WRITTEN WORK - Letters and Speeches
1Nicolas Economou’s speech delivered
on the occasion of his being awarded the prize of the Central
Committee of AKEL for his contribution to the Music, Arts & Culture.
Because I know that “thanks” speeches are usually boring, I would like to begin mine with a fairy tale.
Once upon a time there lived a poor family and because the parents were poor, they could not maintain their three boys, so they decided to take them to the forest and leave them on their own. The youngest boy of the three, who overheard their parents’ decision, the next day, before setting off, filled his pockets with pebbles and on their way to the forest was dropping a pebble, at intervals, so that he could find his way back home. To cut the story short you all know the fairy tale and to avoid the risk to become boring I shall not go on, since I am not a good narrator. I shall remind you only that in the fairy tale the three boys return home, after adventures in forests, waterfalls, deserts, open seas with sharks, jungles full of wild animals, rich and powerfull to give their parents comfort and wealth and they lived happily ever after. Fairy tale! End.
I don’t think an explanation is needed why I referred to this fairy tale. Tefkros Anthias and Theodosis Pierides who (Theodosis Pierides) it may sound funny, was my childhood friend, they both went through jungles, before they could find their way home, our island, Cyprus. But because reality is not a fairy tale, one begins to discover things more magical and strange and the ending “... they lived happily ever after”, wipe it out from the block board.
As one goes on in life is confronted with the same tempests, jungles, monsters within his home and because the poet is fighter he goes on fighting because there is no other way to make your home happy.
Our poets returned home neither rich nor powerful. And Cyprus was a small household in turmoil from the political, social and national struggles. In such a jostle of noise the voice of the poet was hardly heard. In reality, one needs a lot of courage and dignity to sing to the deaf and in the noise, not to resign, knowing that life without beauty reduces itself to a headless cow, in other words without the centre of consciousness of our human existence.
From the very beginning of history, human struggles had a target, to tame the animal element in man and to ennoble the human.
Arts are the sum of human experience with a projection to the future and that is why, apart from hope - so indispensable for life - the ennobled consciousness automatically translates itself in better codes of human behaviour. Because this is what is all about. What use one has of knowledge, books, music, philosophy, science, if we continue to steal the chicken of our neighbour.
Naturally the question goes deeper. The behaviour of each one of us as individuals in an isolated act and as such is judged. Our behaviour as a society is a political act. “Man is a political animal”, Aristotle said, which means that man, although an individual, forms part of the whole, of the city (POLIS).
Pierides wrote: I sing, I sing my island / which is so small to be able / like a bird to hold in my palm / which is so big to be able / to hold the whole humanity / the way only one drop of water encompasses / the wide ocean which gave birth to it.
In other words if we analyze the stand that the overall behaviour is a political act, we conclude that since the whole consists of individuals, the individual behaviour is also a political act.
Until today the world is divided between those who believe that they have the right to steal the chicken of their neighbour and to bring him before justice if he tries to steal theirs and to those who believe that with the culture, the work, the imagination and dignity we shall reach a world where the idea to steal even half a chicken, will ever pass anybody’s mind.
You will excuse us, the poets, but that is our dream for thousands of years. In the opinion of chicken thieves Poetry exists only because of social contradictions and that men are divided between the strong and the weak and that justice destroys human creativity - the strong must steal the chicken of the weak in order to perpetuate the human species- whereas in fact it is to perpetuate, the, at each time, status quo.
The poets do not believe in the strong and in the weak, because they know well the weakness and the strength within each man. They know it, from themselves and observation of others. After all that is why they are poets.
A craftsman furniture maker feels more satisfaction and happiness in finishing a chair than having a rich meal. It is therefore the sparkle of creation that keeps the human species alive. Stealing conserves the animalistic element in man. In an ennobled human world, poetry will find more oxygen to breathe, free from the tare of knavery, taking deep roots into the earth and flying beyond the stars for the sake of inquisitiveness, solidarity, play and love.
Friends of my childhood were not only Theodosis Pierides, they were also two other members of AKEL, Dervish Kavazoglou and Michalakis Kousoulides. Looking back at their self sacrifice to-day it is difficult to understand it. And yet my friends man worth’s nothing if he hasn’t got in him that metaphysical poetic sparkle.
And the proof, Devish Kavazoglou a very strong man who fought for men, not against them. Those were of course other times, other epochs.
