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GP748 - KALOMIRIS, M.: Piano Solo Works (Complete) (Chauzu)
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Born in Smyrna in 1883, Manolis Kalomiris, seen as the father of modern Greek music, belongs to the same prominent generation of composers as Bartók and Enescu, Stravinsky and Szymanowski, Webern and Varèse.

Drawn to music from an early age, he studied piano in Athens (1894–99), then Constantinople (1899–1900), where he met two leading specialists in Greek folk music and increased his own knowledge on the subject. Between 1901 and 1906, he completed his studies (piano, theory, composition, history of music) at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. His first job, from 1906 to 1910, was as a piano teacher in the Ukrainian (then Russian) city of Kharkov, where he also had the opportunity to familiarise himself more with the Russian school of composers. He associated himself with the intellectual and literary circles of his native country, champions of literature in the modern vernacular known as Demotic Greek, and was greatly inspired by the Greek poets of his day, including Kostis Palamas (1859–1943) and Angelos Sikelianos (1884–1951), as well as by writer Nikos Kazantzakis (1883–1957), basing two operas on plays by the latter.

June 1908 saw the first concert of Kalomiris’ works, at the Athens Conservatory. In his programme notes, the composer mentioned that his aim was to create a Greek national school, based both on authentic Greek folk songs and on the most advanced musical techniques, as developed in Germany, France, Russia and Norway.

His piano works continue the legacy of the Romantic genres (ballade, nocturne, rhapsody, prelude) cultivated by Chopin, Liszt and the Russian School.

The Three Ballades show the influence of his Viennese training and his early interest in poetry. Seen by the composer as his true opus 1, they were written in Vienna in 1905–06 and published in Kharkov in 1907.

Ballade No. 1, in E minor, revised in 1933, was inspired by the poem La Chanson des pirates from Victor Hugo’s Les Orientales. The text tells of the abduction of a young nun by Mediterranean galley slaves who spy her asleep on the shore. Kalomiris shapes his musical structure to suit the narrative content, in the style of a tone poem. After a brief, declamatory introduction we hear the rowers’ rhythmic song in the middle register, ornamented in turn by flowing arpeggiated chords, endlessly rising and falling waves, and increasingly chromatic octaves. A brief quasi cadenza section with subtle oriental touches leads to a lull then a complete halt on the discovery of the young girl. Her gradual awakening is represented by a modulation into E major, while her ever more desperate ‘cries and pleading’ are soon stifled when the music modulates into A minor for a densely written, highly agitated passage, its violence verging on fury. The conclusion sees a return to the rhythmic song of the galley slaves as the ship continues on its way.

The less programmatic Ballade No. 2 in A flat major (1905) was inspired by the closing lines of a sonnet in Kostis Palamas’ 1904 collection Life Immovable. The score is headed by these lines (in German):

‘And from the sea of passions there ever will rise
a breath of sound, like the soft lament of a lyre.’

These words conclude the poet’s meditation on the status of his country—its lasting importance for humanity as a whole, despite the vicissitudes of its prestigious but tormented history.

After a short introduction, heralding an epic more intellectual in style, the work adopts a more abstract tripartite form with a contrasting central section and a conclusion featuring chords identical to those heard at the beginning.

A Lisztian main theme, written over three staves, creates three layers of sound: a line in majestic chords in the middle register, with sudden outbursts and heroic octave leaps towards the upper register, and a restless, agitated accompaniment in the bass. After a rest, the slower central section (in A minor), with its hesitant chromaticisms, is more meditative in nature. Unlike Nos. 1 and 3, the Ballade No. 2 was not revised at a later date.

Ballade No. 3 (1906, rev. 1958) in E flat minor was inspired by a Greek folk poem in which Death is depicted as a sombre horseman riding his jet-black steed through a landscape of dark-petalled flowers.

An initial highly agitated idea, marked féroce, over a quaver ostinato in octaves in the lower register, presents a short, rhythmic motif in weighty chords, soon pierced by arpeggiated runs in the high register.

The music becomes calmer, heralding the arrival of a second subject, modal and folklike, centred on E. Simply ornamented to begin with, it becomes more chromatic with a sudden shift to the upper register and the start of a more flowing accompaniment. A brief transition returning to the figurations of the first theme (octaves, chordal motif, arpeggios) leads to the third theme, marked Lento quasi funebre, whose hyper-chromaticism soon allows a reappearance of the first subject’s characteristic elements. After a pause, the quasi funebre theme returns in E minor, free for a while from its chromaticisms. This is followed by two variations, the first notable for its chromatic imitations with responses in diminished rhythms, the second introduced on each occasion by an ascending rush of notes, for a reintroduction of the initial chordal motif in diminution.

The Two Rhapsodies written in 1921 show how far the composer, now free from the Romantic influence of his years in Vienna, had moved towards achieving his artistic goals. They were published by Heugel (Le Ménestrel), Paris in 1926.

Dedicated to the Spanish pianist José Iturbi (1895–1980), Rhapsody No. 1 is shaped by a spirit of freedom and improvisation. There are numerous features of Greek folk music to be heard here, notably a particular quality of sound resulting from articulation and accentuation, the range of contrasting registers employed and the continuous nature of the music.

In five-beat metre, harp-like arpeggio chords establish a pastoral melody with modal inflections—one that could have been written for a wind instrument. At the heart of this opening section, left and right hand play figures of great rhythmic variety, moving in opposite directions, as if being put to the test. The pastoral theme returns in the upper register above new harmonies. A dotted, ostinato dance rhythm imposes itself in an increasingly lively tempo. A simple, very brief motif (two short notes—one long), repeated in ostinato fashion, then appears over a continuous semiquaver accompaniment. The pastoral melody returns, cantabile and very expressive, in the middle register and at the opening tempo, now more densely harmonised. This is followed by a weightier appearance of the dance rhythm. There then begins, in a light staccato, for the most part in stepwise octaves, a rapid diatonic passage within which the pastoral theme is heard three times in augmentation. The Rhapsody was orchestrated [Naxos 8.572451] in 1925 by Kalomiris’ friend Gabriel Pierné (1863–1937).

