Epitaphios – Ritsos – Theodorakis

 

It was May 1936, a time when widespread industrial action and protests rocked Greece. One, a rally by striking tobacco workers in Thessaloniki, ended in bloodshed, with 12 dead, among them 25-year-old Tasos Tousis.

tas-tousisrizospastis_6On May 10, the day after, the left-wing daily Rizospastis published a heart-wrenching photograph of the young man’s mother mourning over her dead son’s body.

Poet Yiannis Ritsos saw the image and in a television interview in 1983 admitted he was so moved by it that the very next day he began writing “Epitaphios,” his most celebrated work. “In two days, almost without eating and sleeping, and often sobbing like a Maniot lamenter, I wrote the first 14 parts of ‘Epitaphios,’” he said.

tasos-tousis-nekros

The first two were published immediately, while 10,000 copies of the full poem came out a few months later, at a time when no one printed more than 500 or 1,000 copies of poetry, not even Kostis Palamas, “the patriarch of modern Greek letters.” Within a few days, the bookstore – run by the Greek Communist Party – which had published the epic poem, had sold 9,750 copies. The remaining 250, together with books by Marx, Lenin and Gorky, were burned at the Temple of Olympian Zeus by Ioannis Metaxas’ men. The dictatorship may have banned “Epitaphios,” but it had already sown its seed.

When the poem was republished in 1958, Ritsos sent a copy to Mikis Theodorakis, who was studying on a scholarship in Paris at the time. A few days later, the budding composer and left-wing activist started reading it in his car while waiting for Myrto, his wife, to finish her shopping.

“I was suddenly seized by a deep desire to set it to music,” he said later in an interview. By that same afternoon he had composed most of the music.

In an interview with Skai TV in 2003, Theodorakis revealed the circumstances under which he composed the landmark piece, named after Ritsos’ work.

“When I came back from Makronissos I was a wreck,” he said in reference to the island he had been exiled to along with Ritsos and other communists and leftists, from 1949 to 1950, where they were submitted to brutal torture.

“My body was not such a problem as was the fact that those terrible experiences left me with a terrible illness. I had epileptic fits and would lose consciousness. There was a time when I would faint, and when I came to, I would have a complete loss of personality; I did not know who I was, so I had to be looked after,” he said.

This situation persisted for a decade. “Strangely enough,” Theodorakis said, “when I wrote ‘Epitaphios’ I got better. It was so important. It showed me that it is all one thing.”

The seizures stopped as soon as he started penning his first melodies. “Epitaphios started transforming all that stuff, the psychological baggage that I had inside me, into something positive.” The composer needed to write music and until that point he had channeled that need into European music but soon realized that it simply did not express him. “I did not express my insides, my pain, my wounds – I managed to turn all these things, instead of into madness and self-destruction, into an ending, into ‘Epitaphios.’”

When he completed the music he sent three copies: to Ritsos, to his friend Vyronas Samios and to fellow-composer Manos Hadjidakis, who offered to orchestrate and record it in Athens with Nana Mouskouri, in what turned out to be one of her finest performances.

On his return from Paris, Theodorakis wanted something more powerful to stir the sentiment of the popular masses, so, with Columbia records, he began recording the songs with rebetiko masters Grigoris Bithikotsis, whom he had met during his military service, and Manolis Hiotis. Hadjidakis, meanwhile, was recording his own version for the Fidelity label.

The two camps – The two versions of “Epitaphios” split the country, which had only just started recovering from a bloody civil war, but for different reasons. Those in the Hadjidakis camp preferred Mouskouri’s more lyrical rendition, while those in Theodorakis’s corner appreciated Bithikotsis’s laconic interpretation. Performances became rowdy affairs, with the crowd arguing over which version was better. In October 1960, at the Union of Cretan Students, Theodorakis defended Hadjidakis’s lyrical take, but said that he still preferred Bithikotsis’s emotive style. “Epitaphios” was performed all over the country to the delight of audiences everywhere, though there were also acts of sabotage against it, such as electrical cables at theaters being cut or the artists receiving threats.

Staunch communists were as reluctant to embrace it as were conservative composers and critics – Since then there have been numerous new interpretations, by artists such as Stavros Xarchakos, John Williams, Iakovos Kolanian, Milos Karadaglic and Nena Venetsanou, among others. It’s been 79 years since Ritsos wrote “Epitaphios” in just four days. But “Epitaphios” as melodized by Theodorakis is still one of the greatest revolutions that ever happened in Greek music.

