With love and respect, the pianist Maria Economou-Gkioni approaches the corpus of piano works by Greek composers. She seeks in it the deeper element which springs from the sounds of the motherland, the pure musical tradition and the instinctive expression of the tribe. The characteristic Greek rhythm of 7/8 nonchalantly transforms into a 9/8, while the echoes of the Orient unexpectedly merge with Western harmonies, in a compilation filled with sensitivity and lyricism.
1. Syrtos Zakynthou
3. Doll’s Dance
5. French Serenade
Greek Dances for piano
6. I. Poco Allegretto con grazia
7. II. Allegretto piacevole
8. III. Andantino con moto
9. IV. Allegretto
10. V. Woman’s dance - Poco allegretto con espressione
11. VI. Man’s dance (Tsamikos) – Version 1 – Maestoso
12. VII. Man’s dance (Tsamikos) – Version 2 – Maestoso
13. VIII. Man’s dance (Tsamikos) – Maestoso
14. IX. Andantino
15. Andante con moto
16. Allegretto con Grazia
17. Tema con Variazioni - Allegro Moderato
18. Greek Dance No. 2
Dionysios Visvardis (b. Zante 1910 - d. Athens 1999)
The two Greek Dances, “Syrtos Zakynthou” and “Kozanitikos” of Dionysios Visvardis originate from two entirely different parts of the country, each with its own tradition and culture. The former from the composer’s island, the idyllic Ionian island of Zante (Zakynthos in Greek); the latter from the mountainous Kozani of Western Macedonia. “Syrtos Zakynthou” (written in 1958), also called “Yiargitos” or “Theseus’ Dance”, supposedly portrays the fight between the great mythical hero and the Minotaur in Crete. Together with “Kozanitiko” (written in 1981) they have been written for piano (with 4 hands), wind instruments and orchestra. The composer develops, in this masterly adaptation of the dances, clear and lucid, the uniquely local musical idiom of the particular regions of the country. These dances were published by “Filippos Nakas” music publishing house. A composer, pianist, clarinet player, music teacher and conductor, Dionysios Visvardis originally studied the clarinet and music theory at the Municipal Philharmonic of Zante. He later studied advanced theory, piano and clarinet at the State Conservatory of Thessaloniki. His rich educational and compositional work, with songs, symphonies, chorals, marches, compositions for the piano but also various other instruments, reflects his dedication to the Greek folk song and spirit. Among them the “Sonata for Piano on Greek themes”, the “Macedonian Suite” for orchestra, the “Greek Triptych” for piano and songs such as “The Shepherd and the Nightingale”, “If Only I Knew”, “At the Village Pier” and the anthem “The Army Is Passing”. He was an important contributor to the broadening and artistic development of the country’s philharmonic orchestras, as he served for a number of years as high commander of all the military marching bands and also as head conductor of the municipal philharmonic orchestras of Zante and Kalamata.
Marios Varvoglis (b. Brussels 1885 - d. Athens 1967)
A composer, educator, conductor, music critic and writer, who hails from an old, important family of revolutionaries and politicians, was, for the first half of the 20th century, one of the pioneers in the creation of a national music and, together with his contemporaries Emilios Riadis, Dionysios Lavrangas, Georgios Lambelet and Manolis Kalomoiris, the founder of contemporary Greek music. He was born in Belgium, grew up in Athens and studied under important teachers in Paris. The eclepticised aesthetics of French Art affected his restless spirit, which did not however stray from the essence of Greekness in Art, for which he fought vigorously, as a composer and teacher, but also as a critic in serious publications of his time, such as the “Noumas” magazine and the newspapers “Eleftheros Logos” and “Ta Nea”. The greater part of his work, which includes songs, orchestral and vocal music, chamber music and works for piano, remains unpublished. From this extensive body of work, we will only mention examples such as the prelude “St. Barbara”, the lyrical drama “The Afternoon of Love”, and the orchestral “Pastoral Suite”, “The Festival”, “Laurels and Cypresses”. Two of the composers whose work is included in this CD were his students. Georgios Kasassoglou and Thanos Ermilios, while much younger in age, took their first steps under his supervision, as did Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis. The two small compositions, “The Doll’s Dance” and “Gavotte”, written between 1930 and 1938, are masterly, short pieces for piano, published by “Papagrigoriou-Nakas”, in a collection with the general title “Marios Varvoglis - Children’s Songs for Piano”.