To conclude Cyprus today is not poor and in spite of Attila’s threat, prospers. That is why there is no excuse for the slow tempo in our cultural and spiritual development.
Closing I wish, together with my thanks, for the great honour bestowed on me with this award, to say that I am glad that now fresh people are taking over the responsibility in AKEL, glad that we have a really talented modern and capable president (he refers to Mr Vassiliou) and particularly glad because the old friends, at least most of them, they are still there. The pebbles of Kontorevithoulis (the younger brother in the fairy tale) they will be bringing me always back to them.
I thank you for your love.
2NICOLAS ECONOMOU: MY INTERPRETATION
Although the two works on this recording were inspired by other, pre-existing works (Pictures at an Exhibition relates to a memorial exhibition for the painter Victor Hartmann, Kreisleriana to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Phantasiestucke in Callots Manier), they have nothing else in common. The first is Russian and one might go so far as to describe it as a forerunner of pop music. The other is perhaps the ultimate paradigm of German Romanticism.
Let’s set aside generalities like the fact that both pieces have a structure that permits the performer to play variations on the notes printed in the score (a liberty I take in both). Schumann himself wrote several versions of Kreisleriana; Mussorgsky wrote his Pictures at an Exhibition as a first draft for a symphonic work, and also altered it several times.
Pictures at an Exhibition is, so to speak, a “volitional work, in which the only recurring theme is the “Promenade”. There is no connection between the individual pictures. Kreisleriana, for all its exalted Romanticism, has its roots in the precedents and techniques of Classicism, and consequently elaborates its basic thematic material in a highly systematic fashion.
Reaching for architectural analogies, the one is like St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square in Moscow with its harmonious asymmetries, the other like one of the great Gothic cathedrals - Notre-Dame or Cologne - ordered and yet playful, rich in accretions of legend, myth and superstition.
It would be hard to find two more different compositions. It is the very contrast that attracted me to the idea of bringing Pictures at an Exhibition and Kreisleriana together on one recording. If I had paired Kreisleriana with another piece by Schumann, the listener might have preferred one to the other, given the extreme Romanticism of Kreisleriana. But Pictures at an Exhibition is Mussorgsky’s most original work, and neither of them is in any danger of suffering from the comparison.
Mussorgsky’s exhibition visitor is at first only a looker, an outsider, but by the end of the work he is part of the whole, that is, of “The Future of Mankind”, in the sense that mankind (Mussorgsky’s Russian in “The Great Gate of Kiev”) embraces the individual in a solidarity in which, although the individual remains irreplaceable, mankind as a whole is stronger as it advances. My compatriot, the Cypriot Theodossis Pierides, once wrote: “ I love my island, which is so small, like a drop in the ocean, and yet so large, because the ocean is made up of many drops”.
Schumann’s Kreisler represents the other extreme.
He is thrown into a society far removed from Mussorgsky’s “mankind-as-a-whole”, a society in which, as an artist, he has no place. But precisely because he is an artist - that is, a human being who loves - he tries to become part of the whole, but all his attempts end in failure. After his great declaration of love for all mankind (no.6), he is seized by the egotistical pride of the “higher” being (no. 7), rising to indifference and derision (no.7, coda). In the eighth and last piece Kreisler is on the moon, where there are no human beings, and therefore no “mankind-as-a-whole”. He talks to himself:
madness? schizophrenia? egomania? - one thing is certain: the complete isolation of the individual. And it is in this contrast between the two works that their similarity lies. They both address the same problem of the relationship between the individual human being and humanity as a whole, and both composers. Mussorgsky and Schumann, believed profoundly in the communion of all creative human beings. The enthusiasm that Schumann embodied in the League of David marching against the Philistines stirred both Mussorgsky and Hartmann, the painter of the pictures, and existed in Mendelssohn, who rediscovered and disseminated the music of Bach, and in Rimsky-Korsakov, who orchestrated his friends’ music. We find this attitude in all creative people, who know that all creativity is joined in a living relationship, and the only certain way to immortality is to create works
that engage human attention. Today, when we see walls falling down between individuals and nations, I think it’s good to show (even on a CD) that long before us people’s dreams made such things happen. I hope that the dreams we dream today may become reality one day.
