“Tigra” and its little story

During the second half of 1983, two events made their mark in what I call the revival of Samaras’s work.

The first one occurred sometime in the beginning of autumn at the house of the great Greek composer, George Sicilianos, over at 1 Lykavitos Street.

I can remember Sicilianos being sat in his study room discussing in general about Greek composers. When we came onto the topic of Samaras and his lost works, Sicilianos pointed to the street seen out of his windows and said: “The block of apartments that you can see over there, Byron, over at Alexandros Soutsou Street, is where Samaras’s widow used to live. That’s where his archive must have also been once kept. If you go and ask the caretaker who should be of a certain age now, he should be able to give you some information”.

I went over to the house and found the caretaker. He told me that the person who inherited the possessions of Samaras’ widow was her niece, Mrs Nena Michelaki, who lived at 4 Spefsippos Street in Kolonaki.

The area in Athens known as Kolonaki has historically proved to be sort of a “repository” of Modern Greek works waiting to be discovered. That’s where I managed to dig out works by composers such as Riadis, Lavragas, Varvoglis, Petridis, Lialios and Skalkotas. In1983, it was turn for Samaras’s works to also be found here.

The late Nena Michelaki was a polite figure of old bourgeoisie Athens. When I went to meet her the next day, she welcomed me with a natural familiarity and a discrete sense of nobility.

Samaras’s archive was rather rich. Not so much in terms of its musical material, but rather in terms of the information it contained about the luck of these musical works, after their creator’s death. Also found among the few musical pieces, was the handwritten short scores of the opera titled “Tigra” as well as the typewritten libretto of “Corriere della Sera” enclosed in an envelope. After skimming through them briefly, the thought of this work being orchestrated one day suddenly emerged. Aside from a few expected omissions and erasures that I picked up on, most of it seemed (at least to a trained eye) sufficiently clear and on the whole pretty effective in conveying its creator’s intentions. I kept a photocopy of the manuscript and in order to ensure that an archive this valuable would not get lost, I convinced Mrs Michelaki to submit it to the Benaki Museum along with Samaras’s desk. The desk’s drawer key was dropped by accident but when I found it years later in a small envelope, I handed it to Irene Geroulanou to put it back where it belonged.

The second event that occurred in 1983 marking the recent revival of Samaras’s works, was the approval I received on a certain suggestion I had raised to the then people responsible for the Corfu Festival: Mr. K. Nikolakis – Mouhas and S. Bogdano as well as from the then director of the Ministry of Culture, Mr. N. Zoroyiannidis. All of them finally agreed for a concert performance of “Rhea” to be put on during the Corfu Festival, in September 1984.

Thus, 1983 stands as a historical milestone for Samaras and his works, mainly for two reasons. Firstly, because we managed to find Ariadne’s thread that we’d later follow to get to the full scores of the composer’s greatest saved works. Secondly, because 1983 was the year that we laid the foundations which would later ensure that these works could eventually reach the ears and (most importantly) the consciousness of their natural receivers: the audience.

A while later - around 1987 - I appealed to an old friend of my father’s (through the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation) for support on carrying out the orchestration of “Tigra”. This was George Platon (1910 – 1993): the brilliant pianist, composer and overall musician whom I had previously also collaborated with on the revival of “Rhea” in 1984.

By that time, G. Platon had already orchestrated Josef Mastrekini’s (1892- 1903) opera titled “Eleasar” (1889) whose full scores had been destroyed in a fire. Its piano-vocal score however had been saved alongside a few extracts recorded by Totis Karalivanos. Platon, who as a composer refused to harmonically stir further away than the C. Franck form, politely declined “Tigra’s” orchestration. He did nonetheless still deem it as a predominantly “modern” work. Thus, he at least agreed to do a “re-reading” of “Tigra” by writing it out clearly and at the same time provide his interpretation of any illegible points. Platon also filled in the few missing bits of harmony from the meters that Samaras had left harmonically exposed or had written shorthand. He managed to do this by referring to a comparable (usually a previous) musical transition. He also carried out a non poetic, yet extremely useful translation of the opera’s libretto.

Many years passed since then, during which I executed most of the composer’s saved works: “Rhea” 1984, “Martyr” 1990, “Young blonde girl” 1995, “Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle” 1995, “Epinikia” 1987, etc. Through  having this hands-on connection with some of the most significant operas of Samaras’s era (“Cavaleria”, “Pagliacci”, “Manon Lescaut”, “La bohème”, “Tosca”, “Butterfly” and so on) I managed to become familiar with the style of that period, at least when it came to applying the orchestration bit.  I don’t know why, but by July 2009, I had acquired this uncontrollable urge to work hard on “Tigra” with a view of orchestrating it. I remember having a concert at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus with the Athens State Orchestra on July 15th and then the very next leaving for the region of Argiraiika in Pelion, where I threw myself into concentrating on “Tigra”. Despite the mini, unavoidable interruptions that occurred, I worked rather intensively and managed to have the opera’s complete full scores in front of me a few months later, on December 20th.

