THREE SONGS ON POEMS BY SAPPHO for soprano, clarinet, viola, cello and piano. Texts in classical Greek by Sappho. Funded by the Grants to Composers program of the Toronto Arts Council. 25 minutes. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.
ANAKTORIA, the third song of the cycle now exists as a stand alone composition for mezzo-soprano, clarinet, viola, cello, piano. Duration 6:30 minutes.
The seeds of the Three Songs on Poems by Sappho date back to the year 1990 when a Greek singer, Nena Venetsanou, requested a song setting of classical Greek texts for her voice. An earlier version of Anaktoria, the third song of the present cycle, came into being as a result of that request. A few years later I heard the voice of Aris Christofellis, an amazing countertenor whose upper register extends to that of a full fledged mezzo. Christofellis expressed a keen interest in my music - he was particularly attracted to my song cycle Erotikos Logos, a setting of poems by George Seferis. I decided that an extended cycle which would belong stylistically in the same family with Erotikos Logos and Anaktoria was in order. As it turned out besides style, the two cycles share the same instrumentation. An earlier song cycle, Arcana, set on poems by Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, also joins this family to form a trilogy. The three songs I chose to set to music represent three different aspects of Sappho's creative personality. The first, Invocation to Aphrodite, is a calling on goddess Aphrodite for her help in attracting a lover. The second song, The Marriage of Hector and Andromache, is an outpouring of joy and panache with little regard for musical sophistication or overall structure...just like a Greek wedding party after its first hour or so. The third song, Anaktoria, is the most reflective of the three. In contrast to the naive and occasionally sinister desire for possession of the first song or the frivolity of the second - where the citizens of Troy seem more impressed with Andromache's dowry than with the ominous implications this union has for their city - Anaktoria is about opting for the simple things in life - love being one of them - rather than the larger than life heroic acts that bring people and countries to their ruin.
For an English translation of the Sappho poems used in this work see: 'Sappho; Poems & Fragments'. Translated by Josephine Balmer. Publisher: Meadowland Books, Secaucus, New Jersey. Look up pages 78 (Invocation to Aphrodite), 72 (The Marriage of Hector and Andromache) and 21 (Anaktoria).
Premiere performance: October 29, 1995 by countertenor Kyle Church Cheseborough and an ensemble consisting of Joaquin Valdepenas, clarinet; Steven Dann, viola; David Hetherington, cello; Mark Widner, piano under the direction of Robert Aitken. Erotikos Logos: An Evening with Christos Hatzis, New Music Concerts, Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto.
Three Songs on Poems by Sappho have a sinewy, drawn-out intensity. The vocal line, uttered with concentrated fervor by Monica Whicher, has a rhythmic freedom which suggests the inflections of the spoken language...the rather grim angularity of the music is arresting. 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 occasional 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 melodies 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' craftsmanship is superb to the point of transparency. It gives tremendous support and integrity to lines that appear and disappear 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)
Hatzis' compositions a feast for the ears
The voracious, omnivorous
musical appetite of composer Christos Hatzis showed itself Friday when a sampler
of his work was presented by the University of Toronto's faculty of music in its
Faculty Artist Series at Walter Hall. Modernism, romanticism classicism, pop,
ethnic tradition—his music devoured it all. Trained in the rigours of
modernist technique, Hatzis seems most true to himself. And nothing was more rhapsodic
Friday than Three Songs on Poems by Sappho. John Lehr, The Toronto Star (Canada)
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