By Vouvaris, Petros
American Music Teacher , Vol. 54, No. 6
Yannis Constantinidis composed the 44 Children's Pieces on Greek Melodies in 1950 with the intention of providing Greek conservatory students with compositions that have a distinctly folk flavor, gradually increasing in technical difficulty and artistic breadth. This three-volume collection of piano miniatures, akin to Bartok's Mikrokosmos and Children's Pieces, possesses a genuine sense of structural grace and melodic imagination, while vividly portraying the luscious lyricism and rhythmic vitality inherent in Greek folk music. However, despite its unmistakable musical and pedagogical value, this splendid masterwork of mikrokosmic proportions has been largely neglected by performers, scholars and pedagogues alike.
Constantinidis was born in 1903 in Smyrna, Minor Asia, which was then part of the decaying Ottoman Empire and was largely populated by Greeks. When the Greek-Turkish war broke out in 1920, his family fled to Athens, Greece, to escape the anticipated repercussions of the negative turn that the war was taking for the Greeks. In 1923, he moved to Berlin, where he studied harmony, counterpoint and fugue with Paul Juon; orchestration with Kurt Weill; and conducting with Carl Ehrenberg. He also was introduced to twelve-tone composition by Josef Ruler. In 1931, he moved back to Athens, where he turned to writing popular music under the pseudonym Costas Yannidis, which he adopted to distinguish himself from Grigoris Constantinidis, a famous operetta composer of the time. After thirty successful years in the field, he retired in 1962 to concentrate on composing and revising earlier works, as well as on his work as a producer of classical music programs at the Second Program of Hellenic Radio and Television. He died in Athens on January 17, 1984.
Constantinidis's output consists of some 200 works, including 50 stage works, 5 song cycles, approximately 50 individual songs, choral works, film scores and several orchestral and chamber works--the most renowned being his two Dodecanisian Suites (1948 and 1949) and the Minor Asia Rhapsody (completed in 1965). Constantinidis considerably enriched the piano repertoire with numerous works: Sonatina (1927); 22 Songs and Dances from the Dodecanese (1943-1946); 44 Children's Pieces on Greek Melodies (Greek Miniatures) (1950-1951); First Sonatina (on folk melodies from the island of Crete) (1952); Second Sonatina (on folk melodies from Epirus) (1952); Third Sonatina (on folk melodies from the Dodecanese) (1953); 8 Dances from Greek Islands (1954) (arranged for two pianos in 1971); and 6 Studies in Greek Rhythms (1956-1958).
Inspired By Folk Music
Constantinidis belonged to the so-called Greek National School that practically dominated the musical world in Greece at the beginning of the twentieth century. Composers of the Greek National School developed a musical idiom that reflected the cultural dualism inherent in the conception of the modern Greek state. Specifically, they confirmed their cultural status as Europeans by utilizing the predominant stylistic tendencies of European art music while, at the same time, they reinforced their Hellenic identity by incorporating elements from Greek folk music, which served as the vital link between antiquity and the present. The construction of the Greek National School was part of a larger complex of historical, political, sociological and artistic developments and was promoted through the study of folk songs, dissemination of "national" dances and establishment of scholarly disciplines that supported the claim of cultural continuity with the past. (1)
Aligning himself with the ideas and principles of the Greek National School, Constantinidis turned to Greek folk music to find the source of his inspiration. Nearly all his works are based on carefully selected melodies from oral tradition, as well as from publications of Greek folk dances and demotic songs. (2) His compositions reveal a deep understanding and respect for folk music, which was undoubtedly strengthened by his acquaintance with the work of Swiss musicologist and conductor Samuel Baud-Bovy (1840-1910). …