In 1978, I set a few verses of the »Lady of the Vineyards« to music and enjoyed playing it to my friends in Paris. In 1982, I went back to this material and in the space of two weeks, had completed the Finale of the 7th Symphony.
Yannis Ritsos and Mikis Theodorakis at the creation of the 7th Symphony (Photo: Guy Wagner)
Some time later, I once again began work on the texts of »Spring Symphony« and »March of the Ocean«. These poems had made a great impression on me when I was young. It was in the early forties and we were living in a house in the mountain town of Tripolis; I used to sit by the stove, out of which wafted the fragrance of freshly-sawn pine-logs, reading Ritsos' poems and dreaming of Spring and the sea. I looked out of the window at the chimney-stack of the Mavroyannis Mill and thought : an erotic zero. I started work on the composition of the »Spring Symphony«. I selected the verses with great care, so as not to destroy the structure of the poetical work.
First Movement: Spring Symphony
The earth shudders. Under the earth the growing seed rustles. The shoots, pushing upwards, try and pierce the earth's crust, to reach the light, to greet the sun. Lost in the innocence of youth, how can I explain the pain that racks me like a drum beating in the chaos of my thoughts and my being? In those years, between 1940 and 1943, my greatest torment was the shadow of God. It is understandable that I turned to poetry, which could unlock the door into Space. Seeking God I sought you. The voice sounded deep, as though it arose out of the icy March earth. The more powerful the Spring becomes, the clearer the voice can be heard, blending with the sounds of the seed and the sap that rises in trees and youths. I feel a pair of eyes watching me from behind the closed shutters as I lie down at night and stare at the white walls of the house, that sleeps on unawares. I feel your hair perfume the night.
The mighty song of the choir rises above the firmament, proclaiming the first redemption, that brings with it knowledge of love. Yet at the same time vocal cataracts upset the orderly progress of things. In the kingdom of Spring, order is disorder, peace is storm. Everything is singing and shuddering at the same time. The sound must conjure up the image of the light that sings in the arteries of grass and stone. The strings must turn into arteries intersecting, interlocking, destroying one other. They bounce off the surfaces which make use of the human voices to sing. They follow the bird which dives into the blue and delivers the Word of God. I feel a sudden surge of power in me and know : I was born to greet the sun of your eyes. And feel myself one with the Cosmos, I, the star-studded sky of Summer, whose coming I now await.
The song that sounds from the village-square arises from the cataract, like a trout convulsed in spasms of life or death by some demoniacal force. This Summer - my sweet, black eyes.. As if I were to discover the landscape of miracles. The Greek earth.
Two pairs of voices detach themselves from the even texture of the choir's song: so tender, beautiful, great, have I grown with your love that you cannot leave embracing me. That is he who created his own countenance by weaving together the voices of others, like coloured threads. Joy joy joy. The cries of love, borne on the Spring wind, will reach infinity, while the mood that prevailed in the beginning returns exultant. Suddenly the mirror is smashed. A giant meteorite crashes down on the motionless surface. The voices shatter the glass vessels that hold them together. They turn into noise. For it is hardly bearable to know they are obeying the laws of infinity.. The miracle is accomplished. Dionysian presumption has led to the identification of nothingness with the infinite, the individual with the whole.
Second Movement : The Execution of Athena
First, the events: 1940 to 1943, in the town of Tripolis in the Peloponnese. I shared my love for »Spring Symphony« and »March of the Ocean« with my friend Yorgos Kouloukis. 1947/8, the Civil War: Yorgos is condemned to death and put in prison. One morning, the guards drag Athena, a partisan, who had been taken prisoner after the Battle of Zatouna, out of the next-door cell. They lead her to the wall in the yard and shoot her. Everyone sees how the juice of the oranges she is pressing to her breast mingles with her blood.
1949, torture-island Makronissos: morning's forced labour in the fourth ward. Prisoners lugging rolls of barbed-wire in twos. The icy North wind cuts into the skin, stirring up the dust so that we can hardly see. We have turned up our collars and pulled our peaked caps down as far as we can. Filthy, unshaven, the only reminder that we are men : the eyes. I look my neighbour in the eyes and recognise Kouloukis.
1955, I am living in Paris, Yorgos is working as a teacher in a small village near the border of Lakonia. He hears a performance of my First Symphony by the National Orchestra of Athens on the radio, writes the poem »First Symphony« and sends it to me in Paris.
July 1968, Vrachati: I set the poem to music and change the title to »Our Sister Athena«.
