ARCANA for mezzo soprano, clarinet, viola, cello, piano and percussion. 1983. Texts in English by Gwendolyn MacEwen (The Nine Arcana of the Kings). Commissioned by Arraymusic with a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. 25 minutes. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.
Three Songs on Poems by Sappho
Erotikos Logos (winner of the 1996 Jules Leger Prize for New Chamber Music)
Three song cycles on texts by Sappho, George Seferis and Gwendolyn MacEwen.
Monica Whicher, soprano. Ronald Greydanus, countertenor. Joaquin Valdepeñas,
clarinet; Steven Dann, viola; David Hetherington, cello; Mark Widner, piano.
Trevor Tureski, percussion, under the direction of Robert Aitken. Keith
Horner, producer. Marquis
Classics ERAD 197. Available October 1996 in Canada, November 1996
in the United States and February 1997 in Europe. Produced by Iolkos
Productions with financial support from the Ontario Arts Council and
When I first read Gwendolyn MacEwen's The Nine Arcana of the Kings, I was immediately captured by both the intense imagery and the subject matter. These poems burst with emotion: volcanic eruptions of despair, and numbing pain set against descriptions of water, fountains and especially blinding and intoxicating light. They have the power to carry the reader into the unknown worlds of collective memory and explore its luminous and dark corners. Reading these poems is an enchantment; it is like looking at a multifaceted crystal with "brilliant and original verbal surfaces" (Margaret Atwood).
In an effort to make these poems more meaningful from my own point of view which is essentially Christian, and at the same time make them more "open" to personal interpretation on the part of the listener, I have taken them out of their specific historical context (which I presume is the reign of the mysterious and fascinating Pharaoh Achenaton, 1367-1350 BC) and placed them on a more universal plateau. Thus the lament of princess Meritaton over the dead body of her brother/husband Smenkhare (both children of Achenaton and brief successors to his throne) becomes in my own vision the lament of Maria Magdalene over the dead body of Jesus. It is this transposition that has inspired the composition of Arcana.
These particular poems of MacEwen carry their own music within them; it was not possible for me to impose on the text any of my own musical ideas. I chose rather to unravel and bring to life what music was already there to begin with. Certain allusions and references to works or styles of other composers have been called for by the text in a non-conscious manner, and it is with these subconscious archetypal threads that the primary fabric of the piece is woven. One such reference is the fugal treatment of the Byzantine chant "Ton Nymphona sou vlepo…" (I see your bridal chamber, my Savior, and I wear not the proper vestments to enter it) at the end of "The Prayer", and there are several more. These references do not constitute some kind of stylistic trend on my part (I have not been concerned at all with style in Arcana), but are part of a philosophy of subordinating one's musical personality to the literary requirements of a poem.
Premiere performance: October
29 & 29, 1983 by Christine Frolick and the Arraymusic ensemble under
the direction of Henry Kucharzyk. Winchester Street Theatre, Toronto.
It was an exciting experience for me, as I was reading the poems in the context of the music, to realize that they had come alive and acquired new dimensions... Christos Hatzis' extreme sensitivity to the material, coupled with his considerable talent as a composer, had created a dynamic new work of art. In the past I have heard several other pieces of music which have been written for my poetry, but nothing has succeeded in moving me to the degree that Arcana has. Gwendolyn MacEwen
The premiere of Christos Hatzis' Arcana (1983) was the evening's highlight... An especially fascinating aspect of the work was that the poems had greater impact in the musical setting... The movements covered a wide emotional range, from the sensuousness and passion of the first movement to the dirge of the second, a rising series of heartbreaking climaxes in the 'Prayer' and a blend of the three in the finale. John Kraglund, THE GLOBE AND MAIL (CANADA)
An evening with composer Christos Hatzis proved also to be an evening with great poetry, gifted performers-and a host of composers from the past, whose voices echoed benevolently through Hatzis' work. ..His settings of Sappho, Gwendolyn MacEwen and George Seferis were chock-full of allusions to musical styles as diverse as Bach, Renaissance polyphony, folksong, Byzantine chant, Ravel, Mahler, Puccini, Strauss and popular music. Somewhat amazingly, in light of these eclectic borrowings, the music never sounded impoverished, or even pastiche-like. Nor did it feel old-fashioned, thanks to a textural intricacy which belied the disarming simplicity of the harmonies....Monica Whicher was the convincing soloist in Arcana. I especially liked her trance-like delivery of 'The Death of the Prince', where the instrumentalists conjured a hallucinatory atmosphere. Tamara Bernstein, THE GLOBE AND MAIL (CANADA)
