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The unknown composer Georgios Kassasoglou

“In your music I heard Greece, and in your handshake I feel Greece.

Thank you”.

Igor Stravinsky[i]

 

On June the 2nd, twenty years will have elapsed since the day composer Georgios Kasassoglou passed away at his house in Nea Smyrni. In marking this anniversary, we will attempt to present the life and work of this important Greek composer, who, despite being copious, never gained as much prominence as he possibly deserved.

The life of Georgios Kasassoglou

He was born in Athens, on 1 December 1908. His father, Vassileios, was a high-ranking civil servant, and although there was a rich musical tradition at the area where he came from (Asia Minor), he discouraged his son to take on any other activity than studying for school. Fortunately, his mother, Eleni, supported her son in developing his obvious musical talent.

In 1915 the family moves to Edessa. In this little provincial city, Kasassoglou was introduced to music for the first time, when, in the age of 10, he started to take violin lessons, of course without his father knowing. His return to Athens in 1920 allows him to begin musical studies that he will follow systematically from now on. He took theory lessons at the Music High School of Athens and at the Hellenic Conservatory under professor V. Skatzourakis. When graduating from High School, he effectively completes his first course of studies.

The second cycle of his education starts with his admission to the School of Philosophy of the University of Athens. However, he soon drops out of this course, to be admitted to the Department of Political Science of the Panteion University. At the same time he attends lessons at the National Conservatory and complements his musical training with private lessons by Kontis, Varvoglis, Lavragas and Kalomiris.

A few years later, he leaves the country to study abroad, in Paris. There, he completes a course in composition by Arthur Honegger and in orchestral conducting by Andre Jolivet. He continues his studies in Frankfurt, where for a short period of time he studies modern music and opera conducting, under the guidance of F. Kruse.

In 1933, having completed his academic and musical studies, he is appointed high-school professor; for many years (until 1959) he taught music in various schools around the country. He initially taught in Chania and later in schools in other cities, including Aigio, Akrata and Rethymno. Georgios Kasassoglou does not contend himself with school teaching. His aspiration is to stir up musical activity in the cities he is sent to. He frequently organises seminars, conferences and concerts, he writes articles in local newspapers and founded choirs.

A year later (1934) he married pianist and singer Flora Papachristofilou and, in 1936, their son, Vassilis, is born.

Towards the end of the decade (in 1938) he is transferred from high school education to the newly-founded Athens Radio Station. A creative period follows, during which his compositions make Kasassoglou known to a broader public. Many of his works are interpreted by major Athens orchestras and he is often commissioned to compose pieces. His professional development is interrupted abruptly when he is called to arms to defend his country at the Albanian front. Returning from the war in 1941, he receives the medal for “Exceptional Acts of Courage at the Albanian Front”.

In 1945 he is transferred once more, this time to the National Theatre. His new responsibilities allow him to socialise with the most important authors, directors, stage directors and choreographers of the time. The “fruit” of these contacts was a series of important works including, mainly, works for ballet and incidental music. It has to be noted that this five-year period, from 1945 to 1950, is one of the most prolific phases in the composer’s life.

Among his broad range of activities, we also note that for many years he was a board member of the “Greek Composers Union”, and also its first secretary.

In 1950, while he has returned to teaching, the Minister of Education honors him for his work in music education. Two years later (1952) Kasassoglou moves to Komotini, to teach at the Junior High School of the area. Taking advantage of a school trip to Istanbul, he tries to realise an ambition. Convinced of the need to use the church organ in the context of the Orthodox Liturgy, he initiates contacts with the Patriarchate. His insistence was such that he had a meeting in person with Ecumenical Patriarch Damaskinos, who gave him an enthusiastic welcome and indeed expressed his admiration for the composer. Although the composer’s efforts fell flat, this issue continued to preoccupy him for many years to come.

In the same year, the composer is given a big chance to have his music heard outside of the borders of Greece. He composes music for the performance of Aristophanes’ “Clouds” (Nefelai), directed by Socrates Karantinos, with sets by Hatzikyriakos-Ghikas, staged by the Comédie Française; the performance was highly praised by the critics. Among the spectators was Igor Stravinsky, who after the end of the performance congratulated the composer, telling him: “In your music I heard Greece and in your handshake I feel Greece. Thank you”. [ii]

A few years later, new artistic paths are opened for the composer when he turns his attention to studying ancient classical texts and setting them to music. He becomes a member of the Board of Directors of the semi-state-run organisation “Thymelikos Thiasos” and composes music for the plays “Hedillia”, “Mimiamvoi” and “Paraklafsithyra”, which are staged in Greece and abroad (at the ancient theatre in Syracuse and at the Quattro Fontane Theatre) with notable success.