Incidentally, I must also mention that somewhere around 2000, I had given the copy that Platon had produced to my Bulgarian copyist colleague, out of which he created a piano-vocal score, invaluable for every form of execution. After a thorough check and a constant comparison against Samaras’s archive, this piano-vocal score became the base that soloists and the choir used to study the opera. The process of inputting the full scores and orchestra parts into a computer was carried out by a young composer named Antonis Anestis. Antonis worked incredibly hard on turning around this demanding and complex task and I think that the final result justifies the effort that we both put into this.

I entrusted the first performance of this work to my beloved hometown’s orchestra group - the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra. It premiered on April 29 2010 at the Athens Concert Hall, as part of the sixth cycle of Greek Musical Celebrations. It’s my duty to take this chance and thank all the people who worked hard on bringing Samaras’ masterpiece –as well as whatever contribution I made- to life. They all did their best and for this I am truly grateful to them.

This study is dedicated to the memory of Christos Dimitri Labrakis (1934 – 2009) a great lover and supporter of Greek music.

In substance

As a work, “Tigra” belongs to Samaras’s mature period. In my opinion, this work comprises the triumph of a great craftsman of lyrical theatre and composition. Thanks to George Leotsakos’s research we can somewhat confidently infer that it was written somewhere between 1908 and 1911. Stylistically it’s very similar to its immediate predecessor titled “Rhea” (performed in 1908). The musical idiom used in both of these operas differs significantly from the early verismo-style idiom that characterises “Martyr” (1984) and even more so from the quintessentially romantic idiom found in “Flora Mirabilis” (1886). After gradually incorporating many elements of modern French lyrical drama in a single, steadily evolving language (one characterised by a romantic character and aesthetics and a verismo-movement type of orientation) Samaras put forward a new trend. Whilst weaving this new trend he assimilated and mixed functionally many Greek ecclesiastical and traditional (also known as demotic) parts. This trend was to herald and lay the ideological (as well as technical) foundations for the birth of the Greek National School of Music. The special relationship that the French had with the Orient – a relationship whose residues are also found in the extraordinary inclination towards musical Orientalism that characterises 19th Century music– represented a cause for reflection and a source of intellectual stimuli for Samaras. I’m certain that this peculiar Orientalism found in French music played a determining role on the setup of Samaras’ creative beginnings - i.e. the foundations upon which the composer built his sonic universe.

With his psyche being moulded on both the island of Corfu during the prime era of the Ionian School of music and in post-revolutionary Athens (a period during which a romantically scientific national ideology began to crystallise in Greece) Samaras preserved the notion of “Greekness” as the main - and most importantly existential - element to be found in his work. Mutatis mutandis to this, Samaras brings to mind composers such as Haendel or Meyerbeer, who after drawing a range of elements from various European music schools proceeded to assimilate these creatively, and so gradually developed their own personal style. To me, the most predominant French element in the works by Samaras is found in his harmonic language. The composer’s sophisticated and remarkably personalised harmony exemplifies perhaps the main point of differentiation between himself and his Italian peers; peers whom he competed with in their own land but at the same time chose their locale as his career base. We can detect a number of innovative harmonies in his works, even the ones he composed in his beginning steps. However, even the boldest harmonic resonances that we find in his earlier operas become utilised in his works more so as to “spice up” his harmonic language rather than to act as a main ingredient. In contrast, the innovative harmonic language used in “Rhea” and “Tigra” reveals a character enriched by various touches of boldness, which, thanks to their systematic use, take on the functional role of defining Samaras’s mature style. The mix of these bold harmonic touches with an array of ecclesiastical modes and a whole tone scale, often re-creates the seductive atmosphere of a wider musical Orientalism. This way, this Orientalist style is seamlessly integrated into the general idiom without giving the impression -at any point- of a foreign body existing in the harmony. In both of these works that comprise his compositional maturity, Samaras musically creates contrasts between East (the Orient) and West (the Occident), all made in the name of dramatic effect. For example, in “Rhea” the contrast between East and West is symbolised at a surface level, through the choice of (typically) Greek character names versus the choice of the Western ones. On a theatrical level, characters seem to be made to contrast each other visually through the choice of their attire. The deeper dramatic contrasts between perceptions or ideologies are presented to us through the use of music. Samarastakes full advantage of this opportunity and assigns to the audience the role of becoming partakers to his creative approaches and innermost thoughts on the main subject of his era: Greek musical expression. Similarly, in “Tigra” the contrast between East and West is presented in a more general manner, as the heroine’s country of origin in the homonymous opera is never defined clearly. In this case, one of the deeper purposes of the use of music is not to focus just on musically sketching a given character for dramatic effect. Much more than that, the use of music focuses on conveying a distant and dream-like kind of world: a much loved yet forever lost kind of East. The most puzzling element of this indistinguishable East is emphatically highlighted - if not intensified - through the use of the quintessentially Orthodox hymn, titled “Christos Anesti”. The use of this hymn during the opera’s musical and theatrical climactic point, comprises a morphological finding which by being positioned at the core of the act, attains a balance between the preceding theatrically mobile section that’s full of intensity and its succeeding static section of lesser intensity and idyllic character completing the opera.