Given the bleakness of what lies ahead, it made sense perhaps to kick off the 25th season of the New Music Concerts with an evening devoted to Christos Hatzis. The work of this talented Greco-Canadian composer recalls the past as much as it anticipates the future...Alternately lyrical and dissonant Arcana ebbed and swelled in the full-blown manner of a late romantic. Radiantly sung by soprano Monica Whicher, the vocal line was simple, almost sparse. But beneath the shimmering surface of her voice, a five-man ensemble roiled furiously. Christopher Hume, THE TORONTO STAR (CANADA)
[In Arcana] the music is very powerful, and the second song, "The Death of the Prince," is a masterpiece of atmosphere. An ensemble of consummate instrumental virtuosos conducted by Robert Aitken, and superbly recorded, provides rich and vivid accompaniments. Urjo Kareda, CLASSICAL MUSIC MAGAZINE (CANADA)
Take a long, deep breath. Exhale slowly and imagine an ancient myth unfolding like the sails of Jason's Argo in a strong Aegean sea breeze. Now imagine the songs and stories of lost times made intelligible to modern ears and hearts: classical tales of Greece and Egypt projected on our mind's internal cinema screens and underscored by the music of our desires. Erotikos Logos comprises three song cycles composed by Christos Hatzis on love poems by Sappho, George Seferis and Gwendolyn MacEwen. These songs form a personal vocabulary of passion for the Greek-born Hatzis, and are rewarding listening for anyone willing to open their feelings to his considerable expressive abilities. Hatzis is a persuasive and thoughtful guide. He paints magnificent backdrops of emotion employing a musical palette reminiscent of Monteverdi, Schubert, Debussy, Glass and even Broadway show tunes on which he applies globs of rich vocal lines for soprano Monica Whicher and countertenor Ronald Greydanus. Despite most of the texts being Greek and indecipherable prior to reading the translations, the songs pack a serious emotional punch. Hatzis is easily forgiven the ocasional foray into correspondence course romanticism and perfunctory sensuality when the ensemble of voice, clarinet, viola, cello piano and percussion blow in a fresh turn of phrase or ingenious orchestration. Hatzis is a deft melodist and a master of form. His sense of proportion ensures that few of his ideas outstay their welcome or disappoint the listener with premature resolution. The crackerjack chamber ensemble conducted by Canadian flutist and new music eminence, Robert Aitken, is great company for both vocalists who rise to the challenge of these demanding scores. Greydanus is the more convincing because his unaffected delivery better suites the illusion of timeless history the composer seems to seek. Marquis Classics has used a different production team on this release, resulting in a significantly improved sonic experience.....The sum is a playful and pungent CD that whispers to you more eloquently with successive hearings. If you're curious, buy it. Your inner sensualist will thank you. Michael Juk, THE VANCOUVER COURIER (CANADA)
With rigorous musical discipline and an acute ear for transcendentally beautiful sounds, Christos Hatzis writes mouthwatering scores that are both familiar and strange. They are familiar because he often quotes actual themes like the bit of Puccini that creeps into his song-cycle Erotikos Logos, or recreates familiar styles like the Sigmund Rombergish melody that arches through the ravishing background agitation in the first of his Three Songs on Poems by Sappho. These familiar patches are evanescent. They don't die but live out a half-life like decaying uranium. The strangeness comes form the fact that the molodies never go where you expect them to. they rise and fall according to an inner logic closely married to that of the poetry the set. The context of their lyrical, sensual sweep is often contradicted by the sound of the piano in the background playing a different rhythm, different tempo and different keyscape. Hatzis' crafsmanship is superb to the point of transparency. It gives tremendous support and integrity to lines that appear and dissappear with the spontaneity of improvisation. the ensemble of clarinet, viola, cello and piano, with percussion (Arcana only), is directed by Robert Aitken and is, in a word, beyond superb. Stephen Pedersen, THE CHRONICLE-HERALD (CANADA)
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