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The Two Notes that Create Mikis Theodorakis’ Zorba Magic

Theodorakis Zorba
Mikis Theodorakis in the Netherlands. Credit: Bert Verhoeff/Wikimedia Commons CC0

The two notes of “Zorba’s Dance” from the Oscar-winning film “Zorba the Greek” are two of the most recognizable in the world, granting Mikis Theodorakis immortality.

On the occasion of the 96th birthday (7/29) of the greatest Greek composer of all time, the Deutsche Welle Greek channel presented a feature on Mikis Theodorakis, one of the world’s best living composer.

In the feature, German composer Henning Schmiedt – who has collaborated with Theodorakis for 30 years – sings the praises of the Greek musician and speaks about the impact of his music on Germans.

Schmiedt also brings to the forefront a comparison Theodorakis’ biographer Guy Wagner makes between the great Greek and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Beethoven needed four notes, Theodorakis only two

In Wagner’s “Mikis Theodorakis: A Life for Greece” (2002, Typothito Press), the biographer matches the music of Theodorakis with the greatness of Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Wagner wrote that if the listener hears four notes from Beethoven’s 5th symphony (The Symphony of Destiny), he immediately recognizes it. This way Beethoven achieved immortality.

With Theodorakis’ “Zorba’s Dance”, two notes is enough for one to recognize the music. In other words, according to the biographer, Beethoven achieved immortality with four notes,  but Theodorakis with only two, and that makes Theodorakis better than Beethoven.

“This is, of course, a compliment,” Schmiedt says, “but deep down Theodorakis’ themes are his footprint to which every one has access to.”

“I know that with his music, (Theodorakis) made the world more beautiful… He generously gave the gift of his music to the world… I am grateful I worked with him,” Schmiedt said.

Theodorakis found his calling by listening to Beethoven

The music of Mikis Theodorakis is appreciated the world over, certainly not because of the “Zorba the Greek” soundtrack alone.

The multitalented musician wrote symphonic music, chamber music, oratorios, opera, ballet music, film scores, music for the stage, popular Greek songs and so on.

Theodorakis has said that he learned to appreciate music by listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in his hometown in Crete during the German occupation (1941-1944). That was his calling.

He entered the Paris Conservatory (1954-1959) and studied musical analysis under Olivier Messiaen and conducting under Eugene Bigot.

From then on, the Greek composer had a prolific and diverse career in music in parallel to his ardent political activism.

Theodorakis composed monumental works such as Epitaphios, To Axion Esti, The Mauthausen Trilogy, Canto General, Ta Lianotragouda, Zorba the Greek, Medea, Electra, Ballad of the Dead Brother and more.

His leftist beliefs, though, cost him imprisonment, torture and exile during the colonels’ junta (1967-1974), but also served as his muse throughout his life.

Theodorakis’ popularity in Germany

After the fall of the dictatorship Theodorakis returned from exile and started writing and  touring the world as if he wanted to make up for lost time.

At the time his work sounded heavily political while the crowds gathering in his concerts were like crowds in a political rally. His music like a call to arms.

Even “Zorba’s Dance” from the Aaward winner film took political connotations in the minds of audiences, with the Zorba character representing the unruly Greek who refuses to be shackled by the conservative society’s rules.

Theodorakis performed many times in Germany, where he was very popular. He had a thing for Germany himself, maybe because his inspiration to indulge in music came from the German master, Beethoven.

“I am a German composer born in the Aegean,” Theodorakis once said.

The Germans who spoke about the music of the Greek composer in the Deutsche Welle feature praise Theodorakis music.

They also praise the Greek spirit of the great composer. One woman put it best:

“Theodorakis’ music reflects the spirit of Greeks: “Never give up, be strong, have hope, and keep fighting.”

Maybe the two notes of “Zorba’s Dance” contain all that and make Theodorakis a true immortal.

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