Most composers of the Greek National School (roughly: 1st half of the century) cultivated in an often felicitous way the form of the song for solo voice with piano accompaniment. In this form Manolis Kalomiris (1883-1962) and Emilios Riadis (1886? – 1935) may be said to be unrivalled masters, though the first has openly admitted most sincerely that he envied Riadis for his achievements. It has not been fully realised to date that Kalomiris was the only composer of this school who wrote song cycles, Liederkreise in the sense of Schubert’s Winterreise or Schumann’s Frauenliebe und leben. At times, Riadis’ masterpieces may be assembled in what are rather collections of songs under a common title, and in other instances, such collections with a certain thematic unity can easily be located in other composers’ work – lists – yet they cannot really be called “song cycles”. Perhaps only Kalomiris wrote stricto senso “song cycles”, among which the most prominent place is occupied by the Evening Legends (1940 – 41) and You passed by (1946) both based upon verses from the collection Evening Legends by the poet Constantin Hatzopoulos (1871 – 1920). In order to discover song chronological boundaries of the National School, to the C.N.C. Cycle (1954) by Hadjidakis, based upon verses by the composer and to the incomparable Six Eliot Songs (1955), by Jani Christou (1926 – 70).
It would be least hypocritical nowadays, 20 years after the composer’s death, to conceal the fact that the Evening Legends, the masterpiece of Greek musical literature, was the fruit of a soul – consuming love affair, the depth of feeling and torment of which the composer has expressed in a way comparable with similar achievements by Schubert, Schumann, Wolf or Mahler. The object of Kalomiris’s passion at 57 (as clearly indicated by the undated initial “Dedication”, on the composer’s own verses, obviously written after the cycle was finished), was a singer, strikingly beautiful and in the prime of her youth. Apparently she did not share Kalomiris’s passion. Yet she has been the composer’s “Immortal Beloved”, as he calls her in the Dedication – the allusion to Beethoven’s unsterblich Gelibte is all too evident.
Except for the opening Dedication, Kalomiris has meticulously dated everyone of the songs. And we are astounded to discover that even during the days of fascist Italy’s invasion of Greece, passion was devouring the composer’s soul to such an extent, that he, who then embodied, so to Hellenism, the fiery patriot, had no other thought than to alleviate his torment by composing three of the most beautiful and poignant songs of the cycle: You have come (20 – 30.10.1940), Sorrow (27.10.1940) and The shivering dusk (29.10.1940). The composition of the cycle began on the 20.9.1940, on board the s/s «Samos», with The Ships, and the last song, Dusky came the evening, was written a few months later, on New Years’ Eve (31.12.1940) and on New Year’s Day (1.1.1941). We can easily imagine Kalomiris’ loneliness and desolation in his house at Palaeo Phalero, on this New Year’s Day, upon which Greeks, as far as the war allowed, were trying to temper their agony as to its outcome by trying to create as best as they could a festive atmosphere.
Blended by passion, the verses of Hatzopoulos, with the penetrating melancholy of their exquisite lyricism, the melodic line of the voice and the piano accompaniment, all merge into a unity in such an organic way as to cause our admiration. The tonal climate is essentially that of the Greek folksong modes, yet it is Kalomiris who pours out his tormented soul in music. The vocal line, in admirable inflections or melismas (mostly chromatic), translates the abrupt transitions of the verses from desire and longing to despair, often taking to “word – painting” (in a vocal work the musical depiction of the meaning of an individual word or an idea associated with it, e.g. an ascending passage for a word like “height” or a dissonance for a word like “pain”). So does the piano, often in a subtly impressionist manner; (The song that mourns, The rain on the windowpane) which depicts an inner landscape of the soul. This surge of pathos an unfulfilled desire in most of the songs seems to be expressed by a melodic formula, appearing under various forms: an ascending fifth rushes upwards, then the melodic line tends more or less to fall stepwise, as if realising the impossibility of fulfilment. (Score published by Michael Constantinidis, Athens, no M. 1419 K., undated).