Jani Christou


Fifth Period (1966-68)


music for continuum and variable ensemble comprising one group of performers for the continuum and one group for the 'happenings' (1968)


The concept of the 'continuum' became an ever increasing presence in Christou's last works, and indeed in Epicycle (1968) it becomes the single driving force behind the work. Epicycle is not a self-contained composition in the normal sense, but rather a recurring 'episode' that can be repeated in many versions and in varying lengths. The work consists of a tape, prepared by Christou, which served as a background continuum to various events, scored and un-scored and, in the world premiere, included a film by the painter Kosmas Xenakis, which also acted as the primary stage set. Performers taking part in the 'event' are free to drop 'in' or 'out' of the performance at will, and anyone observing is equally at liberty to enter the performance. Having set up the broad parameters of Epicycle Christou abdicates his role as composer in an act of almost, as Anna M Lucciano has noted, 'self-mortification'.

Click for Christou's commentary and notes on Epicycle

Anaparastasis I 'astronkateithanykteronomigyrin' for baritone and instrumental ensemble (1968)


The dramatic and psychological impetus for Anaparastasis I 'astronkateithanykteronomigyrin' comes from the prologue to Aeschylus's Agamemnon:

'My cry to the gods is for release from this year-long watch. Here, on the Atreidae's roof-top, I keep following the motions of the stars at night, crouched, dog-like, on my elbows. Those luminaries, bringing about our winters and summers - those stars, with their waxing and waning '

Christou's treatment of the text is unusual in that rather than setting the text word for word the baritone is called upon to interpret text in an altogether more psycho-dramatic manner. The key word is 'release'. The baritone attempts to deliver the text, but is only able to express the words through gesture which, although often distorted and unintelligible, evokes a more palpable, emotional, and therefore ritualistic, rendering of the text. The ensemble not only accompany the baritone, but actively participate and in the unfolding psychodrama.

Anaparastasis III 'The Pianist' for actor, ensemble and tapes 1968


Anaparastasis III 'The Pianist', one Christou's most celebrated late works, cuts deep into one the most primitive and universal fears of mankind - namely, the inability to communicate. The work unfolds against an unceasing continuum of electronic threads of sound which inform the psychodrama throughout. Stage directions and lighting are notated precisely. The pianist (actor) enters the stage in darkness and in a trance-like state and walks slowly to the piano. The volume of the music increases as does the stage lighting. After several abortive attempts to communicate with the piano in a traditional manner the pianist utters a terrible scream and becomes motionless. He tries again to communicate with the piano, this time crawling around beneath the piano caressing it and kissing it. Ensemble and tapes reach a terrifying climax. The pianist, now standing, faces the audience in apologetic manner. He gazes into the audience as if hypnotized. The music subsides. The continuum thread hangs in the air - there is no resolution.

Click for Christou's commentary and notes on 'The Pianist'

The Strychnine Lady for solo viola (female), five actors, instrumental ensemble, tapes, various sound objects and a red cloth (1967)

Christou described The Strychnine Lady for solo viola (female), five actors, instrumental ensemble, tapes, various sound objects and a red cloth (1967) as a 'ritual dream'. The work has two sources of inspiration. The first comes from C. G. Jung's volume Psychology and Alchemy in which a latin alchemical text relates the story of the self-mortification of Gabricus. The text tells how Beya (a woman) embraces Gabricus (a man) with such enthusiasm that Beya absorbs him completely into her womb and the two combine to form a new creature. The second originates from one of the composer's dreams (Christou kept dream journals throughout his life) in which he sees an anonymous announcement in a newspaper referring to a lady who 'supplies strychnine and unusual experiences' and how, in the dream, he sets out to find the lady only to find himself lost in a hotel amidst a crowd of people. The Strychnine Lady opens with an announcement made to the audience that, for technical reasons, the performance will not take place. An actress disguised as a member of the audience makes protestations, after which four actors appear on stage and perform a series of ritual actions including the spreading of a red cloth in the middle of the stage. Meanwhile, the viola player remains indifferent to the surrounding events. A process of 'auto-disintegration' follows, symbolized by the viola player withdrawing into herself until she reaches a point of collapse and ceases to play after which, as Fivos Anoyanakis has described she is "swallowed up in a strange silence" and is "covered with a red cloth, while some musicians, the trumpets players, surround her, and with slow, ritual-like motions and otherworldly sounds, seem to be calling out to her to re-emerge the eternal cycle of life and death".

Click for Christou's commentary and notes on The Strychnine Lady