1962 sets another important landmark in his career. The directors of the Bad Hersfeld Festival commission director Pelos Katselis to stage Sophocles’ “Antigone” with music by Kasassoglou. The performance presented during the festival was acclaimed by the critics, and the festival’s organisers, in recognition of the exceptional music score, honoured the composer by adding his name in the city’s “Golden Book”.

The next honour came once again from abroad, from the Academy “Lutece” of Paris. Participating in the Academy’s International Song Competition in 1976, with the song “The tear of the rain” (“To dakry tis vrohis”), whose lyrics were written by N. Stasinopoulos, he won the First Prize and Gold Medal.

Kasassoglou received the highest honour from the Greek state when he was decorated with the Gold Cross of the Order of George I, in recognition of his great contribution. Furthermore, the municipality of Nea Smyrni, where he resided for many years, acknowledging his value as an artist and his life-long effort to upgrade musical education in Greece, proclaimed Georgios Kasassoglou honorary citizen of the city and presented him with the Gold Medal of the city, in a ceremony that took place on 29 February 1980 (a few years before his death) at the Nea Smyrni City Hall.

His work

Being a student of important composers of his era and of pioneers of the National Music School (Lavragas, Kontis, Varvoglis, Kalomiris), we could very well expect that Kasassoglou would follow a similar course. And indeed, when listening to his works for the first time, one can easily detect the influence of his teachers; however this influence is not enough to classify him among the composers of the National School. In reality, Kasassoglou created his own compositional style; this view seems to be shared by music critic Aura Theodoropoulou who, after years of study and critical assessment of his works, reached the conclusion that “[…] Kasassoglou is not the product of a specific school; we could say that he was self-created”. [iii]

His compositions include chamber music works, orchestral and vocal works, incidental music as well as music for films and ancient drama. He was mostly interested in composing songs. Since the first years of his career he set to music poetry by important, earlier and contemporary, poets. The genre of melodrama was the only one he chose not to touch. Justifying this choice of his, he says: “[…] our era is somehow more analytical and critical towards research, in contrast with the era during which this genre was born and flourished, that was rather sentimental”. [iv]

The period from 1927 to 1940

His career as a composer began on the occasion of a military music competition in 1927, in which Kasassoglou participated with the piece titled “Coliva” (“Ta Kolyva”) orchestrated for voice, violin, cello and piano, and won a prize. Three years later, he participated indirectly in the Delphic Feasts, orchestrating C. Psachos’ chorals. His participation offered him a unique chance to meet Angelos Sikelianos, leading the composer, one year later, to set to music the poem “Virgin Mother” (“O mana mou eftapartheni”), arranged for voice and small orchestra.

In 1936 he composes incidental music for the first time, for A. Terzakis’ play “The Cross and the Sword” (“O stavros kai to spathi”), which includes the well-known piece for voice and piano “Byzantine Miniature” (“Vyzantini Miniatoura”).

Two years later, the National Theatre commissions him to compose music for Kleist’s play “Penthesilea”, which was staged for the first time at an open air performance at the Lycabettus Theatre, in 1939.

During the same time, he composes the choreographic fantasy “Narcissus” (“Narkissos”) for piano. The plot concerns Narcissus, a young hunter who upon seeing his reflection in the calm waters of a river, thinks he can discern his loved one who had died. The piece is programmatic and the composer uses dissonant intervals, evocative of impressionism, in order to express the variations in Narcissus’ feelings.

During the same year (1940) he composed his work “Archaic Miniature” (“Archaiki Miniatoura”) for voice and piano, on lyrics by C. Zambathas.

The period from 1941 to 1950

The works of this period are divided in two categories: the ones composed during the German occupation of Greece, and the post-war compositions.

