Jani Christou


First Period (1948-53)

Phoenix Music for orchestra (1948/49)

Although Phoenix Music was Christou's first acknowledged work it nevertheless displays considerable maturity in terms of both musical invention and orchestration. Many of the characteristics that Christou went on to develop in his music can be found within its relatively short orchestral work, the most notable element being the 'Phoenix principle' i.e. the cycle reflecting: birth - evolution - drama - end - new beginning.

Freely atonal, the work grows organically from a small chromatic motivic-cell from which all subsequent material evolves in a continuous sequence of self-transformations which symbolises the perpetual regeneration of the mythical phoenix. This is also reflected in the overall symmetrical structure which comprises of five sections, played without pause, with the central section acting as a pivotal mechanism. The works mystical atmosphere contains orchestral writing of great beauty.

Symphony No. 1 (1951)

The First Symphony shares a similar sound-world to that of Phoenix Music, but here the overall tone is more tragic in character and the orchestral writing unfolds in a more linear fashion, either in passages of melodic lines or blocks of sound patterns. The first movement has been effectively described by Anna M. Lucciano as: 'a 'sequence of dominoes' in which the relationships become increasingly more complex as the sequence proceeds from one domino to the next'.

In stark contrast with the outer movements, the central movement introduces a lyrical element in the form of a setting, for mezzo soprano, of T. S. Eliot's poem 'Eyes that Last I saw in Tears', which Christou also incorporated (with different orchestration) into the Six T. S. Eliot Songs of 1955. The inspired introduction of the voice not only contrasts a very human element against the purely abstract sound elements of the outer movements, but also acts a transition to the gradual construction of the first movement and the subsequent deconstruction of the final movement.

Latin Mass for mixed chorus, brass and percussion (1951)

The Latin Mass was composed in the same year as the First Symphony, and probably received its first performance in Siena shortly afterwards, though no documentation exists to confirm this.