Manos Hadjidakis biography
Manos Hadjidakis (Μάνος Χατζιδάκις) (1925-1994) was a Greek composer.
Hadjidakis was born on 23rd October 1925 in Xanthi, a tobacco-growing town near the northern border of Greece. His father, Yorgos Hadjidakis, a lawyer, was from Myrthio, the prefecture of Rethymnon, Crete. His mother, Aliki (Vasiliki), nee Arvanitidou, from Adrianople.
At the age of four he began taking piano lessons with Madame Altounian, a teacher of Armenian descent, in Xanthi. He also learned to play the violin and the accordion. In 1932, the mother and her two children, Manos and Miranda, settled in Athens and the parents divorced. In 1938, his father was killed in an air accident, on his way to Milan. This, together with the outbreak of the Second World War, left the family financially destitute. During the hard years of German occupation and after the liberation, Hadjidakis worked as a stevedore in Piraeus, as an ice seller, a worker in the Fix Brewery, an employee in a photographic studio, and as an assistant male nurse in the 401 Military Hospital.
At the same time he took advanced courses in musical theory under Menelaos Pallandios, an important figure of the Greek National Music School. He also entered the University of Athens to read philosophy, without taking his diploma. At this time he was nurtured by artists and intellectuals of the generation between the two World Wars (George Seferis, Odysseas Elytis, Angelos Sikelianos, Yannis Tsarouhis, Nikos Gatsos), who contributed greatly to the way his orientations and thought took shape. Nikos Gatsos, whom Hadjidakis first met in 1943, was his mentor and dear friend to the very end.
His first appearance as a composer on the musical horizon of Greece, took place in 1944 at Karolos Koun’s Art Theatre, with Alexis Solomos’ The Last White Crow. He also attended drama courses here with intent to become an actor, until Koun dissuaded him from doing so. Through his fruitful collaboration with the Art Theatre, which lasted fifteen years, he wrote music for many plays of the contemporary theatrical repertoire: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams (1946); Antigone by Jean Anouilh (1947); Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca (1948); All God's Children Got Wings by Eugene O'Neil (1948); A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (1948); Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, (1949), etc.
When the German occupation ended, the tragedienne Marika Kotopouli was the first person bold enough to commission him to write the music for Agamemnon and Choephoroe (1950) from Aeschylus’ trilogy on the story of Orestes. Up till then, the score for ancient tragedy performances was the responsibility of academic composers. During this same period he collaborated with the eminent poet, Angelos Sikelianos, for writing the music for his tragedy Hippocrates. By now, he was receiving accolades from that authoritative musical critic, Sophia Spanoudi.
In 1945, when he composed the music for O'Neil's Mourning Becomes Electra, he met Melina Mercouri who was playing the role of Lavinia. They became lifelong friends and collaborators. Hadjidakis' first contact with the cinema was in 1946, when he wrote the score for the film Free Slaves. A year later he wrote For a Small White Seashell, Op. 1, for piano. In 1948, the American pianist Julius Katchen performed this composition. Hadjidakis looked upon this work as his favourite. In l949, he incurred the obloquies of the conservative Greek society for lecturing on “rebetika” songs. This genre of music expressed the lower classes, and was at first banned and then snubbed. In "rebetika" Hadjidakis recognized genuine folk qualities.
In 1951, he performed on the piano his adaptation of “rebetika” songs with the title Six Folklore Paintings that provided an opportunity for the public at large to enjoy and appreciate their beauty and richness and which, furthermore, gave a new impetus to Greek song writing. Eventually, when folk songs were exploited for tourist purposes, he was the first to raise a voice of protest.
In 1951, together with the choreographer Rallou Manou and other members of the intelligentsia, he founded the Greek Chorodrama. With this dance company he presented four of his ballets: Marsyas (1950), The Accursed Serpent (1951), Six Folklore Paintings (1951) and Solitude (1958).
Having already made his compositional debut in ancient tragedy in 1950, he followed this with Medea (1956), Cyclopes (l959) and Bacchae (1962) of Euripides; Ecclesiazusae (1956), Lysistrata (1957), Plutus (1956), Thesmophoriazusae (1958), Frogs (1959) and Birds (1959) of Aristophanes. In 1953, with a series of lectures on contemporary American composers, he introduced to Greek music lovers, somewhat isolated from the rest or the world by virtue of World War II and the trying post-war conditions, such personalities as Aaron Copland, Gian-Carlo Menotti, Leonard Bernstein, et.al. It was at this time that he also composed one of his most important works, The C.N.S. Cycle, Op. 8, for baritone and piano (1954).