Rhapsody No. 2 ‘Chant à la nuit’ (‘Song to the Night’) is different in nature. This is an invocation not to the nocturnal soundscape of the Impressionists, but to the bounds of magical enchantment. The climax of the work aside, Kalomiris here abandons a style laden with octaves and chordal themes in favour of a more free-flowing material. Like some kind of impenetrable questioning, the first element (A) of the main theme is set out from the beginning in the lower register, in E flat minor. The second element (B) follows immediately, ornamented and very much centred around B flat. During an initial development section in B minor, (A) is accompanied in the upper reaches of the keyboard by arabesques in thirds. A two-note melody, sublimely Romantic and deriving from (B) emerges from a repeated-chord motif introduced by a triplet. (A) is then developed again beneath melismatic spirals, at times imbued with oriental colours by means of the characteristic device of the augmented second. The development intensifies in D minor then, after another modulation, becomes more agitated and impassioned until the work reaches its masterful climax.

The Five Preludes of 1939 mark a deepening of the folk-inspired vein and a move towards greater abstraction. In three-part form, with a central section providing contrast in terms of tempo, writing and dynamics, Prelude No. 1 sets out an ardent theme, in chromatic octaves and chords, tinged with oriental inflections. In the middle section the music becomes calmer and more flowing. Modal melodic melismas prevail. Prelude No. 2, peaceful in character and displaying greater formal freedom, presents a theme which alternates diatonic and chromatic writing. A barely sketched-out folk dance dissolves into increasingly animated melismas of modal harmonic colours before the opening theme returns. Prelude No. 3 employs particularly demonstrative instrumental gestures to accentuate its folk-based character. The initial violent declamation in augmented-fifth chords is followed by a staccato and very rapid ostinato, at times chromatic and decorative, over which alternating modal and chromatic figures are traced in a diverse range of rhythms. Now softer, the music is woven by both hands into rapid, continuous garlands, before a glorious song bursts out, wildly accompanied by octaves in the predominant mode. Prelude No. 4 begins in improvisatory style. An ostinato rhythm is established in seven-beat metre, accompanying the main melody with its multiple melismas that frequently, elatedly, come to a halt on shimmering ornamental trills. Prelude No. 5 is a gruff, vigorous dance in dotted rhythm, already heard in Rhapsody No. 1. It adopts something resembling rondo form. A first section with grand-scale writing at opposite ends of the keyboard is suddenly followed by a calmer episode before the initial idea reappears; this transforms itself into octaves then into spinning, modal, wreath-like figures. A new section begins with a quintuplet ostinato above which a folk song theme is heard, its two elements responding to one another in distant registers. The refrain theme concludes with powerful brilliance.

The Nocturne (1906/1908) and Patinada (Serenade) (1907) were published in Germany by Breitkopf & Härtel and are more conventional in appearance than the Ballades. The threepart Nocturne employs two thematic elements. The first, resolutely ‘Chopinesque’, dramatic and lyrical in nature, is set against a second which is briefer, more fleeting in expression, but which is intensified through incessant modulation and increasingly contrapuntal writing. On its return, the first theme is enriched by an impassioned left-hand accompaniment whose harmonies become ever more expressive. Patinada, meanwhile, is Romantic in character, with an undulating accompaniment enhanced at times by folk-derived modal inflections.

Kalomiris ran a number of music education institutions during his lifetime. His three-volume collection For Greek Children brings together works written at different points in his career. The earliest composition, the Fughetta, was composed in Vienna as early as 1905, while the latest pieces date from 1949. The level of technical difficulty varies considerably from work to work.

Volume I is dated 191012 (Nos. 1–3) and 1905 (No. 4). In the opening Moderato listeners will notice the attention given both to the phrasing demands on the right hand and to the melody in the bass for the left hand, as well as the study of nuances in the central section. The Vivo is all about staccato playing. This miniature has a light-hearted, somewhat Schubertian theme and a contrasting central idea in E minor more reminiscent of Schumann.

The third piece, another Vivo, is in a simple two-part form and focuses on the study of legato in the articulation of motifs. The Allegretto moderato in G minor is even more Schumannesque in nature.

Volume II (1939) moves away from Romanticism—its three pieces are more marked by features specific to Greek music—its modal inflections, melismatic melodies and its characteristic rhythms. The folk-like, three-part Andantino sets a simple modal melody which turns into a vocalise against a central, dance-like section. The Allegretto moderato, it too in ternary form, deploys an ingenuous melody above a repetitive rhythmic pattern. In the central section, faster and in triple metre, staccato playing creates a percussive accompaniment to a new melody. The Perpetuum mobile is aimed at improving the endurance of the right hand, while the left-hand accompaniment provides variety by calling for a range of performance instructions (marcato, non legato, staccato, legato).

Apart from the aforementioned Fughetta, the works in Volume III were written later in Kalomiris’ life: the Little Variations on a Dance Song (1947) is like a children’s song, while the Little Prelude (1949) is excellent for practising playing with the hands at opposite ends of the keyboard. There is a stylistic link between the conclusion of the Fughetta (a rare example of the use of counterpoint in the composer’s piano music), with its emphatic setting of chords against octaves, and the early Ballades. Evening Song (1949) is a mysterious and intimate piece, somewhat reminiscent of Debussy.

An early work from Kalomiris’ Vienna years, Oriental Picture was published in Constantinople in 1902.

Gérald Hugon
Translation by Susannah Howe

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