A dialogue with Mikis Theodorakis

Mikis Theodorakis is undoubtedly one of the greatest Greek composers with worldwide recognition. Below is a dialogue we had with him a few years ago, which we think is interesting to republish because it addresses some philosophical issues through the lens of thinking of the great Greek composer.

R.A. Mr. Theodorakis it’s a great honor and pleasure for Radio Art team to have a dialogue with you and we would like to thank you very much for this opportunity.

M.T. It is also my pleasure to talk with people who have interests, a fact that distinguishes them especially nowadays.

R.A. Thank you. I would like to start our discussion with some philosophical questions. Which could be your answer to the question why we have come to existence?

M.T. This is something that nobody knew, knows or will ever know. And underneath, it proves our insignificance before the unexplored will of the Universal Laws of Creation.

R.A. You are right. This we will never learn. However, since we come to existence, we could be happy. What is happiness Mr. Theodorakis?

M.T. First of all, to live; to breathe, to see, to hear, to taste and if you are a human, to think, to dream, to wish and to afford.

R.A. How could we be led to the magical neighborhood of happiness?

M.T. Happiness is a totally subjective feeling, depending on the constitution and value of each person.

R.A. Can anyone finally approach it?

M.T. Certainly.

R.A. You have said that “If I look at my life, I will find faces, smiles, gestures, colors, emotions to partner me like migratory birds…” We imagine that these images that you have described so wonderfully both with lyrics and music, must constitute important islets of happiness for you.

M.T. Indeed. I can say that life has been generous with me. Until 18 years old, I lived in the Greek countryside passing through cities, places and meeting people quite different from each other. So, after the Aegean Sea (Chios, Mytilene, Syros), I met with the Ionian Sea (Argostoli), Epirus (Ioannina), Peloponnese (Patrai, Pyrgos, Tripoli).
These abrupt changes, making me feel rootless in really tender years, on the one hand enriched me but on the other hand hurt me, sharpening my sensitivity to the limit. It was not until the age of 12 that I discovered music, since then I never deserted it and it never deserted me. And this has been the secret of my happiness.
There followed thousands of adversities (that of course you know) and which led me to new acquaintances with our beautiful country. Nevertheless, as I was “rootless” in this case too, I met with new grievances and this was consequently fresh gain towards an acuter sharpening of my sensitivity in favor of music that even then it still did not desert me, not even in the bitterest moment. So, I met again with the beauty of the Aegean in the striking Ikaria and in the rocky Makronisos. These things happened during the domestic warfare. However, junta later did not forget about me. So, they sent me –for a change- to the mythical mountains of Arcadia, to breathe the life-giving oxygen of the firs. All these helped me be to be myself; me and music. In other words, the biggest, the most boundless happiness for a mortal.

R.A. Almost always, however, the islets or the moments of happiness deteriorate from cruel reality that pivots on money. Why Mr. Theodorakis money has become the most important idol for most people?

M.T. It is because human is on the one hand insecure and on the other hand greedy. Money furthermore satisfies both these needs. That is to say, it gives independence and power.

R.A. Taking music into consideration, what is music and how deeply can it influence the human soul? Can music contribute to the happiness of human?

M.T. It is one of the most authentic human characteristics, which distinguishes a human being from other forms of life. Namely, it is with music that one proves that is a human indeed. Only armed with culture and education one can seek happiness in the area of debt, spirit and art. Given that there is also the path of the beast that we all have inside also if and when it awakens and prevails, then it offers the brutal pleasure (happiness?) that leads to the bestial satisfaction that makes wild instincts joyfully dance in front of brutish actions. Might there be happier human beasts than those who can torture and diffuse pain and death?

R.A. Do you believe that music helps to understand the world?

M.T. According to the Pythagoreans and the Neopythagoreans like me, it is only music.

