Friday, 20 February 2015


“Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.” - Aristotle

Eurozone finance ministers agreed in principle on Friday to extend Greece’s financial rescue by four months, averting a potential cash crunch in March that could have forced the country out of the currency area. The deal, to be ratified once Greece’s creditors are satisfied with a list of reforms it will submit next week, ends weeks of uncertainty since the election of a leftist-led government in Athens which pledged to reverse austerity.

European Union paymaster Germany (and Greece’s biggest creditor), had demanded significant improvements in reform commitments by Athens before it would accept an extension of eurozone funding. The two main combatants around the table put a radically different gloss on the result. “Being in government is a date with reality, and reality is often not as nice as a dream”, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters, stressing Athens would get no aid payments until its bailout program was properly completed.

On the other hand, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said the talks had shown elections could bring change to Europe. He insisted he had averted recessionary measures and said the government still hoped to raise the minimum wage and rehire some public sector workers. “Nobody is going to ask us to impose upon our economy and society measures that we don’t agree with”, Varoufakis said.

Given these current affairs, my choice of music for Music Saturday may seem a little ironic… German composer Beethoven writing music about Greece, and more specifically about Athens, in ruins after the Turkish occupation of 400 years.

The Ruins of Athens (Die Ruinen von Athen), Opus 113, is a set of incidental music pieces written in 1811 by Ludwig van Beethoven. The music was written to accompany the play of the same name by August von Kotzebue, for the dedication of a new theatre at Pest. A second overture was written in 1822 for the same play. It was composed especially for the reopening of Vienna’s Theatre in the Josefstadt in 1822. The second overture is now known as “The Consecration of the House”.

Perhaps the best-known music from The Ruins of Athens is the “Turkish March”, a theme that even many who are not avid classical music listeners are familiar with. The overture and the Turkish March are often performed separately, and the other pieces of this set are not often heard. Another of Beethoven’s compositions, “Six variations on an original theme”, Op. 76, uses the Turkish March as its theme. The music for “The Ruins of Athens” was reworked in 1924 by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Here are the Berliner Konzertchor and Berliner Symphoniker conducted by Hans Hubert Schönzeler, playing “the Ruins of Athens”.

1. Overture, Op. 113, (Andante con moto, G minor - Allegro, ma non troppo, G major)
2. Chorus: Tochter des mächtigen Zeus (Andante poco sostenuto, E-flat major)
3. Duet (a Greek and a Greek girl): Ohne Verschulden Knechtschaft dulden (Andante con moto - Poco piu mosso, G minor)
4. Dervish Chorus: Du hast in deines Ärmels Falten (Allegro, ma non troppo - G major)
5. Turkish March (Vivace - B-flat major)
6. Music from the back of the stage (Allegro assai ma non troppo - C major)
7. March with chorus, Op. 114: Schmückt die Altare (Assai moderato - E-flat major)
8. Recital: Mit reger Freude
9. Chorus: Wir tragen empfängliche Herzen im Busen (Allegretto ma non troppo - G major)
10. Aria and Chorus: Will unser Genius noch einen Wunsch gewähren? (Adagio - C major) Er ist’s! Wir sind erhört! (Allegro con brio - C major)
11. Chorus: Heil unserm König! (Allegro con fuoco - A major).

A translation of the first two vocal pieces below gives you an idea of the tenor of the work:
Daughter of Mighty Zeus! Awake!
Her name resounds!
The years of wrath are past!
We are reconciled!

To suffer slavery, though guiltless, is misery!
Every day new sorrow to get our scrap of bread!
On its branch shines the fig tree’s sweet fruit,
Not for the slave that tended it but for the cursed master!
The people oppressed, bent low by his hand,
Ah! ah! ah! ah!
What has befallen you,
My poor fatherland!

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