Apart from the Art Theatre, Hadjidakis collaborated with the Greek National Theatre, writing the music for Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (1952), King Lear (1957) and Othello (1958), Lorca's Dona Rosita the Spinster (1959), etc. He also wrote the music for Medea, presented at Epidaurus, with the famous tragedienne Katina Paxinou in the leading role (1956). In 1959, he introduced Mikis Theodorakis to the wider Greek public, by orchestrating and recording his composition “Epitaphios”, with Nana Mouskouri.
Beginning in 1946, Hadjidakis went on to write the score for a great number of Greek and foreign films including, Counterfeit Sovereign (Yorgos Tzavellas, 1954), Stella (Michael Cacoyannis, 1955), The Rapist (Nikos Koundouros, 1956), Madalena (Dinos Dimopoulos, 1960), In the Cool of the Day (Robert Stevens, 1962), America-America (Elia Kazan, 1962), Blue (Silvio Narizzano, 1967), Sweet Movie (Dusan Makavejev, 1974), Honeymoon (Yorgos Panousopoulos, 1978), Memed my Hawk (Peter Ustinov, 1983), Quiet Days of August (Pandelis Voulgaris, 1992), etc. In 1977, he wrote the music for the documentaries A la Recherche de l'Atlantide I and A la Recherche de l'Atlantide II by Jacques Cousteau.
In 1959 and 1960, at the First Song Festival organized by the National Broadcasting Institute, he won first prize for his two songs sung by Nana Mouskouri. In 1960, at the first Greek Film Festival in Thessaloniki, he was given the top award for the score in the film The River, directed by Nikos Koundouros. In 1960 he received an Oscar award for his song Never on Sunday, written for Jules Dassin’s film of the same name. He was, thus, the first Greek composer to make Greek music known throughout the world. Said song was ranked among the best ten of the 20th century, and later on, in 1987, it received a prize in Hamburg. He collaborated again with Dassin in 1963, writing the score for his film TOPKAPI.
However, besides Never on Sunday, a number of his songs became famous throughout the world in the next few years, and were sung by Lale Andersen, Brenda Lee, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Harry Belafonte, S. Filips, Amalia Rodrigues, Michael Kamen and Nana Mouskouri. His music for the Greek cinema and a series of songs won him an "unwanted popularity", for which he felt intense antipathy and to his dying days fought against. In 1961, he composed the music for Georges Neveux’s play La Voleuse de Londres, staged in Paris, with Marie Belle playing the lead. In 1962, in Athens, he produced Street of Dreams. In an effort to alleviate the wounds of post civil war Greece, he produced a show that was a landmark in the history of musicals, directed by Alexis Solomos. The scenery and costumes were by Minos Argyrakis, with the eminent actor Dimitris Horn in the leading role. An uncompromising, restless spirit in search at all times of new and original ventures, he financed (1962) the Competition for Avant-garde Composers at the Athens Technological Organization (Doxiadis Group). The American composer Lucas Foss was Chairman of the Board of Critics (which included the musicologist Yannis G. Papaioannou and the composer Jani Christou), and first prize went to Iannis Xenakis, who was virtually unknown in Greece at the time.
Hadjidakis founded and conducted the Athens Experimental Orchestra (Symphonic Orchestra) in 1963, and during the three years of its existence it gave twenty concerts and premiered fifteen works by Greek composers. The formation of the orchestra gave a new lease of life to the nation’s musical environment, in that it attracted young people’s attention to the hitherto “unknown” contemporary music.
His long and fruitful collaboration with Maurice Béjart and his 20th Century Ballets began in Brussels in 1965 with the performance of Birds of Aristophanes, and continued when Hadjidakis conducted the orchestra for the ballet series Jean Cocteau et la dance (1972), music by Tailleferre, Auric, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc and Hadjidakis, with Jean Marais as narrator. He also conducted the music of La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (1973), choreographed by Béjart. The latter also choreographed the ballet Dionysos with Hadjidakis’ music and that of Richard Wagner (1988), and Hadjidakis’ own The Ballads of Athena Street (1993). In 1966, Hadjidakis went to America for the theatrical adaptation of Never on Sunday, presented with the title Illya Darling. He remained here until 1972, during which time he became interested in pop music. This resulted in an LP of songs (Reflections) with the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble. Whilst in New York, he composed Rhythmology (Op. 26, for piano) and Magnus Eroticus (twelve songs with verses by ancient and modern Greek poets), and recorded his Gioconda's Smile. He also wrote the librettos for the operas Transformations and Opera for Five, the musical Delikanis, and The Era of Melissanthi, a musical theme based on his personal experiences from World War II.
