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A Man, a Composer, a Work
Stations of his Life
Mikis by his daughter Margarita
Mikis Theodorakis was born on July 29th 1925 on the Greek island of Chios. Fascinated by music already as a child, he taught himself to write his first songs without access to musical instruments. In Pyrgos and Patras he took his first music lessons, and in Tripolis, he formed a choir and gave his first concert at 17.
After having been active in the resistance against the occupation troups and terribly tortured during World War II and later on, during the Greek Civil War, he studied at the Athens Conservatory in the class of Philoktitis Economidis and at the Conservatoire of Paris, where he studied musical analysis in the class of Olivier Messiaen and conducting under Eugene Bigot. The time in Paris was for him a period of intense artistic creation.
His first symphonic works, Concerto for Piano, First Suite, First Symphony, were internationally acclaimed. In 1957 he won the Gold Medal in the Moscow Music Festival; in 1959, Darius Milhaud proposed him for the American Copley-Music Prize as the Best European Composer of the Year after the performances of his ballet "Antigone" at Covent Garden.
His most important works up to 1960:
Trio for piano, violin, violoncello; "The Feast of Assi-Gonia" (symphonic); Symphony No.1 ("Proti Simfonia"); "Greek Carnival" (ballet); Sonatine for Piano; Suites No.1, 2 and 3 for Orchestra; Sonatines No.1 et 2 for violin and piano; "Antigone" (ballet); Life and Death (for voice and strings); "Les Amants de Téruel" (ballet); "Oedipus Tyrannos" (for strings), Concerto for Piano.
Theodorakis went back to Greece and to his roots, to genuine Greek music, and with his song cycle "Epitaphios", he started a cultural revolution in his country. With his marvellous works based on the greatest Greek and world poetry: "Epiphania", "Little Kyklades", "Axion Esti", "Mauthausen", "Romiossini", "Romancero Gitan"… he gave Greek music back its dignity and, while developing his concept of metasymphonic music, he was soon recognized internationally as a musician of genius, and, indeed, Mikis Theodorakis is undoubtedly Greece's greatest living composer.
He founded the Little Orchestra of Athens and the Musical Society of Piraeus and gave many concerts, while in 1963, he founded the Lambrakis Democratic Youth and was elected its president. In 1964, he became a member of the Greek Parliament.
Main works of this period:
1. Song Cycles: "Archipelagos", "Politia A & B", "Epiphania" (Yorgos Seferis, Nobel Prize 1963), "Mauthausen" (Yakovos Kabanellis), "Romiossini" (Yannis Ritsos).
2. Music for the Stage: "The Hostage" (Brendan Behan); "Ballad of the Dead Brother" (Theodorakis); "Maghiki Poli"; "I Gitonia ton Angelon" (The Angels' Quarter, Kabanellis).
3. Film scores: "Zorba the Greek" (Michalis Cacoyannis)
4. Oratorio: "Axion Esti" (Odysseas Elytis, Nobel Prize 1979).
In 1967, a fascist Junta putsched its way to power. Theodorakis went underground and founded the Patriotic Front. The Colonels published Army decree No.13, which banned playing, and even listening to his music. Theodorakis himself was arrested, jailed, banished to Zatouna with his wife Myrto and their two children Margarita and Yorgos. Later he was interned in the concentration camp of Oropos. An international solidarity movement, headed by such figures as Dmitri Shostakovitch, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Miller and Harry Belafonte managed to get Theodorakis freed and his sentence converted to exile in 1970.
Main works under the dictatorship:
1. Song Cycles: "O Ilios ke o Chronos" (Sunb and Time, Theodorakis); "Ta Laďka"; Arcadies I-X; Songs for Andreas (Theodorakis); "Nichta Thanatou" (Nights of Death, M. Elefteriou).
2. Oratorios: "Ephiphania Averoff" (Seferis), "State of Siege" (Marina=Rena Hadjidakis), "March of the Spirit" (Angelos Sikelianos), "Raven" (Seferis, d'aprčs E.A.Poe).
3. Film score: "Z" (Costa Gavras).
In exile, Theodorakis fought for the overthrow of the colonels and the unity of resistance forces. World-wide, he gave some thousand concerts as part of his struggle for the restoration of democracy in Greece. He became an universal symbol of resistance against dictatorship.
Main works written in exile:
1. Song Cycles: "Lianotragouda" (18 Songs for the Bitter Fatherland, Yannis Ritsos); "Ballades" (M. Anagnostakis).
2. Oratorio: "Canto General" (Pablo Neruda).
3. Film scores: "The Trojan Women" (M. Cacoyannis); "State of Siege" (Costa-Gavras) "Serpico" (S. Lumet).
After the fall of the Colonels, Theodorakis triumphantly returned to Greece, continued his work and his concert tours both in Greece and abroad. At the same time he participated in public affairs. He was later elected several times to the Greek Parliament (1981-1986 and 1989-1993) and for two years, from 1990 to1992, he was Minister in the Government of Konstantin Mitsotakis. After that, he was appointed for another two years General Musical Director of the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Hellenic Radio and Television.
Mikis Theodorakis has always combined an exceptional artistic talent with an intensely deep love of his country. He is also committed to heightening international awareness of human rights, of environmental issues and of the need for peace. It was for this reason that he initiated the Greek-Turkish Friendship Society together with the renowned Turkish musician and singer Zülfü Livaneli.
Main works after 1974:
1. Song Cycles: "Ta Lyrika", "Dionysos", "Phaedra", "Beatrice in Zero Street", "Mia Thalasssa" (A Sea full of Music), "Os archeos Anemos" (Like an Ancient Wind).
2. Music for the Stage: "Orestia" (dir.: Spyros Evangelatos); "Antigone" (dir.: M. Volanakis); "Midea" (dir.: Spyros Evangelatos).
3. Film scores: "Iphigenia" (M. Cacoyannis), "The Man with the Carnation" (N. Tzimas).
4. Oratorios: "Missa Greca", "Liturgia 2", "Requiem".
5. Symphonic Music and Cantatas: Symphonies No.2, 3, 4, 7, "According to the Sadducees", "Canto Olympico", Cello Concerto (1997).
6. Operas: "Kostas Karyotakis", "Medea", "Elektra", "Antigone", "Lysistrati".
© Guy Wagner. List of works based on the researches of Asteris Kutulas