein Leben fürGriechenland, Editions PHI, Rehe Musik. No 412, Luxemburg. 1995 and in: Guy Wagner: Mikis Theodorakis, une Vie pour la Grèce, Editions PHI, Série Musique, Luxembourg, 2000
Guy Wagner, 1995-2000