In 1970, during the filming of Martlet's Tale in Rome, Hadjidakis met the Italian composer Nicola Piovani. This marked the beginning of a long teacher-student relationship, with Piovani eventually becoming an assistant to Hadjidakis on several projects. When Nino Rota died, Federico Fellini offered Hadjidakis to write the score for his forthcoming film, La Nave Va. Hadjidakis kindly declined due to other commitments, and proposed Piovani for this purpose.
In 1972, the darkest year of military dictatorship, he returns to Athens. The following year he sets up the café-theatre Polytropon, in an effort to find new expressive ways out of the musical quagmire of the times and “aspiring”, as he said, “to ritualize the presentation of songs, by availing himself of all modern theatrical practices”. Two years later, when the military dictatorship had fallen, he once again became active in the country's cultural affairs. He was appointed deputy director of Greek Opera (1975-7), director of the State Orchestra (l975-82), and head of the Third Programme on Greek Radio (1975-81), the latter of which, in collaboration with a group of young and talented artists, he revolutionized. In 1979, he organized the Musical Festivities at Anoyia, Crete, with local folk dances and songs. He was also responsible for a conference on the subject of tradition, with the participation of academics, artists and other intellectuals. In 1980 and 1981, he launched the Musical August festival at Herakleion, Crete, in which were presented all current artistic trends. Guest artists included Nicola Piovani, Astor Piazolla, Susana Rinaldi, GiselIa May, R. Winters, Gyorgi Sandor, E. Cup, H. Zender, Frei Hermano da Camara, et al. Again, in 1981 and 1982, he organized the Music Contests in Corfu, a musical competition for young Greek artists. In 1985-6, Hadjidakis published and edited Tetarto (Fourth), a cultural magazine with poignant, influential articles about Greek society and everyday affairs. In his effort to protect Greek music from commercialism, in 1985 he set up a record company SIRIUS, which is still active today. With Sirius as a vehicle, in 1987-8 he presented in Plaka, an old district of Athens, a series of musical programmes with young artists, reacting, thus, “against the vulgarization and pollution of our cultural environment”.
In 1991, in collaboration with the Municipality of Kalamata, he organizes the First Greek Song Contest. Once again he seeks “a rapport with young people, without cries, without slogans and without unbending…”
In 1989, he founded the Orchestra of Colours, for the purpose of presenting “original work not usually undertaken by conventional symphonic orchestras”, whose conductor he remained to the end of his life. Greek and foreign soloists included: Christodoulos Georgiadis, Sonia Theodoridou, Sheila Armstrong, Astor Piazolla, Gyorgy Sandor, et al. The Orchestra gave a number of first public performances of Greek composers.
From the very beginning of his career, and in tandem with his other activities, Hadjidakis was engaged in recording his music and songs. His oeuvre, by and large, has become a classic of its kind: The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1956), Tale with no Name (1959), Lilacs out of the Dead Land (1961), Fifteen Vespers (1964), Mythology (1965), Captain Mihalis (1966), Liturgical Songs (l971), Immortality (1975), Irrationals (1976), Dark Mother (1985), Songs of Sin (1994), et al. The lyrics in most of his compositions are by Nikos Gatsos. Hadjidakis published two books of poetry, Mythology and Mythology II, and the volumes The Mirror and the Knife and Third Programme Commentaries.
Modern Greek society developed and was nurtured by the personality of Manos Hadjidakis. Never for a moment did he hesitate to propound his visions to the utmost, thus revealing the deepest meaning of art.
An irreconcilable pioneer, an enemy of pomposity and solidified views, a lover of “youth,” nonconformist to the core, and armed with Greek and world culture, he was able to combine classical with folk music, thus creating a “new” sound, a “new” type of song, with roots both in the East and the West.
He died in the afternoon of 15th June 1994.