R.A. A little while ago we received an e-mail from a lady that does her PhD in the Panteion University concerning an experiment of a psychotherapeutic team through art and music from the internet. This lady asked us to put a link with Radio Art in the site of the team and also mentioned that during the psychotherapy the members of the team listen to music from Radio Art. This really impressed us and puzzled us a lot. Can music play a therapeutic role?

M.T. This I cannot know, because it necessitates special, scientific knowledge. However, because in “psychic illness” there is the word psyche, I will tell you Pythagoras’ opinion about soul, in order to see how he describes it and what role he considered it to have. The Pythagoreans had explored and linked their harmonic theory of the planet spheres with Music and Psyche. The relationship between psyche and planets pertains to an internal immersion of a higher nature to a stellar itineracy to the roots of the being, where the tragic agony of human before the last’s powerlessness to apperceive the inconceivable of infinity and boundlessness converts into pain, from which one tries to set free (…) by means of psychic ecstasy.
Is the alleged psychically ill one step beyond the sane? Are they “touched” by the -definitely hyper logical- “inconceivable of Infinity and Boundlessness” that helped them in a “psychic ecstasy” from which we sane people try to draw?

R.A. Do you distinguish any of your works and why?

M.T. From the beginning, I tried to configure a set of musical works that are intertwined forming acoustic constellations, which collectively conclude to the creation of a Musical Galaxy. Even though I wasted precious time in the community, however I managed to reach almost my boundaries creating a big space with works that I wanted and the way I wanted. So now I can deem that my works form a WHOLE, in which every part has its appropriate position, plays its own role and therefore you cannot differentiate them.

R.A. What you said about the link of your work to a musical galaxy was quite interesting. We would like to abide for a while by what you said about the community. Do you consider that you lost precious time interfering with the community?

M.T. Certainly. Again, this is something that I realized very late. That is to say when I realized that both my own as well as my comrades’ and fellow contesters’ sacrifices had been infinitely bigger than the ideals we fought for. For decades we did nothing but scatter through our bodies, our flesh, blood and pain to see finally, whoever finally survived, half of all these sucked by the ground, oblivion and ingratitude along with the other half scythed by others, failing unfortunately to understand and appreciate the quintessence of all these visions that had been far too high for their low stature.
I cannot of course deny my life. Furthermore, I must say that not only could I not do differently but also that my struggle for the community filled me with happiness in a different way than Music. But now that I see it all from some distance, I wonder if it was worth to contribute so much against my music, with which I believe that I would make much more interesting things, if I had the due time. Plus, I must say that the ghosts of the works that I did not do torture me unbearably and when you see me complaining for many immaterial things, I do it perhaps to hide the real truth, because naturally it is impossible for me to go back in time …

R.A. Is there a part of your work that you would like to have been played more times and if so, which is it and why do you think it has not been played?

M.T. My symphonic music, to be exact my Symphonies that are in fact oratorios and principally my “Tetralogy” (“Medea”, “Elektra”, “Antigone” and “Lysistrata”) that constitutes the culmination of my musical creation.

R.A. During your exciting life, you have met and cooperated with some of the most enlightened people of your generation but also younger. We would like you to distinguish some of them and to mention which of their fields of thought affected your own thought and creation.

M.T. In my life, indeed, I have always been open to extrinsic influences, certainly these that born inside feelings of admiration. I never hesitated to use the verb “admire”, even if it was to speak for a contemporary of mine. Moreover, I admit I envied and envy is still only something that can bring about my admiration from the classics to the contemporaries. So, I owe a part of my evolution to them that of course I studied deeply -as well as all the great people- trying to absorb and make mine every new element that I considered to be great. In this attempt it is natural to exist in my work many unassimilated elements, something that we shall find in all the authors, even the greatest ones. After all I said, I think that it is unnecessary to make any reference to names, once something like this requires great responsibility, attention and space…

R.A. You are right that you do not want to mention names. We would like us to move backward a little in our dialogue, to the point where you told us that you belong to
the Neopythagoreans. As far as we know, the Neopythagoreans represent the ideal of Pythagorean life, to be exact purity, wisdom, universal tolerance and approach to the divine through numbers. Isn’t it?

