|About this Recording
9.70039 - Choral Settings of Kassiani - HATZIS, C. / THEODORAKIS, M. / MOODY, I. / MANTZAROS, N. (English Chamber Choir, Cappella Romana, Protheroe)
Kassiani (9th Century)
Kassiani (also known as Kassia) was an early ninth-century abbess who wrote sacred poems and hymns, and is the earliest woman composer whose works survive. She was from a wealthy Constantinople family and received a private education including Classical Greek studies. Kassiani became a legend in Byzantine folklore through her legendary meeting with the Emperor Theophilus, a story first recorded in the tenth century, and also included eight centuries later in Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Only around 25 of Kassiani’s compositions survive, but both her poetry and her music have been continual inspirations to Orthodox worshippers and also to later composers. The Troparion, a short poetic hymn, for which she wrote both words and music, is sung in the Vespers service of Holy Tuesday.
Christos Hatzis (b. 1953)
Christos Hatzis was born in Volos, Greece, subsequently studied in New York and today lives in Toronto (he became a Canadian citizen in 1985), where he teaches and composes and has acquired a world-wide reputation for his own eclectic post-modern musical style.
He writes: “One of the few liturgical texts in the Orthodox canon written by a woman, The Troparion of Kassiani is a confessional by Mary Magdalen to her Master as she pours myrrh over His head just before His passion. The poem bursts at the seams with emotion and feminine energy, depicting the extremes of utter darkness and cosmic majesty often within a single sentence. Mary Magdalen witnessed Christ’s Resurrection before anyone else; she was so grief-stricken by His passion and death that she failed initially to recognize Him when she visited His tomb mistaking Him instead for the gardener.
I have divided the text into five sections: the first and the last are devotional and confessional in nature; the second is dark (Magdalen describing the pull that sin and darkness has upon her); the third is full of cosmic splendour, while the fourth is a brief description of the original fall in Paradise. Each of these sections is delineated musically in a different manner: the first and last in predominantly Byzantine and Western European sacred music genres; the second with rather dark tone-clusters and disconcerting, continuous vocal glissandi; the third in the style of high Romanticism, while the fourth is set in a style of Western minimalism and Blues. The work is designed to thrive in a large acoustic space where intense moments in the music (and continuous glissandi) become animated and three-dimensional.”
(In the Western tradition the “Woman in many sins” in Luke’s Gospel and Kassiani’s hymn is equated with Mary Magdalen, but in the Eastern tradition she is a different person.)
This work was commissioned by the Byzantine Festival in London in 2004 for the artists featured on this recording.
Mikis Theodorakis (b. 1925)
The Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, of Cretan descent, was born in Chios and now lives in Athens. In Paris and London in the 1950s he composed symphonic, ballet and film music. In 1960 he became leader of the regenerative cultural-political movement in Greece centred on the union of poetry and music, composing dozens of song-cycles, oratorios, revues and music for ancient Greek drama. This movement was connected with the progressive political forces of that period, which brought him often to the centre of political life, reaching a climax with his active participation in the resistance movement against the military dictatorship (1967–74). Amongst his major works are seven symphonies, the ballet Antigone (Covent Garden, 1959), music for films including Zorba The Greek, the oratorios Axion Esti and Canto General, five operas, and also poetry, prose, philosophy, musicology, and political essays.
Theodorakis’s setting of the Troparion is an early work, written in 1942, while he was still a teenager. Its predominantly Western harmonies are nevertheless inflected by the nuances of the original chant.
Ivan Moody (b. 1964)
Ivan Moody studied music and theology at the Universities of London, Joensuu (Finland) and York, and composition privately with John Tavener. He lives in Estoril, Portugal, where he is a priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Eastern liturgical chant has had a profound influence on his music, and his music has been performed worldwide. He is also active as a conductor and musicologist.
This setting of The Troparion of Kassiani is scored for three-part women’s voices, and was written for the Norwegian Trio Mediaeval, who gave the first performance of the work in Sandefjord, Norway in March 2000. The performance on this recording uses the full sopranos and altos of the English Chamber Choir.
Nikolaos Mantzaros (1795–1872)
Nikolaos Mantzaros, born in Corfu, was the major representative of the so-called Ionian Islands school of music. Mantzaros composed the music for the first concert aria in Greek in 1827, as well as for the poem of Dionysios Solomos’s Hymn to Liberty of 1828–1829, the initial verse of which was adopted in 1865 as the Greek national anthem. Amongst his other compositions is this setting of The Troparion of Kassiani written for four-part men’s voices.
As the idea of an album featuring music inspired by Kassiani began to take shape, Ivan Moody offered to compose this setting of another of her chants—this time a Vespers hymn for Christmas. The work is dedicated to the English Chamber Choir and Guy Protheroe and was recorded for this CD in advance of its first public performance which took place in a concert promoted by the Barber Institute in Birmingham in 2007 in association with the ‘Encounters’ numismatic exhibition also seen at the British Museum. The text of When Augustus reigned concerns the intersection between the Roman Imperial and the Christian theologies that shaped the Byzantine world-view. The tenors sing the original chant in Greek, while the other voices proclaim the English translation.
The CD closes, as it began, with Byzantine chant: the original hymn by the abbess Kassiani.
With thanks to the A G Leventis Foundation.
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