Mikis Theodorakis (1925–2021)

The music of Mikis Theodorakis calls fort the vast and open space of a Greek arena, or amphitheatre. This is the art of agora, the marketplace, where people exchange ideas and experiences in a language accessible to all.

On account of his songs, oratorios and film scores, which have found many admirers in Germany, the Greek composer has been rashly associated with the world of folklore or even entertainment. This assessment is largely attributable to the situation of the avantgarde scene, which keeps strictly aloof from folk music. According to Theodorakis, however, such a separation is detrimental to the development of music and audiences alike. His own concern is to bridge the gap between "art" music and folk music.

Born on the ile of Chios, on July 29, 1925, he eagerly assimilated the various musical forms of his country which, after centuries of Turkish occupation, began to flourish again around 1900. His earliest compositions were inspired by the unaccompanied chants of Greek church music and soon enriched by the elements of folk song.

The most dramatic experiences of his boyhood were the invasion of his country by Italian and German troops and the emergence of a resistance movement, the National Liberation Front. Having joined its youth organization, EPON, the young Theodorakis was arrested several times. Ironically, it was in 1942, right in the middle of the war, that a German film - "Die Neunte von Beethoven" fired him with the desire to study music.

Deported to a camp on Icaria, he began composing his First Symphony in 1948 after learning about the death of his boyhood friend, Lt. Makis Karlis. Distraught with grief, he wandered aimlessly about in the dark until "music with its consoling liturgy" came to his mind at daybreak. Greek tragedies, wall-paintings and Shostakovich's "Leningrad" Symphony were his main sources of inspiration. He was contemplating a work in which audiences would recognize themselves and the time in which they lived.

Having returned home to Athens after musical studies at the Paris Conservatoire, Theodorakis sat down with a number of friends and to formulate a programme for the reorganization of Greek music, which expressly involved the general public. He composed extensive song cycles and oratorios such as "Canto General" and "Axion Esti", but it was not until 1980 that he returned to the medium which he considered paramount: the symphony.

Poetry forms the starting-point of his Symphonies No. 2 "The Song of the Earth" and No. 3. The recourse to poetic texts was to help the average listener "to comprehend the spiritual content of a work by absorbing the words and their logic." In much the same way, Franz Liszt had cited public enlightenment as the motive behind his symphonic poems.

(Albrecht Dümling, translated by Bernd Zöllner/Intertext, from the booklet to "Mikis Theodorakis - Sinfonie Nr. 3 / Liturgie Nr. 2", CD Berlin Classics, 1995)