(Translation: Mary Whittall)
3Excerpts from a letter to Mrs. Hope
Rome, October 11th, 1988
… As I told you I am one of the few piano players coming from a western country having been educated at the Moscow Conservatory. I got a scholarship after I passed successfully the audition. At my knowledge it was the only case in the history of the Conservatory that a foreigner was getting a direct scholarship. After eight years visiting the school, unfortunately, I got problems with the political discipline, starting to ask these questions which are now slowly and gradually answered under the Perestroika.
Although it was the best possible place for a music education, I left Moscow before ending my studies, because I was unable to bear the sticky air of a regime which was based on pressure, suspiciousness and hypocrisy. …
As a cypriot in Germany, without any protection, it was not in my interest to participate in competitions as I know how the logic of this kind of “quality tests” is working. Nevertheless, I started extending thoroughly my repertory and specialized myself in the classic romantic repertory. My preferences were the work of Schumann and Beethoven who are representing to me the highest possible level reached in our music culture for piano composition. …
Furthermore I would like to write to you some of my thoughts about modern piano playing and how I see myself as a pianist.
The perfection of the music recordings has a big influence on the way pianists play today because, with the possibility of obtaining a perfect execution on a record, there is a demand for a perfect performance on the stage. Trying to achieve this, many pianists had to give up some spontaneity which is indispensable for making a piano recital exciting. Although the technique of pianists today is of much higher level, this is not compensating the lack of spontaneity. A pianist today must have in addition something "special", to be interesting to the audience. Nowadays everyone can have perfect recordings and the reason one goes to a concert is not just to hear a composition like in the times prior to hi-fi, but to have a direct musical experience. My piano playing on stage generates a direct contact to the audience, and is never "boring". Because of my experience as a composer, when I study a new composition, I never listen to other pianists playing this composition before I have it ready. I try to bring to life the ideas of the composer by studying his score. In this way a composition can always be played and heard freshly and my performances were always very well received by the public.
My wish for the future is to have the possibility to make more concerts on a more systematical basis. I would like to play the compositions I have been perfectioning during the years and which are very important to me (Kreisleriana, Fantasia C-major from Schumann for example) and, as well, to learn new pieces, solo and with orchestra.
4Excerpt from a letter to Martha Argerich, Munich 16.05.1984
Martha my dear,
… Believe me I would be the last person to want to you to do something you don’t want. We had many plans together and I think it is pity to give them up. But all these plans have a meaning if the come out of deep conviction and confidence in each other as friends and as artists. There for I consider this letter “historical” because I want to set a point in our relationship. Is it a creative one, or a small talk one, which means a real creative friendship can exist only if people built up together their existence or to say otherwise, the existence of the one is essential for the other.
Of course your relation to me will not be judged by the fact if you play with me in June or not, but something deeper than this. For example Klaviersommer. We didn’t start it because we wanted to establish another fucking festival but out of the wish to communicate with different pianists and show the affection we have for each other to the public, now, these times when people reflect their miserable image in the mirror. Of course we wouldn’t do it only for the others but for ourselves too. There for this year it was impossible for me and Karlheinz to find a concept for the Klaviersommer and we always said that without you there is no point going on. On the other hand we must save our face, because everybody expects us to present something. But we always hope that you will join us again so that we can develop new projects in the future. For example it would be great if you could play with Michel the Stravinsky concerto at this Klaviersommer. But as I sad “we wish” or “we hope”. You must wish it too. Otherwise there is no point. If there are any reasons you don’t want to work with me, or any you don’t want to work with Karlheinz, let me know. That’s all I am asking for. So when you get this letter phone me please. And if you don’t phone, I will phone, to make it easy.
Martoula, I can not help loving you, whatever your attitude is towards all these things I wrote in this letter. I always remember the beautiful moments we had together and I am sure we are going to have a lot of them. I embrace you my friend.
5Letter to The General Secretary of the Central Committee of the USSR comrade M. S. Gorbachev
Honourable Mikhail Sergeyevich!
I am writing to you as a man who has spent his juvenile years and his youth in Russia-studies at the central music school of the Moscow Conservatory and then at the Conservatory-and whose spiritual formation was based on Russian civilization, therefore he is attached to your country by special bonds. I am 33 years old; I was born in Cyprus but live in the Federal Republic of Germany. I am a Marxist by conviction. I work as a pianist and a composer.
Notwithstanding the fact that I envisage artistic activity as my vocation, in the light of today’s political developments in the USSR I find it practically impossible to confine myself to issues of art. If during the hard times of the October revolution the poets were obliged to become its soldiers and risk their lives for it, it would be unforgivable for us who are living the joys of this revolution to stand aside while the times demand of each one of us a more intense participation still in defending and regenerating its ideals.
