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You are here: Works (Meta)symphonic Music - Oratorios

On »Axion Esti«





Creation: Theodorakis, Bithikotsis, Katrakis
»In my opinion Axion Esti of Elytis constitutes a monument of Greek art. Moreover, its profound Hellenism places it in the forefront of our people's struggle for completeness both from a historical and ethical standpoint and in its presentation.

Naturally, its dimensions as well as the form of the poetic text led to the consideration of a new musical form. The work covers the entire history of the Greek nation... from the Genesis >of this small world, the Great<, to the prophetic vision of the sufferings which were imposed on us. (...)

It has three basic parts, Genesis, the Passion and the Gloria (Axion Esti). So much for its surface divisions; - as for its internal structure, there are also three elements - the narration, the hymn and the chorale. For the first the poet uses prose for the second free verse and for the third measured verse. So in my work I used parallels - the Narrator who reads the [prose] work, the Psaltis [Orthodox Cantor] for the hymns and the Popular Singer for the choral sections. Another three equally basic elements complete the musical construction of the work : a) the mixed choir, b) the orchestra and c) the popular instruments. Beside the popular orchestra (two bouzoukis, guitar, piano, bass and drums) I came naturally to add two more organic units, one vocal and one instrumental which... had to fit into the new musical mood so as not to be a mere collation of heterogeneous elements.«

Mikis Theodorakis in: »Music for the Masses«

With Axion Esti, it seemed as if Theodorakis had reached musical maturity. He had created a work which was popular with a large proportion of the Greek people (no other record of his has sold so well) and he had not lowered his musical standards. He had achieved something which is, I believe, unique in Western music, at least in the twentieth century. None of the techniques he employed was revolutionary but the synthesis of popular form with classical western technique had transformed complex intellectual expression into music that was, and still is, sung in the streets.

On one of his country tours in 1966 he gave a concert in the village of Serra, in the northern mountains. A large queue was waiting to buy records of Axion Esti which had been delivered from Athens. Theodorakis noticed an old man ride up on a mule and was curious to see him stop at the end of the queue. He walked over and asked him what he was doing. >Isn't this where they're selling that new Theodorakis record?" said the old man.

Such a phenomenon is unlikely to occur in the so-called developed countries. As the composer himself stressed, the sources he drew on were deeply rooted in the collective memory of the 'people. The actual sound structure of much of Axion Esti was familiar to the population of a country which had only been urbanised for a generation, a country where folk song still played and important part in people's lives.


© Gail Holst in: »Mikis Theodorakis. Myth and Politics in Modern Greek Music.

Read: Biography of Odysseas Elytis
Read: An unpublished letter of Elytis to Theodorakis
See also: Cyclades Minor



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