I was born in 1883. That is to say, today, I am 75 years old. And as far as I can remember… I think … since my early childhood, music, our folk music, was always stirring in my soul and mind.
My “nene”, as we used to call grand-mother in Smyrna, where I was born, used to charm me as a child, with her songs and fairy tales. She knew many songs. Every night and every morning she would lull me and wake-me up with her songs and stories.
There was also “tsatsa” Marouka, a blind cousin of my granny. She used to come home leaning on her stick and on a little girl. With her ill-combed, white hair, and her Smyrna fez, tsatsa Marouka struck me like a witch out of granny’s tales; but a good witch, full of jokes, tales and songs. Mostly songs. She knew how to mix and match her own tunes and words with popular ones. I would also join in, sitting on her knees, with my tiny voice coming straight out of my infant soul…
Then came school… I must have been seven years old, when my mother registered me at the ‘Palladium’ boarding school and kindergarten, owned by the Paschalis brothers. It was located at a small distance from our house in ‘St. Katerini’. A few months later ‘Miss Evdokia’, the school-director, announced to my mother that ‘the school had been provided with a clavier and that Mr. Digenis Kapagrossas, an excellent music teacher from Zakynthos, would teach this instrument to any interested pupils for ten “grossia” per month’.
My mother registered me immediately. It never crossed her mind that I could become a musician. It would be nice, however, when one day, I would return from Europe a qualified doctor – that was her ambition – to play a little piano along with my ‘francais’ that I would speak by then.
My only joy came when I escaped the torturing exercises of Mr. Kapagrossas and practiced alone. We did not have a piano at home and ‘Miss Evdokia’ would send me to practice alone at the school piano. There, instead of playing Kapagrossas’ boring scales, I would experiment with all the white and black keys! I would try to match them, make them fight and then reconcile them again… until Miss Evdokia would enter the room upset: ‘Manolis, you are again playing your own stuff’ she used to tell me. ‘I will punish you and I will report this to your mother’.
I kept doing that my whole life, at Primary School, High School or at the Vienna Academy. I was always trying to express myself, in sounds and rhythms either improvising at the piano, or trying to awkwardly put my musical ideas on the stave.
And even if it was not Miss Evdokia, who was yelling at me ‘You are again playing your own stuff, little Manolis’, it was life itself who kept yelling at me…
All this does not mean that I was some sort of ‘child prodigy’ nor that this inclination of mine was an indication of some distinguished musical talent. I only want to make clear that since my childhood, the impulse to create music was intense. This fact dominated my life and is the fulfilling element of my life. My other activities, and unfortunately some have occupied me a lot, do not represent me…
My childhood was haunted by our folk songs, by the melodies and rhythms of our people, by our legends and traditions, by Byzantium, its mythical Kings and its haunted monasteries. Along with them, by Greek poetry, in such a way that sometimes I wonder whether I am a musician or an unsuccessful poet.
On the other hand, intellectually I always lived in contemporary Greece. Even when I was away, I was in the land of Venizelos and of Palamas. I felt the pulse of New Greece as it was emerging. I found my inspiration in modern Greece and tried to sing primarily and mainly for the Greeks. I tried to sing our pains and our glories, our few joys and to mourn the loss of our great dreams.
My interest in folk music makes some people think that my compositions are mostly an elaboration of Greek folk songs or even worse, transcriptions for orchestra with western harmonies…
I am not a musicologist, nor a wise man or scholar. I did not study our folk-song for the sake of studying it, or for researching it, or for commenting on it, or for transcribing it.I simply felt since my childhood and I still feel in my soul, the spirit of the folk musician, of the lyra player and of the village or island story teller.
Thus my musical thinking, my musical inspiration, have spontaneously, almost unwillingly produced themes that although absolutely mine, carry in them something from the popular rhapsodist of the plain and the mountain, something from the flame and the heart of innocent simple folk. And I think that my music is successful at this, since people mistake some original melodies of mine as folk tunes!
The pure folk elements are relatively few in my quite large work and much fewer than in other composers of my generation who are not even following the same artistic path.
Nevertheless, I do not cease to be a musician living in his century and his era and my technique as a composer could not but follow the achievements of the great masters of music, East or West.
I have used those achievements and I have tried to create a personal style that would attract the younger musical generations.
This style is not however in tune with the latest international, modernist experiments. It ignores the twelve note system, concrete music and the electronic tendencies. I think though that this is one of its virtues.
I think that in our country we should first create our own national musical tradition and then turn, if we ever turn, to revolutions that deny the idea of art as it has been understood so far, in the entire civilised world.
These are, in outline, the foundations of my creative work which is closely tied to the soul, legends and traditions of our people and to the spirit of Greek poetry from Palamas to Kazantzakis.
You will find that spirit in almost all my works: From the ‘Romeiki Suite’ to Konstandinos Palaiologos’.
(A FREE TRANSLATION
Spoken as opposed to written speech but also Greek grammar and syntax and Kalomiris’ own poetic style, allow very long complex sentences. A strict word for word translation produces a cumbersome, incomprehensible text in English. I have therefore taken the liberty to shorten, omit and simplify, in order to produce a flowing text, which hopefully retains the essence of Kalomiris brief radio speech. This is, therefore, a free translation.
Hari Politopoulos, May 1999.)