M.T. In simpler words, it is to live consciously. That is to say to know our origin and life; who we are finally and what our relationship with the Laws of Life is at a planetary level.

R.A. What is your relationship with the divine? Do you consider religion divine, every religion? Maybe something higher than this?

M.T. The concept of Divinity differs according to nation and individual, just like the reasons that cause the need to appeal to this. There is a big spectrum from the simplest feeling to the highest and most complex, from the most prosaic to the most mental. Usually, various religions come to serve and satisfy this profound human need. For me, however, there are other roads to follow in quest for the divine besides religion, like for example Philosophy and Art.

R.A. On which philosophical axis should education move in an ideally civilized country?

M.T. Generally I would say, around the humanistic education axis. Especially for us, Greeks, I would add also the word “Greek” with centre the diachronic Greek element from Homer and Pythagoras to the contemporary intellectuals and Greek mental authors. And of course every person and action that connects to the humane and Greek character.

R. A. We have seen many people, who when they have power, they come closer to evil.  Why does it happen?

M.T. Power constitutes the reason of all afflictions that humanity has endured and still endures. It is this that transforms Angels to Demons, Saviors to Tyrants and rebels to Tsars. Power means violence and war and until today it seems invincible like cancer.

R.A. Which is the most interesting thing that your eyes have seen until today?

M.T. The Parthenon of Ictinus.

R.A. What would you like to say to the youths, to all the youths, even to those who study and to those who work but also to those who are indignant and disappointed from the social system?

M.T. To lean inside them responsibly and try to get to know reality that surrounds them as objectively as they can. To study, to analyze, to learn, to see without blinders and creeds and to take their lives in their hands, seriously and responsibly with the only power that people have until now, co-ordination, unity and massiveness. Only then will they discover the right form of assertion and fight, after having ended up united of course in the right targets.

R.A. If you went back in time, would you delete some things that you have done?

M.T. I don’t think so. Just like what we say in chess, I consider all my moves “compulsory” (force).

R.A. Is there a way not to fear death?

M.T. We must fear death. Otherwise, we would not be normal and alive. For example, when I think that after me Hymettus will still exist, just like it was at the time when Aeschylus’ and Socrates’ eyes looked at it and a thousand hundred years ago… I envy it and rebel against it. But what can I do?

R.A. The American poet Allen Ginsberg has said “that death is an aspect of void…Void is present at all times in life”. Do you agree with this?

M.T. It’s a little difficult for me to conceive this meaning. For me there is no mystery in death. We just come back where we came from. Dust to Dust.

R.A. Is there a question to which you would like to have found an answer in your life but you haven’t until today?

M.T. Of course. Who and why brought me here, since that someone is going to take me back again…If it was a joke, I find it tasteless…

R.A. We do not know who brought you here Mr. Theodorakis, but whoever did that, he made a great present, not only in Greece but also all around the world. With your music you made our hearts move in these islets of happiness that we discussed beforehand. And we are certain that these feelings will be received through your work by the following generations too.

M.T. Thank you. I would just like to add that I valued, took delight in and honored with my wholeness the gift of life.

R.A. How would you like your work to be treated? (I wish in many years from now)

M.T. With love.

R.A. We find this simple, almost one-word answer exceptional. Maybe this word can heal everything. Do you believe this?

M.T. I know that most people for various reasons let the real-life pass by unnoticeably. And they leave without knowing how important it is to live, to see, to hear, to taste, to love and to discover the beauty of life even in the slightest detail; the various colors, fragrances, music, east and west, the moon and the dome of the sky with the galaxies, the blue sea and the challenge of the horizons. To want and to dare. To get up and fall down. To rejoice and to ache… What are all these? The gift of life! And which is its core that adjusts harmony inside and around? Love!

R.A. Thank you very much, Mr. Theodorakis

M.T. The pleasure is mine

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