I would like, honourable Mikhail Sergeyevich, to share with you certain thoughts about our common cause.
Humanity is currently going through a crucial period of its history. On the one hand we have the presence of the technological revolution – we have at our disposal all the means that can liberate man from his primitive dependence on nature. There are means capable of affording dignity to human labour, to elevate it even higher and provide much needed time for man to educate himself.
On the other hand, however, human society still functions in the old framework of personal interests, in the outdated social bourgeois system that is. There is no need to recall that in the formative stage of bourgeois society, when it had ample time to expand, the personal interest provided the generating force for the development of productive relations. However, from the moment bourgeois society had exhausted its capabilities and was no longer able to feed on new expansions, it has been constantly obliged to change its own internal equilibrium, with an obvious propensity to find expression in the accumulation of capital and mass society. This mass society, however, is not able to get rid of the ideology of individualism, because it could not otherwise continue to justify itself. But since real individualism is no longer the characteristic of such society, it is constantly forced to substitute it with something artificial that resembles parody. This substitution is expressed in all the sectors of social life, in politics, in the economy, in the arts and so forth. A classic example of this phenomenon is the fact that whereas previously bourgeois politicians where obliged to have acting abilities in order to be more convincing, we now see more or less successful actors becoming politicians, only because by representing the interests of the ruling class, they are obliged to play roles which were popular before.
However, we live in the present and we have to build the future. In spite of the fact that we possess of all the means to “pass from the prehistory of man to his history” –Marx – we see that these means still function within antiquated social frameworks and hang menacingly over our heads: the computers, for one, are not a supporting force to social work, they are not a supporting force in making economic planning simpler, they are not the servants of humans in a society free from the exploitation of man by man, but a tool for perfecting state control over one’s personality, a tool of assisting the multinational companies and a tool for finding the coordinates of atomic missiles. Atomic energy for another is not used for the achievements of man in outer space, but as a means of mass destruction. There is also modern music technology, which is not used to create a correspondingly new quality music and esthetics in general, but to make perfect reproductions of the old barbaric instincts. Personal freedom as well is not used for purposes of education, research and honest human relations free of vulgar or material interests, but for self-destruction, cynicism, indifference and selfishness, all leading to the fall and dissolution of spiritual values and criteria. The mass information media are not a means of human communication, which would have helped to eliminate the vast distances separating people and bring them closer together, they are not a means of social dialogue for the solution of social problems and the popularization of human creativity, but carriers of deliberate lies and misinformation, a tool for fine brainwashing and mind control in the service of the interests of the economic oligarchy, et al.
Marxist analysis of the contradictions of bourgeois society has led to the conclusion that there are only two options for humanity: socialism or degeneration into barbarism. The two World Wars offer a classic example of such degeneration. The threat of a relapse to barbarism is more evident in our days than ever before. Even Marx and Lenin were not able to guess the dramatic dilemma with which the bourgeois society would be faced in the era of atomic weapons. Even if we assume that by maintaining the status quo, the world will escape self destruction from an atomic war, modern industry and technology on the social basis of unruly production threaten to destroy the biological foundation of human existence. This means that socialism is humanity’s only hope.
The foundations of international socialism were laid in the October revolution, which manifested itself in the less developed of European powers – the Russian empire. Whatever were the causes for which the USSR remained for many years the only labour state and an isolated one at that, its isolation ended with the reinforcement of the socialist camp achieved through the appearance of a series of new labour states in Eastern Europe at the end of World War II. The Chinese revolution was an important victory in East Asia. Notwithstanding these victories of Socialism, Western Europe and America remained alien to it and capitalism again began to develop forcefully on the ruins of Western Europe. The economy of Western Europe started to blossom and the dynamic technological revolution, having covered in 30-40 years more ground that it had taken from the invention of the wheel to the first airplane, made capitalism – at a first glance – unbeatable as never before. This, however, is but an optical illusion. Capitalism will never escape its contradictions and it has again started its downward trend.
The Soviet Union has ceased to be a distant and retarded country. On the contrary, it is one of the world’s leading powers. The fact that the USSR in the 70 years of its existence - in spite of outside interference and the serious political and economic distortions at home – has managed to rise to a leading power, proves the superiority of the socialist principles of production over the capitalistic ones. However, the socialist productive principles in themselves are not socialism yet. We must not forget that socialism not only constitutes an international system abolishing the national frontiers but – more importantly – is also incomplete inside these frontiers.