The most famous work of this period and, perhaps, the most famous of all his compositions, is titled “Four Preludes on the Return from the Front” (“Tessera preloudia epistrofis apo to metopo”). The pieces were written when Kasassoglou returned from the war (1941). Bearing an emotional burden, he tried to describe with music all the events that marked him. The work is dedicated to the memory of his friend Petros Maras who lost his life in Albania, and to the conductor Theodoros Vavagiannis. Its first performance took place during the German occupation (March 1944) by the State Symphony Orchestra (later renamed Athens State Orchestra) conducted by Vavagiannis, at the “Pallas” theatre. At this concert only three out of the four preludes were played, since the performance of the fourth part was prohibited by the occupying power’s censors because in contains motives from the Greek National Anthem, something that, at the time, seemed like an omen of freedom. The work was performed in full for the first time at the festive concert that took place on 28 October 1947. In the “World Dictionary of Works”, the “Four Preludes on the Return from the Front” are noted as the first work of National Resistance. [v]

During the war, the composer wrote mainly vocal music, including the following pieces: “The Source of Forgetting” (“Lithi”) based on a poem by L. Mavilis, “The Little Spring” (“Vrysoula”) based on a poem by C. Zambathas and “The Loom” (“Argaleios”) based on a poem by A. Tarssoulis. An important vocal piece of that period is “Serenity” (“Galini”) based on a poem by D. Solomos, scored for voice and piano or harp (1942). The composer himself calls this piece a “prelude” and uses romantic chords in its structure, following the pattern of the preludes by F. Chopin, which he combines with Greek and Byzantine melodies and rhythm.

After the end of the war, a highly creative period follows. Kasassoglou finds himself appointed to the National Theatre. This position, as we’ve already mentioned, allows him to meet important artists. He thus meets with choreographers M. Renieri and R. Manou, and their collaboration culminates in the noteworthy ballet works “Choreographic Triptych” (“Neoelliniko triptycho”), “Archaic Triptych” (“Archaiko Triptycho”), “Four Greek Folk-Dances” (“Tesseris laikoi ellinikoi choroi”) and “Twilight at Ancient Tanagra” (“Deilino stin Archaia Tanagra”). This last work was presented for the first time as an orchestral work (i.e. without its choreographic elements) on 27 January 1952 by the Athens State Orchestra, conducted by A. Parides.

During this period, the composer first engaged with music for ancient tragedy, composing music for the tragedies “Orestes”, “Aias” and “Andromache”, and also wrote the soundtrack for the film “The Engagement” (“Ta aravoniasmata”). In this film score, noticeably displaying folk elements, Kasassoglou uses well-known folk tunes in an original way that is suitable to the film and not tiresome for the listener. In relation to this, Theodoropoulou stresses that “[…] despite the fact that Greek filmmaking is still in its infancy, Veakis’ acting combined with Kasassoglou’s music make the film attractive”. [vi]

However, the most important works of the post-war period are “Elegy” (1945) and the “Sonata for Violin and Piano” (1949). The “Elegy” for violin, cello, harp, tympani, percussion and string orchestra is based on a text by Archilochus and is dedicated to the memory of D. Vitsioris, a painter and friend of the composer. It creates a solemn atmosphere which is reinforced by an appropriate use of the tympani and the percussion, and throws a veil of death during the entire piece. In a way, this is a continuation of the heavy atmosphere prevailing in the “Four Preludes on the Return from the Front”. [vii]

The “Sonata for Violin and Piano” has three parts, but its structure transcends the traditional form we are familiar with and has an original character. “[…] It starts with a vehement allegro with a fascinating tempo. A slow part follows, which is dreamy, like a free improvisation; and the sonata ends with a fast Dionysian finale having a very characteristic colour”. [viii]

Finally, we must mention the “OlympicHymn” of 1946, when Kasassoglou set to music the verses by K. Palamas. It was first sung at the Piraeus velodrome, by a 3,000 student choir. The composer conducted himself the students from the senior high schools of the area. Despite the fact that actions were taken in order for this composition to be endorsed as the official Olympic Hymn, eventually this did not happen.

The period from 1951 to 1960

The decade begins bringing the best omens for the composer, after the success he had with the “Clouds”. He is now mature and again focuses on songs and compositions for voice and orchestra. He sets to music poems by D. Solomos: “The May Day” (“Tou Mayiou rodofainetai i mera”) from the “Ode to Death” (“Nekriki Odi”); “Gracious Godmother” (“Mitera Megalopsychi”); “Holding Hands in the Shade” (“Sti Skia Chiropiasmenes”) which is a song setting to music stanzas 83-85 of the National Anthem; “Serenity” (“Galini”); “April and Eros” (“O Aprilis me ton Erota”); “Mesolongi” etc. He also completes the composition “The Free Besieged” (“Eleftheroi Poliorkimenoi”) for voice and orchestra, which he had started in 1942.

