What are the most “moving” and “emotional” Greek songs of all time?

By: | Post date: 2017-08-01 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Modern Greek, Music

… No, I don’t think I’ve posted enough about Greek songs, actually.

Other than Nick Nicholas’ answer to What’s the most recent song you’ve cried to?, here’s three more torch songs. Yes, all sung by George Dalaras, and I make no apologies for that.

1. My favourite song ever is Don’t Be Angry At Me, My Dear Eyes. Music & Lyrics: Stavros Kouyioumtzis, 1965. stixoi.info: Μη μου θυμώνεις μάτια μου

The saddest song of a composer who wrote consistently sad songs. It’s the lyrics, but much more it’s the music, which belies the lyrics.

Don’t be angry at me, my dear eyes,
for going abroad
I’ll turn into a bird and I’ll come
back to you once more

Open your window,
my blond basil,
and with a sweet smile
bid me goodnight

Don’t be angry at me, my dear eyes,
now that I’ll leave you
Come out for a while so I can see you
and farewell you

Apart from the idiosyncrasies of Greek terms of endearment (Eyes, Basil), pretty much what every man ever had said farewelling his sweetheart. But the music is pessimistic: it’s all descending lines, it knows that he’s never coming back—sometimes in a low resigned register, sometimes in a high anguished register. What cements it is, it has brief moments of major key respite: two beats in the verse, a more convincing 2–5–1 cadence in the chorus—that immediately gets quashed by the minor key V: there is hope, and that hope is brushed aside.

2. The letter. Lyrics: Giorgos Mitsakis. Music: Giorgos Zambetas, 1956.

If Markos Vamvakaris was the Bach of the bouzouki tradition, and Vassilis Tsitsanis the Beethoven, then Giorgos Zampetas was the Offenbach: his music was fun, frothy, and not usually that memorable. This song is an exception, and I’m not surprised that it only became popular in a revival 20 years after it was released. It has that solemn, stern dignity of the best of laiko, even if it’s just that bit too European.

And ah, that last stanza: who hasn’t been there.

When you receive this letter,
I’ll be long gone
And you’ll believe it that two loves
cannot fit in one heart.

When you receive this letter
then will you cry with black tears.

You always spoke behind a mask
and wished to have two embraces
But where did you get the right
to toy with two hearts?

And so ends a story
with this sad letter.
I don’t regret that I once loved you.
But I am sorry that I still do.

3. I want it to be a Sunday. Music & Lyrics: Vasilis Tsitsanis, 1961.

This is not Rebetiko, of course; Tsitsanis the Beethoven was very far from the stern jauntiness of Vamvakaris, even if he got his professional start soloing on Vamvakaris’ album. (And his virtuoso playing sounds utterly out of place in 1938.)

In this song, he’s unabashedly wearing his heart on his sleeve, and wailing in a way that hadn’t been heard since the Anatolian antecedents of Rebetiko: the whole song is a study in the hanging leading tone, which never resolves up, but always collapses down.

There is extramusical context to the song, which I didn’t know beforehand: it was written four years after the death of Marika Ninou—a singer who Tsitsanis had worked with extensively, and who the movie Rembetiko (film) was based on.

I met you on a Sunday
I lose you on a Sunday
I want it to be a Sunday
on the day I die

You set like a star
and vanished, my joy.
My sorrow was so heavy
that it blackened Sunday
and broke my heart.

The hour of parting
is heavy and unbearable
In my dark life
I have the black heavens
as my companion now.

I would die on a Sunday
to give Death joy
to end a life
that is nothing but a prison for me
that is nothing but dead weight for me

EDIT: One more Dalaras song. (Yes, Evangelos Lolos, you’re on to me.)

4. Hammer and anvil. Music: Apostolos Kaldaras. Lyrics: Lefteris Papadopoulos. 1973.

The reference to gypsies at the start of the song simply reflects the distribution of labour in traditional Greek society: gypsies on the mainland got to be blacksmiths—or musicians.

I actually don’t know what Western ears will make of the verse’s scale, with its blue IV note squirming around its own misery, or the relative major ending up a relative minor. (D minor with a G♭ note, modulating to B♭ minor.) I do think they’ll get the chorus, at least, with its IV–V–I soaring on a despairing F major, before it sinks back to the blue notes of the verse.

The song is a study in depression—although I’ve been avoiding it the more serious my depression has gotten.

Come, gypsy, gather
hammer and anvil,
and sit and make a prison
to fit the black pains
which won’t fit within a soul.

This is no nighttime which will be over.
This is no daytime which will be past.
This is my lifetime, in this creation,
and it’s just like Good Friday mass.

Come, gypsy, gather
hammer and anvil,
and sit and make a golden cage
to capture that nightingale
which might just console my Sunday.

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