Nikos Maliaras: Byzantine Musical Instruments
The origin of Byzantine musical instruments is mainly ancient Greek or Roman. Instruments used in popular entertainment included
various types of flutes, oboes and clarinets, several species of guitars or lutes, as well as multi-stringed plucked instruments of the psalterium type. In the
army, instruments of the horn (“boucinon”) or bugle (“salpinx” – “tuba”) families were used; they signalized either the attack or withdrawal of
the troops, as well as the beginning or end of various tasks in the military camp. The most solemn of all Byzantine instruments was the organ, which was used in
court ceremonies and soon developed to be one of the most important symbols of the Byzantine Emperor.
Yannis Belonis: Manolis Kalomiris and Nikos Skalkottas
Manolis Kalomiris was the founder of the Greek National School of Music, which he himself established, marking with his presence the
beginning of big reclassifications and giving guidance to musical issues in Greece at the opening of the 20th century. It was only at the end of his life that
his strong beliefs, according to which a Greek composer should behave so as through his work the wealth of Greek tradition can emerge, allowed him to study the
modern techniques of writing that predominated at that period in the musically developed countries. Thus often, on account of his anxiety for the fulfillment of
the goals of the Greek National School of Music, he came in confrontation with all those who made an effort to escape from its norms of ideology and aesthetics.
Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949), after long studies in Berlin under the guidance of very distinguished personalities, among which Arnold
Schoenberg, returned and settled down in Athens in 1933. The circumstances in Greece, where almost no one could keep up to date with the advanced techniques of
writing that he himself used, in connection to his lack of strength to comply to the models of ideology of the Greek National School of Music, made him an
outcast as a composer and obliged him to work as a violinist for his living.
In my article I shall focus on the points where Kalomiris’ judgment over the work of Skalkottas is expressed, as it is registered
in articles in the newspaper Ethnos, while, at the same time, I shall point out the facts that changed his perceptions and points of view throughout the years.
Katerina Levidou: Two Greek Dances by Nikos Skalkottas
In the present article two of Skalkottas’ 36 Greek Dances are examined; they are the first two of the second series. Each Dance
is based on a folk tune that Skalkottas had transcribed when he was working for the Musical Folklore Archive of the
French Institute of Athens. In his article entitled “The Folk Song”, Skalkottas reveals his intention to use the folk tunes not exclusively as a source of
inspiration. For him the folk tunes, through a process that he names “noble civilizing labor”, have to be transformed into a more modern form and thus
obtain the steadiness of a future value. His intentions become obvious through the analysis of the specific two Dances, where he uses the folk tunes as
the only melodic source from which all of the themes derive. However, the Dances belong definitely to the Western music tradition, as Western forms,
means of elaboration, harmony and orchestration are used. The Dances are a demonstration of Skalkottas’ unique compositional technique, as various and
often antithetical elements – for example, the simultaneous use of modality and tonality in the horizontal and vertical writing respectively, or even the use
of jazz elements in the harmonization – are combined to construct pieces that are unique in their field.
Katy Romanou: Guillaume de Machaut, the King of Cyprus and La Prise d’Alixandre
Guillaume de Machaut, one of the first composers in the history of Western music to develop pure musical associations, the kind that
formed the basis for the creation of pure music, was also one of the earlier French poets.
The greatest part of his work is poetic “où il n’a point de chant”. He wrote lyric poems and 15 long dits (around 9.000 verses, each), a development of earlier chansons de geste relating the deeds of contemporary knights and noblemen, instead of Greek and Roman heroes.
The capture of Alexandria by Pierre de Lusignan, King of Cyprus (1359-1369), was narrated by Machaut’s last dit: La Prise d’Alixandre; the work is cited among the scant literary sources on music in this king’s court.
The events of the expedition were communicated to Machaut by the knights and courtiers that followed Pierre to Alexandria. It is to
them and their entourage that the poem was intended to be recited. The recitation was possibly done on an improvised melody (or improvised variations of an
existing melody) with instrumental accompaniment. Machaut’s cerebral ideas are poetic and musical in parallel and in cohesion. One should only bring into mind
the famous rondeau Ma fin est mon commencement, to see the unity of musical and poetic technique and form in his work. In the poems he wrote without music, he is often playing
with words in cancrizans, mirrors and other canonic techniques. In fact, in La Prise d’Alixandre the hero’s and the poet’s names are hidden in a riddle (a canon), whose solution is left to the
reader or the auditor. Were the poem set to music, this cerebral construction would, assumedly, be duplicated in some musical canon.
As a source on the music in Pierre Lusignan’s court, the work is not much enlightening. Most information is on the festivities of
western courts he visited. In this article are quoted all among the 8.900 verses in La Prise d’Alixandre, related to music and music instruments.
Christos Pouris: Chopin and the piano in the 19th century
The musical life of the 19th century was affected by the Romantic movement, during which many musical innovations were directly
associated with the evolution of the piano, its music and the emerging virtuosos and amateurs performers. The piano was an intensively public instrument and
became the realm of the virtuosos who not only demonstrated through their own piano music their abilities and imagination as composers, but also presented the
individual characteristics of their keyboard technique in the music scene. Especially in Paris, the rapid rise in the popularity of the piano cultivated the
environment for the public concerts, in which leading pianists, like Kalkbrenner, Thalberg, Herz, Hiller and the most famous Chopin and Liszt, were given the opportunity to thrive. As an expected
result of this pianistic euphoria, piano manufacturers started being concerned about the improvements and the evolution of the construction of this instrument.
The two main piano manufacturers during that period were Erard and Pleyel in Paris. The innovation of the “double escapement” action by Erard, in particular, became the prototype of all the modern piano
actions. Furthermore, in relation to the sound quality of the two instruments, pianists had their own preferences. For instance, Chopin’s preference was
towards the Pleyel pianos “…which he particularly cherished for their silvery and slightly veiled sonority and the lightness of their touch”. Also, the improvement of the
piano construction contributed to the development of different approaches to piano playing. This is reflected in the programmes of the public concerts and Chopin’s early works, such as the Introduction and Polonaise Brillante op. 3 and the Variations brillantes op. 12.