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Mikis Theodorakis on life, death and music

Twenty-four hours before the opening of the 2004 Olympic Games, we sat on the penthouse roof. The Acropolis hovered above us. A white security blimp hovered above the Acropolis. And when the burning August sun disappeared in the west, when the orchestra began to play, when the Olympic Torch was about to arrive, Mikis Theodorakis placed his hand on mine and said: «Look how beautiful.» Look how beautiful. And just as Goethe wrote: «It’s like frozen music, the Acropolis. It dominates all of Athens like frozen music.» Afterward he spoke about his music. How his music comes to him. He hears notes in his sleep. He turns on the light and jots down the notes on a piece of paper. He turns out the light and goes back to sleep, until more notes awaken him. So that toward morning, he gets up and gathers the pile of papers from the night. And when the silhouette of the Acropolis emerges from the darkness, he sits at his desk and tries to understand the main thing. The dominant idea. And he checks himself on the grand piano. Slowly but surely he carves out the proper shape from the chaos. The musical structure that will remain. «I’m close to the German spirit,» says Theodorakis. «Very romantic, but very disciplined. Swept up completely in great feelings, but hard-working and orderly. I admire Beethoven and Wagner, have reservations about Schoenberg. I don’t believe in intellectual music. I don’t believe in what is cut off from myth, from religion, from human pain. From the terrible pain of death.» Does he think about death a lot? Every day. Every day. Only when he is into music does he feel immortal. But he doesn’t delude himself. He celebrates this life, because beyond it there is no other life. And in recent years, his body’s betrayal distresses him. Insults him. All his life he was so strong, and suddenly he needs this walking stick. Suddenly he has to lean on me when he rises slowly from his chair. He is still very tall. He still has his mane of hair as well. A little sparser, a little grayer, but still there. And in his eyes the mischievous glint of a young boy. The self-deprecating humor. And the strong desire to take advantage of every moment. Every thought. Every living thing. Even his great love of women refuses to die. «They’re so beautiful, your women,» Theodorakis whispers to me. «Like in the Bible. Flowing with milk and honey.»