Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thanos Mikroutsikos & Giannis Koutras - Mousiki Praxi Ston Brecht (Musical étude on Brecht)

"The judges follow limply
They were told that justice is simply
What serves our People best
They objected: how are we to know that?
But they'll soon be interpreting it so that
The whole people is under arrest"

Thanos Mikroutsikos is one of the most famous contemporary Greek composers. Obviously, I discovered him during my stay in Thessaloniki and I learned that his songs have been very popular among the left-wing in Greece. Having been a member of the Greek Communist Party in the 1970s, he wrote music on communist poets such as Vladimir Mayakovsky, Yiannis Ritsos and Nazim Hikmet. The album hereby contains original music set on poems by Bertolt Brecht, being either standalone pieces (such as the famous "From A German War Primer" or excerpts from his plays such as Fear And Misery In the Third Reich. Thus this is a departure from the tendency of musicians to interpret songs Brecht had co-written with Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler and Paul Dessau, such as the magnificent Dagmar Krause on the classics Supply and Demand and Tank Battles.

"The lowly must leave this earth
Without having tasted
Any good meat.

For wondering where they come from and
Where they are going
The fine evenings find them
Too exhausted.

They have not yet seen
The mountains and the great sea
When their time is already up.

If the lowly do not
Think about what's low
They will never rise."

The singer is called Yiannis Koutras, a frequent collaborator of Mikroutsikos, most notably on The Southern Cross, an album with music on Nikos Kavadias sailor poems that is Mikroutsikos's most celebrated album. He has a deep, velvety, moist voice that fits great with the ironic tones of the poems and the music. Mikroutsikos also sings on a couple of songs and has a raspy and slightly tuneless delivery which fits perfectly, particularly on the beautiful third track "Of Poor B.B," one of Brecht's most melancholic poems. The music itself is set on piano and reeds, and is very reflective of the music Mikroutsikos made in the 1970s, which was his most political period: it's a mix of modern avant-garde classical music of atonal undertones with hints of bombastic socialist music and the cabaret style Brecht developed in the late 1920s with Weill in The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Of course the experimental nature of the music and the passionate political tone brings this much closer to Hanns Eisler's or Paul Dessau's incidental music in plays like Mother, Mother Courage, Fear and Misery in the Third Reich or The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Mikroutsikos has been very particularly vocal about having been influenced especially by Eisler and about trying to make a musical approximation to Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt (distantiation/alienation effect), and, well, I think he has been very successful in doing so. This album was first released in 1978 on Lyra Records and this is the 2010 cd reissue.


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