ATHENS – The remarkable concert presented on October 9 by the B & M Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts and Music in its beautiful building across the street from the Greek Parliament proves that not all as-yet-unknown treasures of Greek history are buried in the ground.
Titled Philhellenic Music – Byron and the Muses: English and American Philhellenism, two fine sopranos, Fanie Antonellou and Katia Paschou, and gifted accompanist Maria Papapetropoulou, transported the audience 200 years back in time.
The guests were welcomed and the artists and historical background were presented by Fotis Papathanasiou, the Foundation’s General Director.
He informed the audience that Philhellenism in the years of the Greek revolution formed “a unique artistic movement in all media lasting up to 50 years after 1821.” The artists were moved by their appreciation of Hellas’ cultural contributions, a sense of duty to liberate their fellow Christians, and a desire to express liberal sentiments in the oppressive Age of Metternich.
He added that women played a disproportionate role, and that after the Greek triumph they devoted their passion and experience running committees and societies to the causes of women’s rights – movements strengthened by the fact that they were among the most charming women of their time, grand hostesses of salons that were magnets for the most influential members of society.
Byron, or course, was vital to the cause. “He was more than a poet, he was a rock star, a ‘bad boy’” of aristocratic rank and liberal views,” he noted.
Historians are aware of more than 300 pieces of music dedicated to the cause of Greek independence, 180 songs in French and much of the remainder in English, texts filled with allusions to the glory and heroes of both ancient and 19th century Greece.
Some of the songs presented at the concert, heretofore unknown to non-specialists, were performed at the 1820s fundraisers and others were composed later, inspired by the Revolution.
The intimate auditorium and the elegant gowns of the musicians evoked the salons on both sides of the Atlantic where guests, impelled by the news of the suffering – and triumphs – of the Hellenes gathered to raise funds for the noble cause.
While all the carefully chosen pieces were delightful, perhaps the evening’s most moving moments were the duets that opened and closed the concert with music set to Thomas Moore’s cycle titled Evenings in Greece. When Evening Shades are Falling was set to music by Mozart, and Henry Bishop composed The Sky is Bright. In the middle of the series of songs, the ladies sang another lovely duet, The Greek Exile – Ballade, music by Robert Arkwright for a poem by Mrs. Hermans.
The songs presented by Antonellou included Byron’s Farewell by J.H. McNaughton, The Grecian Daughter – A Ballad, music by Joseph Phillip Knight and poem by Thomas Haybes Bayly; The Two Fountains, composed by Henry Bishop for a poem from Evenings in Greece; Song of the Captive Greek Girl, music by J.W. Hobbs, poem by Miss Pardoe; The Death of a Grecian Warrior, by Henry Bishop; and Grecian Song – In honor of the great naval victory in the Bay of Navarino.
Paschou’s songs included, Weeping for Thee, music by Massamino for Evenings in Greece; When I Left Thy Shores, O Naxos, an original Greek air set to a poem by Byron; and Hark I Hear the Harem Bells, by C.A. Hodson.
She also presented a setting by renowned composer Charles Gounod of Byron’s Maid of Athens and offered a thrilling rendition of Songs of the Greek Amazon, and E. Ives’ setting of a poem by William Cullen Bryant.
Along with classical studies, Antonellou has also studied Early and Byzantine music. In 2005 she won the Grand Prix in the category Oratorio-Lied at the Maria Callas Grand Prix competition in Athens.
Paschou’s roles abroad include Violetta, Adina, and Susanna. She is well-known in Greece for her classical repertoire and her activity in contemporary music with Leto’s Song by Moraitis-Papageorgiou and A Short Story by Koropoulis-Papadatos.
The Bassilis and Marina Theocharakis Foundation’s “first aim,” according to its website, “is to promote Music and the Fine Arts, both nationally and internationally… Through the Foundations’ varied activities, we aim to promote the work of Greek artists within Greece and abroad.”