Eleni Karaindrou: Trojan Women (ECM New Series 1810)

Trojan Women

Eleni Karaindrou
Trojan Women

Socratis Sinopoulos Constantinople lyra, laouto
Christos Tsiamoulis ney, suling, outi
Panos Dimitrakopoulos kanonaki
Andreas Katsiyiannis santouri
Maria Bildea harp
Andreas Papas bendir, daouli
Veronika Iliopoulou soprano
Eleni Karaindrou
Antonis Kontogeorgiou chorus director
Recorded July 2001 at Studio Polysound, Athens
Engineer: Yiorgos Karyotis
Produced by Manfred Eicher

No human heart is set so hard
that hearing the grave music of your dirge,
your keening, would not bring tears.

The distinct approach of Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou to film sound-tracking, through ECM’s rigorous documentation of her partnership with director Theo Angelopoulos, has imbued her music with a life of its own among international audiences. All the while, Karaindrou had been nurturing an equally prolific association at home with the theatre. Her Angelopoulos in that craft has been director Antonis Antypas, with whom she has collaborated on over 20 productions for the Aplo Theatro. This album documents her incidental music for a new staging of the Euripides tragedy Trojan Women, which received its premiere at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus on August 31 and September 1, 2001.

First performed in 415 B.C., the play was a vitriolic critique of the Athenians’ then-recent attack on the island of Melos, where countless violently perished and women were sold into bondage in the name of conquering Sparta (in this the Athenians did not succeed). It is perhaps no coincidence that the word melos also means song, for singing constitutes the very flesh of this album’s limestone skeleton. Karaindrou kneads into these politics the idea that less is more. With the barest use of folk instruments—such as the Constantinople lyra, ney, santouri, and bendir—she implies a battered panorama of immense emotional congruity. Producer Manfred Eicher has lent further sanctity through his arrangement and editing of the material into its present form.

A profoundly comported scenography of touching (which is to say, tangible) melodic beauty finds particular expression through the lyra’s grasshopper song. It is a mournful, unforgettable sound, dry as a reed in summer. The harp also figures notably in the music’s rolling waves, overcoming the barrenness evoked by titles like “Terra Deserta” with oceanic depth. Its vibrations are transformations of landscape itself, silenced by their own resonance.

Trojan Stage

Much of the material on Trojan Women will sound familiar to regular Karaindrou listeners. The themes, although nominally character-specific, are melodically uniform, changing their instrumental clothing from visage to visage, thereby sounding a fluidity of purpose and choice. Unusual, and perhaps a point of contrast to nevertheless persistent indications of barrenness, is the presence of choir and a soprano soloist who only occasionally poises her lips above the waterline to spout names of the deep. Of central importance in this regard are the three stasimons (choral odes), each a vertebra of both story and music, a refraction of the rest. In them voices grow bolder, reaching epiphany in “An Ode Of Tears” and “In Vain The Sacrifices,” the latter a ring to which the former’s gaping clasp holds true. These voices do more than the traditional Greek chorus. They burgeon at stage center, relegated not to the wings but to the head and body of a flightless bird. Without wings, they think themselves into freedom, casting their minds from horizon to horizon, faster than the sun. They do not create the stars but make them brighter.

As a matter of course, the pieces are generally short (only one surpasses four minutes). In their sublime chemical suspensions of tears, blood, and determination swims a pair of eyes—one directed at us, the other elsewhere. Consequently, there is a feeling of stepping out of time in order to better understand its circumscription. Vast harmonic networks slumber in the underlying empty spaces, never stirring except in the most funerary moments. Despite the mythic sheen, the music of Trojan Women finds deeper mystery in the earth’s living subjects, which in isolation reveal the mystery of creation, both divine and mortal, far more acutely: in order to attain permanence one must be open to the fallacies of agreement.

Alternate Trojan
Alternate cover

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