New version of a classic masterpiece

A musical movement based on the ideas of Arnold Schoenberg, the father of the 12-tone method, was developed in Vienna in the early 20th century. Some of the major musicians of the time frequented that circle. Their aim, by rewriting great symphony works for smaller ensembles, was to promote the new, demanding works of the time. They also wanted to reduce the incipient difficulty an audience has when encountering any new work. Any unity of genuine music is truly impressive: The great tradition responsible for the rewriting of works like Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony into works for small ensembles, or, vice versa, of Brahms’s First Piano Quartet and Handel’s Piano Variations, into works for a large orchestra has now been brought to Greece by top composer Stavros Xarhakos, who has rewritten Mikis Theodorakis and Yiannis Ritsos’s «Epitaphios» into a vocal suite. When Ritsos’s poem «Epitaphios» was first put to music about five decades ago, it exploded onto the music scene and had a greater effect on the country’s political life than any other musical composition. Xarhakos’s rewriting of the piece was so important that Theodorakis himself suggested the composition be called «Stavros Xarhakos: Theodorakis’s Epitaphios.» Xarhakos didn’t use a symphony orchestra but instead chose the State Orchestra of Greek Music, with vocalist Maria Soultatou revealing previously remote aspects of «Epitaphios.» Xarhakos created continuity by bringing out the work’s thematic unity. In the orchestration, he made striking references between Theodorakis’s music to folk music and to its symphonic roots. «Epitaphios» is also a milestone in Theodorakis’s life, because it was with that work that Theodorakis turned his back on the West just when he had begun conquering it with the performance of «Antigone» at Covent Garden, and after his excellent studies in musical direction and composition in Paris. The scope of Xarhakos’s achievement will need a long time to be fully appreciated. Bringing to the fore unknown aspects of the work, he gives a wider audience a unique opportunity to get acquainted with it, but also to understand a musical world that to many remains remote.

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