Six Chansons - Iannis Xenakis International Festival of Contemporary Music Warsaw Autumn

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The Suite for piano of 1951 is almost entirely made up of harmonised Greek folk music, according to a formula that has been abundantly illustrated in Greece itself and elsewhere. In the context of that time, a Greek political refugee might have been temporarily sensitive to the positions defended by “progressive musicians” such as Durey, Koechlin, and Nigg: to write music that comes from the people and speaks to the people, far removed from “bourgeois formalism.” Almost all Greek composers shared this conviction to varying degrees, which was all the more plausible given that Greece in the 1950s was still a rural country where these traditions were vigorous and endearing, and where urbanisation itself gave rise to a new, original folklore: rebetiko. Even today, in a country that, unlike other European civilisations, has not experienced a Renaissance, and where classical music has yet to penetrate more deeply, it would be easy to find several “national glories” who have not evolved beyond this primary cult. Apparently, in 1951 Xenakis for a moment toyed with the ambition of being to Greece what Bartók has been to Hungary, giving himself an international stature by working on his national traditions. He found the elements for this in collections such as that of Samuel Baud-Bovy. The first piece (Ça sent le musc...) is a syrtos from the Aegean islands, comparable to those harmonised by Lambelet. The second, which also appears in the same collection, is the most common Greek dance in 7/8 time, a kalamatianos with tenderly naive lyrics (“I had a love in my time, she was my treasure, my dear treasure. And I loved her faithfully, while she mocked me shamefully. One morning I was passing by her house and I greeted her by her name. Hello, my apple, my apple, my orange, there are no two like you in the world, my treasure”). The accompaniment to the third piece evokes the dizzying swirl of the Cretan lyra, a three-stringed rebec, a disappearing usage. The fourth piece is a succession of typically Balkan odd rhythms. The fifth is completely different from the others: it is a funeral march in C sharp major, in the form of a Lied, which could have been written at the time of Chopin or Schumann. The sixth piece is a typical Cretan sousta (literally “spring”), of an irresistible energy, harmonised in parallel fifths in the tradition of lyra playing. 

(after François-Bernard Mâche)