One element that is interestingly presented throughout the development of Samaras’s stream of creativity is the effect that the French School of Music had on the composer’s orchestration skill. His solid, certain  and conservative approach towards writing combined with his manner of using and organising instrumental sounds echo a classical-sounding aesthetic as well as the Italian-sounding standards of  Xindas and Stancampiano. Even further than these, we can also detect the theoretical concepts of Greek composers such as Matzaros and Katakouzinos reflected in Samaras’s work. This points towards the notion that all of the above must have held a governing position in the Athens Conservatory theory and practice setup during the period of the young Corfiot composer studying there. At the same time, the practical experience that Samaras acquired as a violinist through participating in various Athenian orchestras during this period doesn’t seem to have managed to enrich his instrumental way of thinking (in a definitive sense, at least). The reasons for this are, firstly, the limited repertoire enacted by these orchestras and secondly, the questionable level of their professional music standards. I therefore believe that his immediate contact with the French School of Music and its orchestration style too, comprised a key factor in the final shaping of his personal sonic universe. I think that a reference to the sort of relationship that composers have with Wagner - and more so for opera composers of Samaras’s period – is a sine qua non for understanding the Wagnerian influence on Samaras’s own creative work. On a general level, this influence can be detected in the contact that the composer had with the prevailing post-Wagnerian musical and theatrical concepts, which he progressively and naturally immersed himself into. Evidence of this is found in his use of the leitmotif and his gradual resistance against using structural forms defined as autonomous and non-dependent on each other (such as arias and various phonetic ensembles). The expanded meaning given to the role and size of an orchestra is also proof of this. It seems however, that, when it comes to more specific elements (such as the expansion of harmonic theoretical thinking as well as the manner of orchestration) Wagnerian concepts that have already undergone a “filtering” by the French spirit (to which as concepts also owe a great deal to) only managed to influence Samaras and his work on a secondary level. Through taking the Gallic music path, the Corfiot composer embraces the massif allurement found in the Wagnerian mythical character of the single form which entails applying clearly-defined musical parameters (such as harmony and orchestration) to the logic of a holistic dramatic construct. In accordance with the French meter, this embracing is evident yet qualitative and never quantitative. This meter-based embracement also entails a critical stance towards Wagnerism, at a time when general reactions emerging primarily from southern Europe also brought on new aesthetic and artistic movements - the most prominent of these being that of the Verismo movement.

The appeal posed by the subtlety of French harmonic theoretical thinking as well as its delicate orchestration style during a period of intense (and varied) upheaval occurring in the European musical horizon, also posed for Samaras and his primarily melodic nature the “danger” of him potentially rejecting this very nature of his. His instinct and Italian experience however managed to protect him from this “danger”. During an interview he gave around 1910 to an Athenian newspaper (i.e. during the compositional years of “Tigra”) Samaras emphatically discredited the meaning of melody as professed by the modern French music school, by highlighting his opposition towards this kind of aesthetic direction.

At this point, I’d like to quickly refer to the orchestration of “Tigra”. I think that the above-mentioned clarify the affinity between “Rhea” and “Tigra”. Due to this affinity, I came up with the idea of relying on the orchestration concepts that permeate “Rhea’s” full score (for the orchestration of “Tigra”) and then to also take into account works such  as “Epinikia”, “Mademoiselle de Belle-isle”, “La biondinetta” and “Kritikopoula” as auxiliary insight. The instrumental distribution that I applied was the one found in “Rhea”. For this, I followed Samaras’s example closely with one exception. I decided to include the use of a contrabassoon specifically in the procession scene while for the purposes of instrumental economy I also extended its use throughout.  As far as I know this comprises an instrument that Samaras never made use of. Another subtle point of differentiation between mine and Samaras’s instrumental approach (one which he also shared with other musicians of his era, especially in Italy) was that I avoided the swift transitions in the trombones.  As we can infer from “Rhea” and the Hungarian rhapsody used in “Lionella”, Samaras seems to have preferred the trombone being played in keys.

To tackle the key problem related to the relationship between the vocal and instrumental parts, I once again followed Samaras’ approach as closely as possible.  I thus allowed the vocal parts to exist in a standalone manner without any instrumental support. I applied this unless the density of the writing demanded the opposite for the purposes of maintaining the balance in sound. Moreover, I followed this strategy for both the protagonists’ and the chorus’ vocal parts.  Instructed by the short scores, I consciously avoided filling in the pause of the chorus parts during the opera’s climactic point when “Christos Anesti” comes in, for two main reasons. 1) Because, even though the composer forges the lines of the meters in question he then leaves them blank, which in my opinion wasn’t coincidental at all.  2) I believe that Samaras wanted to musically (and in a sense enigmatically) comment upon the on-goings on stage through making use of a well-known hymn but without including any of its lyrics.

Parts of the short scores which I deemed as errors were corrected and were accounted for in detail in the attached notes by the editor-orchestrator. These errors seem to have occurred either due to hastiness or even bad handwriting that required the erasing and extensive correction of errors. It is up to future readers - performers of Samaras’s manuscript to review my choices and carry out any further revisions necessary.