Dimitri Mitropoulos - A Greek Sonata (1920)
Hailed as one of the great conductors of the 20th century, Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) was also a virtuoso pianist and a
remarkable composer with a most uniquely personal expressive style.
During a period spanning almost 25 years (1912-1937) he
produced some forty-five original compositions which can be divided into three continuous creative periods. The first and most
productive period (from 1912 to 1920) shows an evolution from early examples to more daring, innovative works, whilst the second
period (1924-27), dominated by the influence of his mentor, Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni, leads into intense experimentation
with atonality and other current avant-garde techniques (yielding such works as Ostinata (1927), a three-movement sonata for violin
and piano and the first 12-tone work ever composed by a Greek composer).
During his final, third creative period (1928-1937), due to
the fact that Mitropoulos dedicates increasingly more energy towards his conducting career, he composed only sporadically and
always with specific occasions in mind (i.e., incidental music to Sophocles’ Elektra and Euripides’ Hippolytos of 1937).
The final work of
his first, most active, compositional period, the Greek Sonata (1920) is the connecting link between the "learned and experimented"
early style and the mature examples of the later periods. A gigantic work of about 45 minutes in length, the sonata is divided into 4
different movements: A formal 1st movement in traditional sonata-allegro form is followed by a Scherzo in ABABA form. The central
point of the sonata, its slow, evocative third movement probes the very depths of human expression, before its tour-de-force last
movement (in extended sonata-form) brings the work to an almost unbearably wild conclusion. Evidence of Greek-related or
Greek-derived folk material is abundant throughout (hence the title of the work), an element which, combined with an extremely
far-reaching, cosmopolitan sense of taste and an always tightly organized structure, yields music of unbelievable wealth of
The world-premiere performance of the complete sonata was given by the composer himself at Brussels in 1920. Since
then the colossal work has laid dormant, until May 10th of 1990, when Australian pianist Geoffrey Douglas Madge gave it its
posthumous world-premiere at the 1990 Middelburg Festival.