Article by Iota Sykka / Title: Yiannis Ritsos’ ‘Epitaphios,’ a song that both united and divided Greeks. Published: June 9, 2015 in: Ekathimerini

My personal view on the Hadjidakis/Mouskouri and Theodorakis/Bithikotsis version: in the Hadjidakis/Mouskouri version I do really sense Greece, soul, and all kinds of emotions; in the Theodorakis/Bithikotsis version I hear rebellion and reason why I dislike this version: it sounds even cynical in my ears, while the poetry is about grief, trauma. In my opinion it is not fitting to sing it in the Bithikotsis style. In this post I have added the Mikis Theodorakis composition performed in a way that I absolutely like it and love it: the choice of the musical instruments, the brilliant musicians, the interpretation of Stavros Xarchakos, and the great voice of Maria Soultato. 

More sources about Epitaphios:

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Epitaphios, a concert at the Herod Atticus Odeon, 2000

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Orchestra: Greek State Orchestra
Conductor: Stavros Xarchakos
Lyrics: Yiannis Ritsos
Music: Mikis Theodorakis
Soloist: Maria Soultatou

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1. Πού πέταξε τ΄ αγόρι μου 

Γιε μου, σπλάχνο των σπλάχνων μου
καρδούλα της καρδιάς μου
πουλάκι της φτωχιάς αυλής
ανθέ της ερημιάς μου.

Πού πέταξε τ’ αγόρι μου
πού πήγε, πού μ’ αφήνει.
Χωρίς πουλάκι το κλουβί
χωρίς νερό η κρήνη.

Πώς κλείσαν τα ματάκια σου
και δε θωρείς που κλαίω
και δε σαλεύεις δε γρικάς
τα που πικρά σου λέω.

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2.  “Χείλι μου μοσκομυριστό”

Μαλλιά σγουρά που πάνω τους
τα δάχτυλα περνούσα
τις νύχτες που κοιμόσουνα
και πλάι σου ξαγρυπνούσα.

Φρύδι μου γαϊτανόφρυδο
και κοντυλογραμμένο,
καμάρα που το βλέμμα μου
κούρνιαζε αναπαμένο.

Μάτια γλαρά που μέσα τους
αντίφεγγαν τα μάκρη
πρωινού ουρανού και πάσκιζα
μην τα θαμπώσει δάκρυ.

Χείλι μου μοσκομύριστο
που ως λάλαγες ανθίζαν
λιθάρια και ξερόδεντρα
κι αηδόνια φτερουγίζαν.

(Στήθεια πλατιά σαν τα στρωτά
φτερούγια της τρυγόνας
που πάνωθέ τους κόπαζε
κι η πίκρα μου κι ο αγώνας.

Μπούτια γερά σαν πέρδικες
κλειστές στα παντελόνια
που οι κόρες τα καμάρωναν
το δείλι απ’ τα μπαλκόνια.

Και γώ, μη μου βασκάνουνε,
λεβέντη μου τέτοιο άντρα,
σου κρέμαγα το φυλαχτό
με τη γαλάζια χάντρα.

Μυριόρριζο, μυριόφυλλο
κι ευωδιαστό μου δάσο,
πώς να πιστέψω η άμοιρη
πως μπόραε να σε χάσω

Οι στροφές που βρίσκονται στην παρένθεση δεν έχουν μελοποιηθεί.

English not available / German

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3. “Μέρα μαγιού μου μίσεψες”

Μέρα Μαγιού μου μίσεψες
μέρα Μαγιού σε χάνω
άνοιξη γιε που αγάπαγες
κι ανέβαινες απάνω

Στο λιακωτό και κοίταζες
και δίχως να χορταίνεις
άρμεγες με τα μάτια σου
το φως της οικουμένης

Και μου ιστορούσες με φωνή
γλυκιά ζεστή κι αντρίκεια
τόσα όσα μήτε του γιαλού
δεν φτάνουν τα χαλίκια

Και μου `λεγες πως όλ’ αυτά
τα ωραία θα `ν’ δικά μας
και τώρα εσβήστης κι έσβησε
το φέγγος κι η φωτιά μας

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4.Βασίλεψες αστέρι μου”

Βασίλεψες αστέρι μου,
βασίλεψε η πλάση.
Κι ο ήλιος, κουβάρι ολόμαυρο,
το φέγγος του έχει μάσει.

Κόσμος περνά και με σκουντά,
στρατός και με πατάει
κι εμέ το μάτι ουδέ γυρνά
ουδέ σε παρατάει.

Την άχνα απ’ την ανάσα σου
νιώθω στο μάγουλό μου,
αχ, κι ένα φως, μεγάλο φως
στο βάθος πλέει του δρόμου.

Τα μάτια μου σκουπίζει τα
μια φωτεινή παλάμη.
Αχ κι η λαλιά σου, γιόκα μου
στο σπλάχνο μου έχει δράμει.

