What do you know about Nikos Skalkottas?

By: | Post date: 2016-11-15 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Modern Greek, Music

OP, making Michael Masiello PM question to me a public message. Because Sharing and Growing the World’s Knowledge.

Well of course, Nikos Skalkottas – Wikipedia. But let me not look up questions.

Greek composer. Disciple and in fact pupil of Schönberg. Had a measly gig as a second violin in an Athens orchestra, and did not live long. Not widely known in or outside Greece.

I’ve tried, very half-heartedly, to listen to one or two of his large scale orchestral compositions, and I can’t. I don’t grok the language of dodecaphony in big doses, and I don’t find enough rewards to make it worth my time.

(I deeply love Berg’s Violin Concerto, but Berg’s Violin Concerto utterly undermines dodecaphony, by using the most tonal tone row possible. Joachim Pense, I think that’s why you didn’t think much of it: if you wanted tonal music, you know where to find it. It helped that I studied the Violin Concerto in music literature, in high school.)

There are two batches of pieces by Skalkottas that I love.

The 36 Greek Dances, I’m sure, are pieces he hated. They are old school romantic nationalist set pieces. They’re what the mob wanted. But I’m sorry, they are brilliantly, and at times subversively orchestrated.

It helps if you recognise the originals, as I do: he often goes deliberately against the tenor of the original. His Tsamikos, a setting of Ένας αϊτός καθότανε An Eagle Sat, is claustrophobic, not heroic. His final dance is a demonic tarantella; it’s originally a lullaby. His Syrtos is a revelation: what do you get if you combine Greek Middle-Easternish melismata with a Germanic Oompah bass? Klezmer!

For a very long time, the original full-orchestra versions were not widely available: you could only get 5 of the 36 in string arrangements. Not finding the 36 on YouTube; the recording companies have been assiduous.

The second batch are in a tape I got 20 years ago, of piano pieces. Miniatures, dodecaphonic, but witty, expressive, and digestible. Michael said they’re said to be sprightly; yeah, I think that’s a good call. And if I’m saying that, that means they’re really good. I haven’t heard (yet) the 32 Pieces that Michael is practicing. The tape had Suite #3, Suite #4, and the 15 Variations.

They’re that good, Michael. I need some working music today, and haven’t played these for a while. (Tape, after all.) Thank you.

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