In 1954 he decides to set to music several verses from a poem by Angelos Sikelianos, which the poet had recited in Lefkada, during the unveiling of a statue of A. Valaoritis. A cycle of five songs was created, titled “Ode to Aristotelis Valaoritis”, touching upon various explorations on the creation, nature, God, man and poetry; these are musically expressed using chromatic “passages” and dissonant harmonies, in the composer’s usual way.

Among the compositions of this period we find the music background for the radio broadcast of A. Karantonis “Short texts by Palamas”, as well as the soundtracks for the films “Black Earth” (“Mavri Gi”), “I Ruined my Life in one Night” (“Katestrepsa mia nychta ti zoi mou”) and “Dangerous Mission” (“Epikindyni Apostoli”). However the peak of this compositional period is reached with the piece “Kassiani” for female voice and orchestra. Here Kasassoglou uses elements of impressionism, adapting them to his own technique.

Finally, during this decade he also undertook the activities at the “Thymelikos Thiasos” we have outlined above.

The period from 1961 to 1970

From 1961 to 1970, in addition to his participation in the Bad Hersfeld festival, other important events took place in Kasassoglou’s life. He composes his famous work “The Last Night of Byzantium” (“I teleftea nychta tou Vyzantiou”), becoming the first composer who tried to express with music the major historical event of the Fall of Constantinople. The composition’s melody is based on the Byzantine psalm “To Thee, the Champion Leader” (“Te Ypermacho Stratigo ta Nikitiria”)

In 1966 he composes the work “Diptychon” for solo cello, which he dedicates to cellist Mettilt Kasasssoglou (the wife of his son Vassilis). The first part is characterised by the change between a tempo of two and three fourths, while the second part is a dance, which is pleasant to hear and has an individual local sound.

A year later he finishes his best work, perhaps the finest one from a compositional point of view, the “Lyrical Triptych – Arcadi” (“Lyriko Triptycho – Arkadi”) for big orchestra, which has three parts. Its creation was sparked by the centenary of the revolution of Crete and it is based on the Cretan melodies “Pote tha kanei ksasteria” and “Ma inda ’chete gyrou-gyrou kai einai varia i kardia sas”. In the last part we hear an excerpt of the second stanza of the National Anthem, as in the “Four Preludes on the Return from the Front”.

During the same compositional period, Kasassoglou wrote the works for voice and piano “The Village, Game of five Pebbles” (“Pentovola tou choriou”), “Hymn to Mother” (“Ymnos sti mitera”), “Medora's Song” (“To tragoudi tis Medoras”), as well as the orchestra piece “7 Folk Dances” (“7 laikoi choroi”).

The period from 1971 to 1984

During the last years of his life, Kasassoglou was not as creative as in the previous decades and thus the works we examine here are less remarkable. During this period we find the works for voice and piano “10 Folksongs from Asia Minor” (“Tragoudia tis Mikras Asias”) and “The Tears of the Rain” (“To dakry tis vrochis”), along with the compositions “Abraham’s Sacrifice” (“I thyssia tou Avraam”) and “In Delos” (“Sti Dilo”), which are used as a musical accompaniment to the texts of N. Pergialis and A. Prokopiou respectively.

Nevertheless, we should briefly mention two pieces he composed after 1981. In the “Poem without an ‘S’” (“Poiima choris sigma”) Kasassoglou, who had worked for many years on setting poems to music, satisfies a peculiar request of one of his friends, poet S. Morfis. He asked for a poem that would not contain the consonant ‘s’ at all, because he believed that this letter hinders the articulation of speech and causes trouble to singers.

Finally, the work “Pathetic Melody” for oboe and piano is his last composition (1982) and is dedicated to his friend, oboist Evangelos Christopoulos. Shortly before his death he transcribed it for cello, so that Mettilt Kasassoglou would play it; she interpreted it for the first time in Svetsingen on 12 May 1995. The title of the piece reminds us of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique, and it is definitely not by chance that it is written in the same scale.

After Georgios Kasassoglou’s death, his son Vassilis initially and his grandson Jorg-Mark afterwards made efforts, that continue up to this day, to publish and record all his works. Their ultimate goal is to preserve the composer’s works, but also to make Kasassoglou known to a broader public, in Greece and abroad.

A full list of the composer’s works can be found on the website www.kasassoglou.de. The website dedicated to G. Kasassoglou is available in three languages: Greek, German and English.

