Abstracts of issue 5-6 (1987)

George Leotsakos

Nikolaos Halikiopoulos-Mantzaros (1795-1872). For a Short Guidebook on the Composer

From the whole wealth of composer Nikolaos Halikiopoulos-Mantzaros output, the Greek population in its totality is only familiar with the 24 bars of the Greek National Anthem. It is deplorable that the very name of the composer seems to be totally unknown to at least 95% of this population. The National Anthem itself is only a fragment from the first “number” (rather than movement) of Mantzaros oldest (1829-30) among several settings into music of the Hymn to Freedom, this poetical masterpiece of his intimate friend, the great national poet Dionyssios Solomos (1798-1857). Born in Corfu (Ionian Islands), where he spent most of his life, Mantzaros is the forefather of all Greek art-music and especially of its earlier composers, the so-called Ionian School, superficially “criticized” in Greece for its Italian influences. Its almost sudden burgeoning, at the aftermath of the French Revolution, in a small archipelago occupied for centuries by Venice and inhabited by a few tens of thousands souls, is a phenomenon almost unique in the history of Western music.
Greek intellectuals, even musicians, consider Mantzaros usually as the musician friend of Solomos and as the composer of at least two full-length cantatas on the text of the Hymn to Freedom. His Ionian compatriots, either scholars of literature or historians, yet amateurs in musicological matters, did their best to embalm him idolized in a profusion of texts: every text, drawing from earlier ones, adds its own variations and new scraps of information. Dates sometimes differ, while the various authors rarely bother to distinguish between works extant (quite often no mention is made of the library or archives possessing them) and works lost.
A great theoretician of music with a passion for teaching, respected by the Italians and admired by Zingarelli, who nourished for him fatherly feelings, a critic famous for his talent in analysis, a highly-skilled virtuoso in counterpoint yet sensible to the charm and efficiency of vocal monody as a means to convey a poetical message, Mantzaros is still accused for “academicism” or Italian influences by some Greek avant-garde circles. He was only 20 when he composed the earliest known and extant Greek opera Don Crepuscolo (1815) and he began his career as an offspring of the 18th century Italian music, by composing for the theatre arias with recitativos and with an orchestral accompaniment. Thunderstruck by the poetical genius of Solomos, one of the pioneers of romanticism associated with the great European movements for national liberation, he subsequently devoted himself in a way deeply moving to a life-long labor, trying to respond to these lofty poetical messages.
Until this very day his biography had not been the object of research in depth and his output (its bulk consists of the MSS piously kept by Mantzaros great great granddaughter Mrs. Frosso Ghιli in Athens) remained uncatalogued. The present study was initially undertaken for the sake of compiling an article on the composer, published in Pangosmio Viographiko Lexiko (Universal Biographical Dictionary, published by Ekdotiki Athinon, vol. VI, Athens 1986, p. 11-13). In the original, unabridged version of this article, published here for the first time with some additions and corrections, notes and commentaries were supplied aiming to a strict control of biographical data, also in connection with contemporary historical conditions as well as with recent research in early 19th century Italian music. We have also attempted to compile a first catalogue of Mantzaros’ works. The present publication follows the timid appearance of the first records with Mantzaros’ music, which bear witness to the injustice of some judgments on the composer.

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