Spyridon - Philiskos Samaras (b. Corfu 1861 - d. Athens 1917)
Spyridon - Philiskos Samaras, a composer, singer and actor, is considered the greatest representative of the Eptanesian Musical School and one of the most important Greek composers. His excellent Olympic Anthem to the ancient Greek Spirit of the noble games and sportsmanship, with lyrics by Kostis Palamas, was written in 1895 and was internationally established as the official Olympic Games Anthem in 1958. Since then, it is heard in every single opening and closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. Spyros Samaras originally studied in his homeland of Corfu and the Athens Conservatory, and later in Paris and Italy. His studies were followed by recognition and a successful career in Italy, where he was fortunate enough to see some of his operas staged in the biggest theatres of the country: “Flora Mirabilis”, “The Witness”, “Metze”, “Lionella”, “A Love Story”, “Rhea”. Mainly an opera composer, Spyridon Samaras wrote ten operas as well as one half-finished. He also wrote operettas, music for poems and compositions for piano and so on. One of the most characteristic is “French Serenade”, written in 1903, on the unusual tempo of 6/4.
Georgios Kasassoglou (b. Athens 1908 - d. Athens 1984)
A prolific writer, whose work includes many songs (over 100), compositions for various instruments and combinations of instruments, 5 ballets, 36 works of music for stage and 70 chorals. Keen on ancient Greek tragedy and comedy, he wrote music for ancient theatre in successful collaborations with important writers, directors, scenographers and choreographers of his time. He was an educator for many years, during which he was not content with simply teaching music, but did lectures, concerts and various extracurricular musical activities. His contribution in artists’ fight for their rights was also significant, as his was an active member in these efforts, as well as the first secretary of the then newly founded Greek Composers’ Union. His first studies in music were in the small country town of Edessa, where he learned to play the violin. He then continued at the Greek Conservatory and the National Conservatory of Athens and finally went to Paris, where he studied composition under two important composers, Arthur Honegger and Andre Jolivet. He also studied at the Athens University School of Philosophy and the School of Political Science of Panteion University. A large part of his work has been published in Germany, edited by his son Vasileios and his grandson Joerg-Mark, of the “Joerg – Mark Kasassoglou” Publishing House. His most important compositions include the orchestral “Four Preludes of the Return from the Front”, “Dusk in Ancient Tanagra”, “The Last Night of Byzantium”, a sonet for violin and piano, his two string quartets, “Kassiani”, a symphonic fantasy for a female voice and orchestra, and others. Eight dances comprise the Greek dance collection of Georgios Kasassoglou in the current compilation, alternating between fast and slow, graceful female and proud male ones. Picturesque, with variable and swaying rhythms, they are characteristic of the Greek style which the composer tries to present, through the smart use of the capabilities of a classical instrument, the piano.
Yiannis Constantinidis (b. Smyrna 1903 - d. Athens 1984)
Known mostly for his light, popular songs under the nickname Kostas Giannidis, he also became established in the middle of the 20th century as a classical music composer with a particular inspiration and a deep national conscience. He wrote many compositions, based on Greek folk tunes, traditional dances and melodies. Among his three sonatas for piano, written in 1952, is Sonatina #2, on popular melodies of Iperus, dedicated to contemporary Greek composer Argyris Kounadis. There are three parts to the Sonatina: first an “Andante con moto”, light and discreet, followed by the charming “Pastorale” and finally the “Allegro moderato”, with the main theme and its variations. The dragged, heavy character of Iperus dances is evident, especially in the third part. The sheet music was published in 2005 by “Papagrigoriou-Nakas”. A composer, pianist and conductor, Yiannis Constantinidis was the son of a wealthy family in Smyrni (modern-day Izmir), where he took his first lessons in music. Following the great Asia Minor Disaster of 1922, and after a series of difficulties and troubles, he eventually found refuge in Germany. There he continued serious musical studies, while at the same time playing the piano in
cabarets, theatres and cinemas. He spent many years in the musical theatre, both in Germany but also in Greece, where he returned in 1931, to win over the audience with his romantic love songs. His many musical comedies, operettas, music for various popular Greek films and many successful, for the era, songs, offered him prizes but also a wide recognition among the public. However as of 1962 he started to abandon the light musical genre for good, dedicating himself entirely to more serious compositions. The most famous are “Two Dodecanesean Suites”, “The Asia Minor Rhapsody”, the “Three Greek Dances” for orchestra, as well as the “8 Dodecanesean and 8 Asia Minor Songs” for a capella choir.
Thanos Ermilios (b. Vroulias Sparta, 1913 - d. Athens, 2010)
Related to Maria Economou-Gkioni (an uncle from her mother’s side), he was a composer, conductor and music teacher, a musicologist and musicographer, with an important contribution to musical education with his writings and teaching at schools, but also conservatories such as the Conservatory of Athens, the Orphaean Conservatory, the Apollonean Conservatory and the Conservatory of Nicaea, which he founded. In his long career he also founded and directed many school orchestras and choirs. Reaching the rank of General Inspector of Music for Middle Education, he was honoured for his educational and paedagogic work by the Academy of Athens. His compositions include mostly orchestral works and songs. The “Greek Suite”, “Two Dances for Strings”, “Fantasy for Violin and Strings”, “Four Greek Dances” for orchestra, etc. One of his four Greek Dances for flute and strings is the 2nd Greek Dance, rewritten for piano, which was written in 1962 and is heard in this album.