September 1968, banishment to Zatouna: I am under house-arrest and am working on the harmony of the new song. An elderly woman and her daughter move into the house next door, with the permission of the constabulary. She is married to an officer of the Junta. In the evening, they sit on Mrs Marigo's balcony. The village schoolmistress tells us through my daughter Margarita that she has come here in commemoration of her daughter, a partisan, who had been taken prisoner in Zatouna, during the Civil War and executed. I wonder if she is Athena's mother. I let her know that I am going to sing a song that is dedicated to a girl who was taken prisoner in the area. She listens from the house opposite and weeps silently. Between our two houses sit the guards, smoking and cracking jokes.
1976, Panathenian Stadium: during a concert for Cyprus, Maria Farantouri sings the song for Athena for the first and last time.
Mysterious, impenetrable are the ways by which the Archangel leads us. As I was finishing the first movement, the Spring Symphony, I saw the shining figure of Athena in the forest of sound. Her beauty dazzled me. The sacrifice of Athena, the absolute overcoming of one's own limits, turns into a living erotic zero and dissolves into the universal. But beforehand, she had kissed the oranges with passion, as if they concealed the whole of Spring in their juice. For in the Spring, Athena transforms death into a frightened dog, which is ready to follow in the tracks of truth, the tracks that lead to death. The faint gleam of the coming Summer in the night. Athena, the foundation of the Spring Symphony, finally becomes the First Symphony.
Third Movement : March of the Ocean
The scene changes to a harbour by night. There begins the voyage that casts its shadow on the passing ships. The choir comes in again, a being of many-faces, in which each voice becomes audible and then disappears - sound flares over the dark waters of the ocean. They shed light, fleetingly, now on soldiers in helmets, now on wounded hands like forgiveness that was late.
Suddenly the strings blot out the horizon. What are they hiding? The prisoners tied to the anchors, perhaps? Or the shackles round the neck of the horizon?
Measure by measure, we ask ourselves a new question: shall we still secretly poke at the sun's open wound? Like a dream within a dream, the seeds of flowers and the fertile arteries of Spring will rise up out of the gentle storm of sound. Eventually the erotic zeros will appear. At last we are ready to bring God's godliness to perfection in the cry SEA SEA SEA. How can you sleep having seen the sea? The circle is closed. We come back to the point we started out from. Only the masts point to infinity. Motionless over the harbour we will watch the lights drunk in the water.
Fourth Movement : Lady of the Vineyards
Now we have the right to sing.
The sound turned into a cry then into noise, having passed through silence. We sat with Athena at the supper-table. Then we got lost on the highways of the ocean. We discovered the sea and with it, the godliness of God.
And all that only to taste the simple, insignificant things the Lady of the Vineyards has to offer us, that make us into little Gods. A paeon of praise and thankfulness fills our soul. We sing the song month after month, year in year out, century upon century. It is no coincidence that I used the same ancient hymn-tune in the middle of the »Third Symphony« as a homage to Byzantium. Lady of the Vineyards, raven-haired lady : is she the Greek earth? Is she the Mother of God? Is she the bee? The bitter orange? The hymn-tune - a new Apollo, who continues along the path that Dionysius had begun to tread.
He follows the poet who could distill the world's sorrow in the cool dew. One drop, the Symphony (the Seventh, in order to reach the seventh heaven, to achieve the magic power of the Pythagorians). The drop : a microcosm, into which anyone can enter whole, if under the spell of the stillness in his heart.
© by Mikis Theodorakis -Translated by © Ariel Wagner
SYMPHONY n°7 - SPRING SYMPHONY, AST 253
1. »Earini Symphonia«
(Symphonie du Printemps - Poème de Yannis Ritsos)
Adagio - Poco meno - Allegro - Allegro vivace - Meno mosso - Piu mosso - Andante - Largo
2. »I adelfi mas Athina« (Notre sœur Athina - Poème de Yorgos Kouloukis)
Larghetto - Piu mosso - Larghetto
3. »To Emvatirio tou Okeanou« (La Marche de l'Océan - Poème de Yannis Ritsos)
Andante con moto - Allegro - Tempo I
4. »I Kyra ton Abelion« (La Maîtresse des Vignobles - Poème de Yannis Ritsos)
Creation: 19.05.1984 at Kulturpalast Dresden
Ana Pusar, Elisabeth Wilke, Klaus König, Gunther Emmerlich.
Rundfunkchor Berlin, Beethoven-Chor Dresden, Chor der Kreuzschule Dresden, Dresdner Philharmonie, Christian Hauschild