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Von Karajan, Rubinstein and Saint-Saens at the school of Maria Callas

07 January 2015 / 19:01:46  GRReporter
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At first glance classical music seems to have been imported in Greece from abroad. The valuable archive of the Athens Conservatory, which is stored in the basement of the historic building, tells the story of modern Greek music in its own way, refuting this myth.

Established in 1871, the school is the oldest and most important musical institution in Greece and its rich archive hides many surprises even for connoisseurs of the genre, which prove only one thing, namely that musical life in Athens in the first decades of the 20th century was no inferior to that in big European capitals.

The note by French composer Charles Camille Saint - Saens, expressing his admiration for the orchestra of the Conservatory, and the fact that one of the greatest conductors, Herbert von Karajan, led the same orchestra in the 1930s, are only part of the evidence thereof.

The archive also makes it clear that the Conservatory was founded by the Athens Music and Drama Society in favour of ordinary people. "At the end of the 19th century the majority of the students at the Conservatory were children of lower social strata. They were children of artisans whereas the descendants of the so-called good society had private lessons at home. The establishment of the Conservatory was a clear move towards spreading art to a wider audience. The powerful bourgeois class at that time was fully conscious of its role and supported the musical life through very bold gestures," says board chairman of the Conservatory Nikos Tsouhlous.


Conductor Dimitris Mitropoulos

The archive contains very interesting documents such as a letter written by students in 1873, in which they ask the leadership not to close the conservatory in the summer in order for the lessons not to be interrupted. "It shows the great enthusiasm not so much of the wealthy children who had the opportunity to go to expensive resorts in summer but of the children of families with low and middle income."

In another case, despite the widespread anti-Semitism in the late 19th century, a student was expelled from the Conservatory because she offended her classmate who was a Jew. It is an interesting fact that regardless of the political conservatism of the leadership, many musicians, leftists, were admitted to the Athens Conservatory. "We are talking about the occupation and the ensuing civil war. At that bloody time, Mikis Theodorakis, Alekos Xenos and others found "refuge" in it. Because they were telling themselves, ‘Communists are bad people, but they still study music.’ The conservatory had provided a kind of immunity to them."

Composer Mikis Theodorakis

The present leadership of the Athens Conservatory is considering creating a research centre, the activity of which will be to study Greek classical music and to utilize the rich archives. "It is disgraceful to have the urn with Mitropoulos’ ashes and Skalkotas’ handwritten notes discarded somewhere," says Tsouhlous.

The archive includes:

Handwritten minutes of the meetings of the Conservatory board from 1871 to the present day, documents and regulations for its functioning.

Annual activity reports that include the names of teachers, the names and grades of students, the names of scholarship students and the programmes of music performances (recitals and orchestral concerts).

Opera diva Maria Callas

The data on students show when famous Greek artists such as Spyros Samaras, Dimitris Mitropoulos and Nikos Skalkotas, world opera diva Maria Callas and world famous composer Mikis Theodorakis were admitted to the school.

There is a large collection of rare photographs from the 19th century, music books and scores by Greek composers, some of which, so far, have been unknown or considered missing.

Tags: MusicAthens ConservatoryArchiveMaria CallasHerbert von KarajanRubinsteinCharles Camille Saint - SaensDimitris MitropoulosMikis Theodorakis
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