Greek music, Greek resistance, Greek culture – all these symbolize Mikis Theodorakis. In his native land, it is said that he was able to translate the Greek soul into the language of music so that it could be understood around the world. Theodorakis rose to international fame as a composer, conductor, writer, resistance fighter and politician. For his compatriots, he remains the voice of the people and the “voice of Greece”. On July 29 he celebrated his 96th birthday, now Theodorakis died Thursday in Athens. “Today we have lost a piece of the Greek soul,” said Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni.
The nearly two-meter tall man had looked frail in recent years and had given up directing, but still took part in a concert in his honor in June 2019 at Athens’ former Olympic stadium. Theodorakis was always mentally alert and energetic. For example, when he was sitting in a wheelchair, speaking in a loud voice and with shining eyes on the political problems of his country. He also commented on the events of daily Greek politics on his website.
With his popular music, he accompanied and inspired many Greeks musically and emotionally in their struggles for democracy and freedom at a historically dramatic time. Not only in his own country, but also, for example, in Chile, in front of the people and their desire for freedom, he bowed with his “Canto General” based on texts by Pablo Neruda.
Theodorakis, born in 1925 on the Aegean island of Chios, was brought to music by an old German film about Beethoven. “I saw the movie with my father. I was fascinated,” he said in a television interview. “I asked my father, who was traveling to Athens on business, to bring me whatever he could find on music in the capital. That’s how it started.”
Theodorakis then studied music at the Athens Conservatory and in Paris. He first composed classical music. In the early 1960s, he found his way back to the roots of Greek music. He built on the Rembetiko style of music, the folk music of Greek workers and foreigners. Soon he produced his “Mikis-Sound”, which is unmistakable to this day – sometimes tragic and melancholy, then again surprisingly triumphant and revolutionary.
Many of his compatriots say that his music is characterized by a kind of magic. He also had many fans internationally, including celebrities such as Arthur Miller, Francois Mitterrand, Wolf Biermann, Martin Walser and Roger Willemsen. The latter wrote at the end of a meeting with the composer: “Europe did not have Che Guevara, it had Mikis Theodorakis. We were with him. Anyone who has never dreamed of overthrowing dictatorships will not grow up, it is well known. – Theodorakis himself expressed it this way: “I belong to a generation which has devoted itself to extreme idealism. My whole life has been an endless struggle between the idealist and the real, the everyday and the vision.
The film “Alexis Sorbas” with Anthony Quinn in the lead role, whose score made Theodorakis famous worldwide in the early 1960s, was also a vision. The tape was also shown in cinemas in the GDR, and later on television. To this day, the title song is considered the secret Greek national anthem – including the dance, in which people around the world throw their legs arm in arm at ever faster beats.
By this time, Theodorakis had already struggled in the resistance. During World War II he was a resistance fighter. In the civil war that followed (1946-1949) he fought with the left, was interned in a camp and tortured. He later fought against the Greek military dictatorship (1967-1974), was arrested and tortured again. Finally, in 1970, he was allowed to leave the country under international pressure and lived in exile in Paris until 1974. After the establishment of democracy in 1974, he returned to his native country and began a political interaction. . First of all, Theodorakis became a member of parliament for the Communists. When they disappointed him, he was elected to Parliament as an independent candidate with the backing of the Conservatives. For a while he was Minister of the Conservative Party, after which he became closer to the Socialists.
However, he was suspicious of the guardians of “pure” socialist doctrine. In 1970, for example, an “Information from the SED Central Committee” to the GDR media about the artist – to be understood as a binding instruction – said that although the artist described himself as a communist, he was not allowed to act as such because of allegedly discriminatory behavior on the part of the Communist Party of Greece. The directive concludes: “The music composed by Theodorakis, especially his combative songs, can still be used.”
This has found practical application in the GDR, among others, in the “Canto General” based on texts by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. In the rarely performed long version, premiered on April 4, 1981 in East Berlin, the oratorio was widely used in the GDR. The short seven-part version, completed in 1972, premiered in the GDR in 1980 at the “Festival of Political Song” in Berlin and was performed again and again long after the fall of the wall. For example, several times from the Singakademie Karl-Marx-Stadt under the leadership of its founder and long-time director Franzpeter Müller-Sybel, who died in 2013 at the age of 89. The choirmaster had not only campaigned for the creation of the Canto General in the GDR and ultimately conducted it with Greek. In 1993, after the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, they both gave the first performance of the oratorio in Chile. The collaboration with Theodorakis also marked the choristers. Stefan Fraas, general musical director of the Vogtlandphilharmonie Greiz-Reichenbach, a member of a student choir in Rostock about 40 years ago, recalls: “A man in loose white linen clothes with flowing hair and movements incredibly wide, ”he says. “He was a conductor who was able to move masses and who worked with full physical effort. We were thrilled with his commitment and his musicality,” said the conductor. “It was out of the ordinary.” Theodorakis’ limited ability to give instructions in German was not a real problem: “We always understood what he meant.
Theodorakis’ work has also met with reverberation in the region on a small scale. The Chemnitz Quijote trio of Sabine Kühnrich, Ludwig, Streng and Wolfram Hennig-Ruitz have been pursuing the mission of translating Theodorakis songs into German for over 20 years. In their concerts, the artists also convey the recent history of Greece. Quijote released two albums with songs by Mikis Theodorakis and brought on stage a chamber music version of “Canto General” in German. “Today his heart has stopped beating. His music remains immortal and will always be with us,” said Sabine Kühnrich. (with dpa)