The mirror of every society is its culture. The Russian revolution, having destroyed bourgeois obstacles, gave a new impulse to world culture. One can confidently say that the most important thing our century has given to art has been the voluntary or involuntary reflection of the needs of the socialist revolution: Eisenstein, Picasso, Kadinsky, Chagall, Chaplin, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Brecht, Stanislavski, Breton, et al. The temporary withdrawal of the forces of international socialism resulted in a distortion of the workers’ state in the USSR. On the one hand, of course, the principles of socialist production were in operation, but on the other, they were being undermined by the domestic reactionary forces of backwardness. It is exactly this situation which is reflected in the culture of the USSR, making it sterile and faceless. This culture has not only ceased to give life to the rest of the world, but to the contrary soviet society is all the more being exposed to the invasion by the bourgeois culture of Western decadence, beginning with the innocent chewing gum and ending up with pornography and drugs. There are two conclusions to be drawn here: either American civilization is really something higher than humanity has ever produced to date, or we the socialist communists have ceased to fight for the creation of our own standards of civilization and of society as well. In the bourgeois society of failure, man lives in contradiction to his own personal nature: total disharmony resulting in a constant feeling of ugliness which leads to denial. Denial leads to the abstract perception of things and in this way the balance with reality is lost. People become idealists, mystics and isolated in themselves…
Mikhail Sergeyevich! I know what difficulties you are bound to face in the effort to rejuvenate soviet society. However, I am absolutely confident about the victory of your programme, for the exit of socialism from the deadlock is a historic necessity; in a contrary case, humanity will have no future. I believe in your struggle because it is a struggle for truth, and truth is always revolutionary.
Unfortunately, compromise and skepticism even among the most progressive western intelligentsia is unusually intense. Nevertheless, the spirit of hope is beginning to conquer people and many of the disappointed Marxists see the Soviet Union and recognize in it their class-conscious country. The fresh air of internationalism has blown with new force! Every positive step in the USSR has an immediate repercussion in the whole world. People, tired of the deadlocks of bourgeois society, are becoming all the more mature to accept socialism.
But nothing gets done without help. The new is inevitably met with reaction. Precisely for this reason, at the crucial turning points of history, it is necessary for the fighters who know, to place the entire arsenal of their capabilities and means in the service of a specific cause.
Honourable Mikhail Sergeyevich! I would very much like to meet you and to talk in detail with you about many things, which cannot be said in the few pages of a letter. In any case, I as a Marxist and artist wish to participate directly in your struggle, for this struggle is mine too.
With cordial greetings
6A letter to several other pianists
For a long time I have been pre-occupied with the problem of the relationship between the artist and the agent.
Agencies today, instead of being the tool in the service of the artists have reversed their role and the artist are becoming the tools in the hands of the agencies to serve agencies’ interests. I am sure each one of you is aware of this. Needless for me to point out that the agencies’ main concern is not the interests of the artist but their own, going as far as to dictate the repertoire to the artist, thus not only curtailing the creative ambitions and efforts of the artist but at the same time brainwashing the public with what they consider best for the public to listen to, or to see.
With the above in mind I came to the conclusion, after consultations with many artists and persons in the field of art, that the answer was in the establishment of an agency the aims of which would be first and foremost the serving and the promotion of artistical creation and the interests of the artists themselves, old and new.
The aim of the agency is not to deprive the artist of any present contacts but in the long run to have a body which will serve the artists, their world, their wishes and at the same time to give a chance to promote younger colleagues, which is difficult to do in the present framework, and furthermore to secure a continuity in the development of art influenced and supported by the artists active today, and not by marketing managers, who might be very professional in their own field but are not necessarily competent enough to take artistical decisions.
The Agency, which is called A.A.M. (Agence des Artistes et Media) aspires to orginize performances and other events on an international scale and go into productions in direct association with the artists and look after them and their interests.
Because the purpose is not to create an agency like the existing ones but to create an agency where the artists have a direct say, is requires the consensus, willingness and solidarity of the artists themselves. Therefore, I ask all the colleagues who agree with this idea to show their agreement by signing this document below.
P.S. The signing of this document is not legally binding.