Valia Vraka

Athens, 1 November 2004

(translated by George Christodoulides)

 

Bibliography – Discography

The following scores, articles and CDs can be found in the Library’s collection.

Bibliography

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. 9 Tanze pour Klavier. Verlag JMK 1997.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. Dämmerung im Antiken Tanagra. Verlag JMK 135.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. 7 Preludes, Klavier. Verlag JMK 115.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. Impromptu, Narkissos, Prelude in b-moll, Klavier/Band I. Verlag JMK 114.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. Duo, Violoncello/Klavier. Verlag JMK 109.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. Dyptichon, cello. Verlag JMK 111.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. 4 Griechische Tänze Flöte/Klavier. Verlag JMK 162.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. 2 Streiquartette. Verlag JMK 132.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. Kassiani, Symphonic fantasy for female voice and orchestra. Verlag JMK 125.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. Kassiani, Symphonic fantasy for female voice and piano. Verlag JMK 124.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. 10 Songs for voice and piano, volume 1. Verlag JMK 123.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. Cycle of 5 songs from “Ode to Valaoritis” and “Virgin Mother” for voice and piano. Verlag JMK 128.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. Four Preludes on the Return from the Front. Athens: Greek Composers Union, 1961.

 Kasassoglou, Georgios. Loom for voice and piano. Athens: G. B. Kasassoglou,1942.

 Tamvakos, Thomas. Greek Creators of Serious Music, Volume 1, “Georgios Kasassoglou”, Ioannina: Cultural Centre of the Municipality of Ioannina, 1995, pp. 6-7.

 Georgios Kasassoglou 1908-1984, Short Biography. Verlag JMK.

 Symeonidou, Aleka. Dictionary of Greek Composers, First Edition, “Kasassoglou Georgios”. Athens: Filippos Nakas, May 1995.

 Kalogeropoulos Takis. The Dictionary of Greek Music from Orpheus to the Present Day, volume 2, “Kasassoglou Georgios”. Giallelis Publications, Athens 1998

A World Dictionary of Works of Science, Art and Philosophy, volume 4. Ekdotiki Estia, 1963, pp. 1696-1698.

Theodoropoulou, Aura. Mousiki, Chamber Music Concert. Nea Estia, issue 478, June 1947, p. 693.

Theodoropoulou, Aura. Mousiki, The concerts of the State Orchestra at the Herodion Theatre. Nea Estia, issue 506, August 1948, p. 991.

 Theodoropoulou, Aura. Mousiki, G. Kasassoglou’s music in the film “The Engagement”. Nea Estia, issue 546, April 1950, p. 481.

 Kokkoris, Evangelos. Georgios Kasassoglou An inspired composer. Mousikos Tonos, isuse 31, Summer-Autumn 2004, pp. 61-63.

 

Discography

Adamaki, Lila. Songs of my homeland, piano: Giannis Papadopoulos, mandolin: Vivi Gheka. Lyra ML0199.

Greek composers. Symphony Music Works of Theodoros Karyotakis, Solon Michaelides, Georgios Kasassoglou, Georgios Platonos, Dionysios Visvardis. ERT Radio Archives 14, ΕΡΑ CD 004.

Georgios Kasassoglou, vol.1. JMK media solutions 2001 jmk-172.


[i] Tamvakos, Thomas. Greek Creators of Serious Music, Volume 1, “Georgios Kasassoglou”, Ioannina: Cultural Centre of the Municipality of Ioannina, p. 6

[ii] Op. cit.

[iii] Georgios Kasassoglou 1908-1984, Short Biography. Verlag JMK, p. 5

[iv] Tamvakos, Thomas. Greek Creators of Serious Music, Volume 1, “Georgios Kasassoglou”, Ioannina: Cultural Centre of the Municipality of Ioannina, p. 6

[v] A World Dictionary of Works of Science, Art and Philosophy, volume 4. Ekdotiki Estia, 1963, pp. 1696-1698.

[vi] Theodoropoulou, Aura. Mousiki, G. Kasassoglou’s music in the film “The Engagement”. Nea Estia, issue 546, April 1950, p. 481.

[vii] Theodoropoulou, Aura. Mousiki, The concerts of the State Orchestra at the Herodion Theatre. Nea Estia, issue 506, August 1948, p. 991.

[viii] Theodoropoulou, Aura. Mousiki, Chamber Music Concert. Nea Estia, issue 478, June 1947, p. 693.

   
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