Magic Herbs

Based on a note by F.Tsalahouris and N.Maliaras


“Magic Herbs” is the first cycle of poems by Costis Palamas, set to music by Kalomiris. It is the second part of “Iambs and Anapaests”, a collection of poems first published in Athens in 1897. Kalomiris probably, first, came across it in 1905. Kalomiris also worked on the first part of the cycle, “I Love You”a few years after he completed Magic Herbs. He did not compose music for the remaining two parts of this collection. Before “Magic Herbs” the composer had worked on some other poems by Palamas, most of which were revised in 1943 or 1944, soon after the poet’s death, during the occupation of Greece. Some other poems by Palamas were also set to music, for the first time, during this period.


Palamas noted in 1925, commenting on the first performance of “I Love You”:


“If Kalomiris feels the need of systematically working on my verses, this is important (not only for the music, per se but) for the history of modern Greek literature as well. Kalomiris is not only a landmark for the art of music in its way on a steadier path, towards superior art-ideals; he is also one of the most important chapters in the history of Demoticism”.


Most parts of the work, which is written for voice and orchestra, were composed in Athens in 1912-1913, during a period of major Greek victories in World War I. Some sections however were already conceived in earlier times. On the other hand, the prelude took its final form not earlier than 1914, which should therefore be considered as the year of the work’s completion.


The work consists of a short prelude and eight songs, numbered 1 to 8. In the Anoyannakis catalogue (Athens 1964, p.16), the Prelude appears along with the first Song under no 1. This numbering is mistakenly abandoned in the English edition of the catalogue, prepared by M.Voelker – Kamarinea (Athens 1986, p.13).


The titles of the work’s parts and the completion dates of each of them are as follow :

“ Prelude”, version for piano 1913, version for orchestra 1914.

  1. “A Fay Gave Me Birth” , 1912.
  2. “Old Mother Life”, 1908, completed in Kharkov, Russia.
  3. “The Prince Waited Ready”, October 1912.
  4. “The Black Ogress”, November 20, 1912. Kalomiris wrote the first sketches of this song as early as 1905, and it seems that it is the first poem by Palamas that in his native town of Smyrna. As Kalomiris himself writes, the poem was read to him by his beloved piano teacher Sophia Spanoudi in Constantinople “… and while I was still studying the harmony, I tried to pair my music with the verses”. The song was completed in Vienna, while the composer was reading at the Conservatory.
  5. “Menelaos Leaps Forward”, 1912.
  6. “From Distant Kingdoms”, 1912.
  7. “ Son of Hamko”, 1912.
  8. “ Digenis Akritas”, 1912. There also exists an undated but later symphonic version of this song, probably written after 1930.


The Song Cycle “Magic Herbs” was first performed in its orchestral form in the Hall of the Conservatory of Athens on March 12, 1915 by Irene Skepers under Kalomiris’ direction. Approximately one year earlier, on April 18, 1914, the transcribed form of the work, for voice and piano, had been performed in the same hall and by same soloist, with Kalomiris at the piano.


The cycle is composed for voice and orchestra, consisting of 2 flutes, 2 oboes (the second alternating with english horn), 2 clarinets, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, tympani, percussion, 2 harps and strings.

NOTE: In recent times Magic Herbs as been sung almost exclusively by women. It was transcribed however for other voices during Kalomiris’ life and his daughter Krino always felt that the most appropriate voice would be that of a dramatic tenor. (H.P.)





The full score of the work exists in only one manuscript. Only the Prelude is in the hand of Kalomiris, the rest are by a copyist. No date is mentioned. On the manuscript one finds notes made for various performances and minor corrections by the composer himself.

There also exists a multiplicated score of the Prelude and the three first Songs, of which the first two were written by the composer’ s hand. This reproduction was made probably in 1930. Certain particularities indicate that it was copied directly from the above mentioned score manuscript, denoting that at the time of multiplication, Kalomiris’ autographs had already been lost.


The following autographs of Kalomiris exist:

Score of “Hamko”, dated June 14,1912, which should be considered a sketch.

Score of “Menelaos”, almost completed, dated 25 October 1912 (one day before the siege of Thessalonica by the Greek Army under Prince Constantine).

Score of the late version of “Digenis”, including composer’ s corrections in red ink, and probably dating from the 1930s.

Transcriptions for voice and piano of the Prelude, the “Fay”, the “Prince” (dated October 1912), the “Ogress” (20-11-1912, “Hamko” (two manuscripts, of which one with many corrections) and the “Distant Kingdoms”.





The full score remains unpublished. The piano score has been published three times. (It is not certain whether Kalomiris wrote the piano score before, during or after the completion of the full score)


  • 1 Athens 1914, by “Mousike” Press.
  • 2 Paris 1927, by “Maurice Senart” Press.
  • 3 Athens 1991 by the Manolis Kalomiris Society.


There is also an undated publication of the “Prelude”, the “Fay” and “Old Mother Life” by Gaetanos.