Και να που ανασηκώθηκα,
το πόδι στέκει ακόμα.
Φως ιλαρό λεβέντη μου
μ’ ανέβασε απ’ το χώμα.

Σημαίες τώρα σε ντύσανε,
παιδί μου εσύ κοιμήσου.
Κι εγώ τραβώ στ’ αδέρφια σου
και παίρνω τη φωνή σου.

English: not available / German

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5. “Ήσουν καλός κι ήσουν γλυκός”

Ήσουν καλός κι ήσουν γλυκός
κι είχες τις χάρες όλες,
όλα τα χάδια του αγεριού,
του κήπου όλες τις βιόλες.

Το πόδι ελαφροπάτητο
σαν τρυφερούλι ελάφι,
πάταγε το κατώφλι μας
κι έλαμπε σαν χρυσάφι.

Νιότη απ’ τη νιότη σου έπαιρνα
κι ακόμη αχνογελούσα,
τα γερατειά δεν τρόμαζα,
το θάνατο αψηφούσα.

Και τώρα πού θα κρατηθώ,
πού θα σταθώ, πού θάμπω,
που απόμεινα ξερό δεντρί
σε χιονισμένο κάμπο;

Πώς θα γυρίσω μοναχή
στο ερμαδιακό καλύβι;
Έπεσε η νύχτα στην αυγή
και το στρατί μού κρύβει.

Ωχ, δεν ακούστηκε ποτές
και δεν μπορεί να γίνει
να καίγουνται τα χείλια μου
και νάμαι μπρος στην κρήνη.

English: not available / German

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6. “Στο παραθύρι στέκοσουν”

Στο παραθύρι στεκόσουν
κι οι δυνατές σου οι πλάτες
φράζαν ακέρια τη μπασιά
τη θάλασσα τις τράτες.

Κι ο ίσκιος σου σαν αρχάγγελος
πλημμύριζε το σπίτι
κι εκεί στ’ αυτί σου σπίθιζε
η γαζία τ’ αποσπερίτη.

Κι ήταν το παραθύρι μας
η θύρα όλου το κόσμου
κι έβγαζε στον παράδεισο
που τ’ άστρα ανθίζαν φως μου.

Κι ως στεκόσουν και κοίταζες
το λιόγερμα ν’ ανάβει
σαν τιμονιέρης φάνταζες
κι η κάμαρα καράβι.

Και μες στο χλιό και γαλανό
το απόβραδο έγια λέσα
μ’ αρμένιζες στη σιγαλιά
του γαλαξία μέσα.

Και το καράβι βούλιαξε
κι έσπασε το τιμόνι
και στου πελάγου το βυθό
πλανιέμαι τώρα μόνη.

English: not available / Dutch

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7. “Να ‘χα τ’ αθάνατο νερό”

Να ‘χα τ’ αθάνατο νερό
ψυχή καινούργια να `χα
να σού `δινα να ξύπναγες
για μια στιγμή μονάχα

Να δεις, να πεις, να το χαρείς
ακέραιο τ’ όνειρό σου
να στέκεται ολοζώντανο
κοντά σου, στο πλευρό σου

Βροντάνε στράτες κι αγορές
μπαλκόνια και σοκάκια
και σου μαδάμε οι κορασιές
Λουλούδια στα μαλάκια

Με τα χεράκια σου τα δυο
τα χιλιοχαϊδεμένα
όλη τη γης αγκάλιαζα
κι όλα ήτανε για μένα

English: not available / German

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8. “Γλυκέ μου συ δε χάθηκες”

Γιε μου ποια μοίρα στο ’γραφε, ωιμέ
και ποια μου το’ χε γράψει.
Τέτοιον καημό τέτοια φωτιά, καημέ
στα στήθια μου ν’ ανάψει.

Γλυκέ μου εσύ δε χάθηκες, ωιμέ,
μέσα στις φλέβες μου είσαι.
Γιε μου, στις φλέβες ολουνών
καημέ έμπα βαθιά και ζήσε.

English: not available / German

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Full playlist

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About "The Music of Mikis Theodorakis"

The blog "The Music of Mikis Theodorakis" started in 2010. The not-for-profit activities of the initiator were and are to collect, create and publish information about the MUSIC of the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis via YouTube, Google+, Twitter, and this blog. Sources for this information are utterly strictly related with Mikis Theodorakis' Music only. The icon is a bouzouki. It is Greece's national symbol for freedom. During the Regime of the Colonels (Military Junta, 1967-1974) the bouzouki was forbidden. Mikis Theodorakis used this authentic Greek instrument in almost all his compositions, and Greeks were listening to Theodorakis's music in the underground scene, during the Military Junta time.
This entry was posted in Art, Books, Greece, Μίκης Θεοδωράκης, Mikis Theodorakis, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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