Wednesday, 29 July 2015


"Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity." George Bernard Shaw

Mikis Theodorakis, Greek composer, was born on this day in 1925.  He is the composer that people the world over equate most with modern popular Greek music. His well-known and loved "Zorba’s Dance" and other popular Greek music and songs have captured the Greek character so well in many of its forms and variations.

However, it is relatively unknown that Theodorakis has also composed major works in the Western “classical” tradition.  One such of his works that I particularly like is his "Symphony No 3", especially the 3rd movement, titled Byzantine Hymns for Petro of EPON.  Another major work is his "Canto General", a choral work based on extracts from the monumental poetic work of the same name by Pablo Neruda.

The song cycle "The Ballad of Mauthausen" on lyrics by Iacovos Campanellis is also a favourite of mine, especially the lovely first piece, the “Song of Songs”.  These four songs express the anguish and horror of the Nazi Concentration camps but also the inexhaustible hope and universal humanity of the prisoners, even as they march into the gas chambers.

Theodorakis’ music reaches its elegiac best when the theme is a melancholic one. The music soars and tugs at our heart and soul, its sweetness drawing from us the deepest emotion. As Percy Bysshe Shelley remarks: “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts.”

Politically, Theodorakis identified with the left because of the long time connection with the Communist Party of Greece. He was MP with the KKE from 1981 to 1990. Nevertheless, in 1989 he ran as an independent candidate within the centre-right New Democracy party in order for the country to come out of the political crisis that had been created due to the numerous scandals of the government of Andreas Papandreou and helped to establish a large coalition between conservatives, socialists and leftists.

In 1990 he was elected to the parliament (as in 1964 and 1981), became a government minister under Constantine Mitsotakis, and fought against drugs and terrorism and for culture, education and better relations between Greece and Turkey. He continues to speak out in favour of left-liberal causes, Greek-Turkish-Cypriot relations, and against the War in Iraq. He has consistently opposed oppressive regimes and was a key voice against the Greek junta 1967-1974, which imprisoned him.

Here is Maria Farandouri, one of the most celebrated interpreters of Theodorakis’ songs, singing the Ballad of Mauthausen song cycle:

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