Yorgo Sicilianos (1920-2005) is one of the most important figures of musical modernism in Greece. Born in Athens, he studied theory and composition with Kostas Sfakianakis, Marios Varvoglis and George Sklavos; from 1951 to 1953 he continued his studies at the Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome with Ildebrando Pizzetti, receiving a diploma in composition in 1953. While in Italy he was introduced to the music of Béla Bartók and the composers of the Second Viennese School, which proved influential on his later development, since it played a decisive role in his decision to turn to contemporary musical idioms. After Italy he attended Tony Aubin’s course in composition at the Conservatoire National in Paris (1953–54) and the classes of Walter Piston at Harvard University, Boris Blacher at the Tanglewood Institute and Vincent Perischetti at the Juilliard School of New York (1955–56). In New York, Sicilianos made the acquaintace of fellow Greek, conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos. Later (in March 1958), Mitropoulos premiered Sicilianos’ First Symphony, op. 14 (1956) with the New York Philharmonic.
In 1956 Sicilianos returned to Greece permanently. At that time, he was one of the first Greek composers to follow modernist trends in music. He went on to produce a total output that consists of 63 works and encompasses all genres: symphonic music, chamber music, piano music, song cycles, opera, ballet, incidental music and more.
Parallel to his work as a composer, Sicilianos was an active participant in Greek music life. He served as Head of the Music Department of the Greek Broadcasting Institute (1960–62), General Secretary of the Ministry of Education’s Greek Music Council (1963–64), Vice–president of the Greek section of the International Society for Contemporary Music and the Greek Association of Contemporary Music (1964–68 and 1965–69 respectively), Head of the Music Department of Greek Broadcast and Television (1974), member of the Artistic Committee and the Board of Trustees of the Greek National Opera (1976–79 and 1980–81 respectively), President of the Greek Composers’ Union (1981–89), member of the Board of Directors of Greek Radio and Television (1987–88) and President of the Artistic Committee of the Greek National Opera (1990–94).
Throughout his career Sicilianos received significant distinctions. In 1962 he won the third prize at the Liège International String Quartet Competition for his String Quartet no. 3, op. 15 and his works were chosen twice to represent Greece at the Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music (Stasimon B, op. 25, Madrid, 1965 and Perspectives, op. 26, Prague, 1967). He was also honoured for his contribution to music with the following medals and prizes: Cavaliere “al merito della Republica Italiana” (Rome, 1962), Chevalier des Arts (Paris, 1990), Herder Prize (Vienna, 1991) and the Eirini G. Papaioannou Prize of the Academy of Athens (1994). Finally, in 1999 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Athens.
Sicilianos’ work can be divided into three periods. The first period, during which he followed tonal and modal idioms, includes works he wrote until 1953, the year in which he finished his studies in Italy, when he still believed that the future of Greek music lay “at the point where Byzantine Chant intersects with Greek Folk Song”. The second period started with the Concerto for Orchestra, op. 12 (1954), where Sicilianos used for the first time the twelve-tone technique. This period, characterised by his seeking of and experimentation in contemporary musical trends (the twelve-tone technique, serialism, post-serialist techniques, electronic music), lasted about 25 years. Mellichomidi, op. 44 (1980) signalled the passage into a third period, during which the composer turned consciously to a more melodic and accessible idiom.
Valia Christopoulou, Musicologist
English Translation by Demetris Kikizas