Kalomiris, Manolis (1883–1962)
Manolis Kalomiris was a composer, music critic, and pedagogue. A pioneer and a leading figure of the Greek National School, he dominated Greek musical life from the mid-1910s and throughout the first half of the 20th century, playing a pre-eminent role in the creation of musical institutions and societies, and occupying administrative positions at the same time.
The only child of Ioannis Kalomiris, a physician from the island of Samos, and Maria Chamoudopoulou from Smyrna, he was born in Smyrna on 14 December 1883. At the age of four he lost his father, and was raised by his maternal uncle Minas Chamoudopoulos. He grew up in a well-to-do, intellectual, bourgeois environment that remained close to Greek tradition, which proved a determining influence upon his compositional oeuvre. Sophia Spanoudi, his most important piano teacher, also initiated him into the poetry of Kostis Palamas, which was to become Kalomiris’ fundamental source of inspiration.
In 1901, he started studying piano and theory at the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst of the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna, under Wilhelm Rauch and August Sturm (Piano), Hermann Grädener (Theory and Composition), and famous musicologist Eusebius Mandyczewski (History of Music, Instrumentation). In the conservative setting of Vienna, he acquired solid theoretical knowledge according to the German and Austrian tradition, he was introduced to the work of the great classical and romantic composers, and was impressed by Wagner and the representatives of the national schools of music. It was there that he composed his first works, some of which he later described as ‘small preludes’ to his creative career. In these works, French and German romantic influences are combined with what Kalomiris himself called a ‘Greek-Oriental local colour’.
Upon graduating with a piano diploma in July 1906, he married his fellow-student Charikleia Papamoschou, and they moved to Kharkov (then Russia, now Ukraine), where he worked as a piano teacher at the Music School of the Obolensky Girls’ Lyceum. His direct contact with works of the Russian National School and with the country’s educational system crystallized his ideological and compositional aesthetic, expressed in his articles in Noumas, a trailblazing demoticist magazine, and supporting a Greek-centred system of music writing and education. While in Kharkov, he composed songs for voice and piano to the demoticist poetry of Palamas, Malakasis, and Pallis, as well as his own; incidental music for Grigorios Xenopoulos’ drama Stella Violanti (1909); and his first symphonic work, Romeiki [Greek] Suite (1907), which, despite being an early work, contains many typical elements of a large part of his later oeuvre: the programmatic–extramusical character of his instrumental compositions; his inspiration from Greek folk tradition, poetry, and prose; his use of characteristic Greek rhythms and modes; the contrapuntal writing and the continuous elaboration of motivic material; his use of augmented second and stepwise—frequently chromatic—movement in accompanying patterns, in a quasi glissando manner; and the cyclic form.
On 11 June 1908, he gave a concert, at the Athens Conservatoire, consisting exclusively of his own works: a landmark date for his career as a composer as well as an exponent of a Greek National School; the accompanying text, written in demotic Greek and expressing his principles, functioned as a manifesto, signalling its beginning.
In the autumn of 1910, he settled in Athens. In December, he conducted, at the Athens Conservatoire, the first symphonic concert featuring his works. Early in 1911, he became head of Theory, and taught Piano, Harmony, Counterpoint, Composition, and, for a short time, History of Music. In 1918, he was appointed General Inspector of Military Music (1918-1920, 1922-1937).
With the staging of his first opera, O Protomastoras [The Master Builder], in 1916, based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ tragedy of the same title, he was recognized as a composer and main exponent of a national music revival, as this work reflects the spirit of the Greek ‘Great Idea’ and the national euphoria that prevailed during the period that preceded the Asia Minor Catastrophe, like many other compositions of his until 1922: the song cycle Mayovotana [Magic Herbs] (1914), the opera To Dachtylidi tis Manas [The Mother’s Ring] (1917), and the Symphony No. 1 [‘I symphonia tis Levendias’] (1920).
From the early ’20s, we also observe impressionistic elements in such works as O Pramateftis [The Pedlar], First Rhapsody for piano, Trio and Quartet ‘quasi una fantasia’, the song cycle S’ agapo [I Love You] to the poetry of Kostis Palamas, and Symphony No. 2 [‘Symphony of the Simple and Good People’], in which the chorus is used in a kind of vocalise.
The period after the tragic events of 1922 was followed by a personal tragedy: in 1923, his sixteen-year-old son Yannakis was killed. In 1926, he withdrew from the Hellenic Conservatory, which he had founded in 1919, and founded the National Conservatory, which he directed until 1948, when he became Chairman of the Administrative Council, a place he held until his death. In his capacity as music teacher, he composed various piano works and many choral pieces, and also wrote a series of manuals on theory and solfège. Until 1930, he had produced very few compositions but made a more systematic effort to have his works performed abroad.
Symphony No. 2 (1931) marks a renewal of his compositional career, which continued, uninterrupted, until his death. The major works of the ’30s include the Symphonic Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1935), Songs and St’ Osiou Louka to monastiri [At Venerable Luke’s Monastery] (1937) to the poetry of Angelos Sikelianos, Triptych for orchestra (1937), and Preludes for Piano (1939). During the ’40s he composed, among other things, the symphonic poems Minas o Rebelos [Minas the Rebel] (1940) and O thanatos tis Andreiomenis [The Death of the Valiant Woman] (1943), the ‘musical tale’ Sunrise (1945), the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1948) as well as song cycles, mostly to the poetry of Kostis Palamas; also, two strikingly personal and autobiographical song cycles based on the work of symbolist poet Konstantinos Hadjopoulos. In the midst of the maelstrom of World War II, he started writing and composing, at the same time, his literary (My Life and my Art) and his musical memoirs (From Captain Lyras’ Life and Longings). The most important event, the culmination of his international career, was the staging of his opera The Mother’s Ring at the Berlin Volksoper (premiered on 2 Feb. 1940). In 1945, he was elected Regular Member of the Athens Academy in the Department of Music, which was created especially for him. In the ’50s, he completed his opera Ta xotika nera [The Shadowy Waters] (1950), based on the dramatic poem by W. B. Yeats, and the Concertino for Violin and Orchestra. In Symphony No. 3, ‘Palamiki’ [dedicated to the memory of Kostis Palamas], and in his swansong, the ‘musical legend’ Konstantinos o Palaiologos [Constantine Palaeologue] (1961), based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ tragedy of the same name, the composer’s idiom verges on atonality, without actually crossing the borderline, however.
Kalomiris died on 3 April 1962; his funeral was held at the First Athens Cemetery at public expense. For his oeuvre and his contribution to music, he received many international awards and honours. He ensured his posthumous reputation by keeping a rich archive that includes his manuscripts, press cuttings relating to his work, correspondence, talks, and other documents, managed, since 1980, by the Manolis Kalomiris Society, which aims at the study, dissemination, and promotion of the composer’s oeuvre.
Manolis Kalomiris Society
[English translation by Helena Grigorea]