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"The Ballad of the Dead Brother" - The Music

Five of the nine songs in the »Dead Brother« cycle are composed in the 9/8 rhythm of the zembekiko and the »Gloria« must be the first occasion on which such a rhythm has ever been used as a choral piece.

The opening song »Aprilis«, a gay spring song in 4/8 time, is one of Theodorakis's most popular songs, but the two finest songs of the cycle are the zembekikos »A Dream« and »One Evening«.

It is worth looking closely at »One Evening« as an example of Theodorakis's rembetika inspired songs. The words are sung by the mother who is portrayed as a bitter suburban madonna…

One evening
they tied you on the cross
they nailed your hands
they nailed my guts
they bound your eyes
they bound my soul

The song is written in the key of D minor, but the melody is based on a modal type commonly used in rembetika songs which has a tone and a half between the second and the third interval of the ascending tone row or »scale« and a strong emphasis on the leading note. If the bouzouki introduction to »One Evening« is played unaccompanied, the modal character becomes clear. The tensions between the original modal inspiration and the imposed harmony is a typical feature of modern Greek popular music. (…)

The choice of the zembekiko, the rhythm of the most serious, passionate and introverted of all Greek dances, is in perfect accord with the lyrics. The bouzouki introduction emphasises the two notes which would be the leading note and tonic of the original mode beginning on A. The voice enters a fifth lower, establishing the key of D minor an the three repeated phrases, »One Evening, one evening, one evening« rise to a climax on B flat and die away with the words »They bound you to the cross«. (…)

Although »One Evening« can be loosely described as one of Theodorakis's neo-rembetika songs, it is not a spontaneous creation in a popular genre. Apart from the careful relation of the text to the melodic structure, there are conscious musical borrowings from liturgical sources.

The opening bars of the songs are constructed from the same two melodic devices which were used in »Hatika« – the preparation around the tonic and the three falling notes of the minor third, both of which the composer had noted as being the essential elements of the hymn for Palm Sunday. In two other songs of the »Dead Brother« cycle – »Pavlos and Nicholas« and the »Gloria« – Theodorakis uses elements of the third Byzantine echoes as the bases for his melodies.

© Gail Holst: »THEODORAKIS. Myth & Politics in Modern Greek Music«, 1979-1997

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