Translated by Kenneth Chalmers
Beyond Schoenberg and Debussy – Nikos Skalkottas’s 32 Piano Pieces
Nikos Skalkottas, who ranks with Iannis Xenakis as the most original Greek composer of the 20th century, was once asked why he did not write any music for piano solo, and is said to have replied, “When composing for the piano today you could follow either Debussy’s style or Schoenberg’s, and since they did it best themselves, it is preferable not to bother”. This statement from 1938 refers exclusively to solo piano music, since by then Skalkottas had written such major works as the first two piano concertos and the Concertino for two pianos. The idea of writing music for piano solo seems, however, not to have left him, and as early as the summer of 1940 he produced the 32 piano pieces under discussion here in the space of a few weeks. Skalkottas was not just a first-rate violinist, but a fine pianist as well, and he wrote these pieces for his Athens friends Marika and Yiannis Papaioannou, although they were in fact never performed in his lifetime (he died in 1949).1
Since at least the time of the Athens premiere of the complete cycle, given by the Australian pianist Geoffrey Madge in September 1979, the stature of the 32 piano pieces has gradually come to be recognised. Many authoritative commentators have unhesitatingly placed the pieces among the most significant piano works of the 20th century. The works have been examined in depth by Yiannis Papaioannou and Kostis Demertzis, but they continue to prompt many important...
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