Nikos Skalkotas is considered as one of the most influential Greek composers of the 20th century. His musical background was mainly rooted to the classical repertoire and the Greek traditional music. He was born on 21 March, 1904 in Chalkida (Evoia, Greece) and was a member of the Second Viennese School*. His musical ability was probably influenced by his family environment. His second grandfather, Alexandros Skalkotas, was a prominent singer, violinist, and composer of folk music. His father, Alekos Skalkotas, was a self-taught flautist and gave Nikos some introductory instruction on how to play the violin.
Nikos Skalkotas began his violin lessons under the direction of his uncle, Costas, and continued at the Athens Conservatory by graduating with high distinction in 1920. A year later he received a scholarship from the Averoff Foundation and went to Berlin. He stayed there for the following twelve years and took violin lessons at the Prussian Academy of Arts given by Willy Hess. In 1923 Nikos Skaltotas stopped playing the violin by deciding to become a composer. He was taught the art of composition by Robert Kahn, Paul Juon, Kurt Weill and Philipp Jarnach. In 1933 (when Hitler came to power) Skalkotas returned to Athens and survived by playing in various orchestras. Another reason why Skalkottas came back to Greece could be the end of his scholarship that was funded until then. In Athens Skalkottas tried to get another funding through scholarship but he felt really disappointed by realizing the difficult state of musical affairs at that time in Athens.
*The Second Viennese is the group of composers that comprised Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils and close associates in early 20th century Vienna, where he lived and taught, sporadically, between 1903 and 1925. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Viennese_School
Nikos Skalkotas' early works, (most works written in Berlin but also in Athens), are lost. His remaining works (1922-1924) are the following; piano compositions and orchestration of Cretan Feast by Dimitris Mitropoulos. Among the works written in Berlin are the sonata for solo violin, several works for piano, chamber music and some symphonic works. Although during the period 1931-1934 Skalkottas did not compose anything, he resumed composing in Athens and continued until his death. His output comprised symphonic works (36 Greek Dances, the symphonic overture The Return of Ulysses, the fairy drama Mayday Spell, the Second Symphonic Suite, the ballet The Maiden and Death, works for wind orchestra and several concertos), chamber, vocal and instrumental works including the huge cycle of 32 Piano Pieces.
in 1949 Skalkotas died unexpectedly due to a hernia which had been neglected by him. Thus, various symphonic orchestrations of him remained unfinished. Most of his compositions were presented after his death. Apart from his purely musical work, he also compiled an important theoretical work, consisting of musical articles, a treatise of orchestration, musical analysis, etc. Skalkottas managed to form his own style of music writing at a very short period. Each of his teachers’ influence was absorbed by him in a really creative way. That creativity resulted to an absolute personal and recognizable way of composition.
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