Nickitas Demos

Xoros Phonia



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    Xoros Phonia_excerpt

Xoros Phonia (1999)

Nickitas Demos

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Duration: 8'

Hellenic music stands between two worlds. On the one hand, it has most of the characteristics of Western tonality while on the other, it contains elements of non-Western idioms from the Near East. Xoros Phonia explores this dual nature by loosely adapting several different types of sacred and secular folk styles in one single movement. 

The work is divided into six distinct sections and is generally very light in character. The piece grows faster and more exciting section by section moving from a slow mysterious beginning to an energetic, fast paced and joyous conclusion. The title is taken from the Greek and means, roughly, “voice dance”. The text throughout is simply syllabic. Typical Hellenic sounding syllables are used with the inclusion, in some areas, of actual Byzantine “sol fege” syllables. The singers are also asked to make percussive noises with their mouths (imitating at times the doumbek, a hand held percussion instrument and at other times maracas). Members of the group are also instructed to clap and snap their fingers throughout the piece involving their whole bodies in the “dance” of their voices.

The first section presents most of the motivic material to be used throughout and is reminiscent of Byzantine Chant. Musical materials are loosely passed between upper voices while the baritone and bass maintain held pitches. In a stark juxtaposition between the sacred and the more earthy elements of modern Hellenic culture, the first section gives way to a tsifteteli rhythm. The tsifteteli is a dance type in duple meter akin to more oriental / “belly-dance” music with roots in the rebetika sub-culture. Rebetika is commonly associated with the bouzouki (now the national instrument of Greece but once a instrument of low social standing) and urban low-life characters. The loose adaptation of the tsifteteli presented in this work is a bit slower and much more subtle than the more vulgar modern displays one encounters in contemporary social affairs. This section soon transitions by way of an abrupt modulation into a Kritiko Syrto rhythm and then into a general syrto rhythm. These two sections are representative of island music which, despite different geographical groupings, can be characterized as lighter and more flowing than the majority of mainland dances. The Kritiko Syrto hails from the island of Crete and is a bit slower than the general syrto which succeeds it. Both island dances feature a syncopated duple meter. The works accelerates into the last two sections which borrow, in style, the music of the northern mainland of Greece; in particular, Thrace (the easternmost province of Greece bordered on the west by Macedonia, on the north by Bulgaria and Turkey on the east with the northern reaches of the Aegean Sea to the south). The fifth section features a karsilamás dance rhythm (9/8 meter beat in a 2+2+2+3 pattern) which gives way to the sixth and final section which loosely adapts the mandilátos ( a 7/8 meter beat in a 2+2+3 pattern). Those listeners familiar with the music of the region will also detect the brief insertion of some typical Bulgarian harmonies at the point the sixth section begins. It is a joyous celebration which is first sounded in the sopranos, soon picked up by the alto and spread to the rest of the ensemble. The music returns to a more Hellenic character for the final expression of exuberance.