The greatest composer of modern Greece, the effective leader of the modern Greek “national school” was born in Smyrna (today’s town of Izmir in Turkey) in 1883 and died in Athens in 1962. His activities as composer, author, teacher, critic and manager shaped Greek musical life to a considerable extent during the first half of the 20th century.
He started his musical education in Athens and Constantinople and completed it in Vienna between 1901 and 1906. After spending four years as a piano teacher in Kharkov, in what is today the Ukraine and was then part of Imperial Russia, he settled permanently in Athens, in 1910. He founded two of the most important Conservatories in Greece as well as the Union of Greek Composers, he served for a time as director of the National Opera and in 1945 he was the first musician to be elected member of the Athens Academy. His large output includes 3 symphonies, and 5 operas and hundreds of songs.
(The number of his works is quoted as 100 or as 220 depending on whether individual songs are counted as separate works or are grouped into song cycles.)
.Music critic George Leotsakos has said about Kalomiris: «Consciously moving between Wagnerism, the 19th Century Russian School and Greek folklore, he attained especially in his orchestral scores, a style of his own. A polyphonic structure (sometimes over-rich) brilliantly and colourfully orchestrated, is driven forward with a healthy exuberance and an overwhelming sense of dramatic impact and melodic pathos, not unskillfully expanding folksong modes into chromatic structures».
At the turn of the millenium Kalomiris’ music remains largely unknown outside Greece but at least two of his works, his 1st Symphony and his opera MOTHER’s RING, are relatively well known in Greece.
In the nearly 40 years since his death Kalomiris’ music has withstood the onslaught of various fashions of artistic modernism, populism and now cosmopolitanism. It has survived and will survive all of them because, despite its largely borrowed language, it has something unique and sincere to say.