Nickitas Demos

An Empty Blouse



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    An Empty Blouse_excerpt

An Empty Blouse (2010)

Nickitas Demos

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Text: Helen by Giorgos Seferis

Translation by Dr. Gregory Jusdanis

Duration: 16'

An Empty Blouse marks the third collaboration between myself and the noted scholar, Dr. Gregory Jusdanis (Director of Modern Greek Studies at Ohio State University). This work, like the two that preceded it, sets scholarly translations of modern Greek poetry to music. For this work, we have chosen to translate and set the poem, Helen, by Giorgos Seferis (1900 – 1971) a Nobel Laureate and one of the most important Greek poets of the 20th Century.

Dr. Jusdanis provides the following insights on the text: “Seferis quotes lines from Euripides's play, Helen that deals with an alternative take on the Helen myth, namely, that Helen never went to Troy, a phantom had gone while she stayed on in Egypt. In this play, Teucer, a warrior from the island of Salamis, stops in Egypt, meets Helen, on the way to Cyprus and forced exile by his father who holds him responsible for the suicide of his brother, Ajax, while both were in Troy. He learns from Helen the true story, namely, that she never set a foot in Troy. Seferis takes this story and sets it in Cyprus where Teucer has landed, having just learned the tale of the gods' deception, namely they fought so long for a ghost.  Seferis turns it into an anti-war poem and a poem about the delusions of humanity. What do we fight for?  Do we know the reasons? Are we pawns of gods/fate?”

The musical setting is darkly introspective throughout as Teucer laments the past and the events that have brought him to Cyprus. The setting moves back and forth between sung pitches and spoken dialogue which is both reminiscent of a Greek chorus (albeit simply a single person in this case) and which also serves to help delineate the thoughts of the narrator.

The text is through-composed, yet held together, nevertheless, by a recurring motive comprised of a perfect fifth. There is also a bit of text painting a the piece makes use of a solo flute line meant to represent the nightingales often quoted throughout the poem. The music is also imbued, at times, with Greek folk dance rhythms as well as subtle hints of Byzantine chant.

The work was composed for performance at a symposium focusing on Greek literature, music and art held on the campus of Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA. The work was made possible through generous funding by the Center of International Collaborative Arts (CENCIA), the Center for Hellenic Studies and the School of Music at Georgia State University.