Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949)

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Episodes

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01Letters From Berlin20120423

Donald Macleod explores Skalkottas's promising start as a composer.

Nikos Skalkottas' life story doesn't follow the usual trajectory of struggle, recognition and success - in fact, when the Greek composer died, at the age of 46, virtually none of his 150 or so works had been published or even performed in public. But in his early years he shone as a violin prodigy, winning a scholarship to study in Berlin. Donald Macleod looks at Skalkottas' promising start, the opportunities he had and friendships he made in the cultural hub of Europe in the 1920s, and his decision to become a composer.

02I Am Now Schoenberg's Right Hand20120424

Donald Macleod on Skalkottas's studies with Schoenberg in the early 1930s in Berlin.

Skalkottas became one of Schoenberg's favoured pupils during his studies with him in the early 1930s in Berlin. But while Skalkottas was exploring 12 tone method with his teacher, he also developed an interest in Greek folk music. This was an exciting time for Skalkottas, but one that was fraught with financial difficulties, until a rich patron, Manolis Benakis, agreed to sponsor him, on condition that the composer help him deal in manuscripts, books and records in return. This arrangement would prove difficult for the depressive and reclusive Skalkottas, as Donald Macleod discovers.

03Everything Is A Big Disappointment20120425

Donald Macleod focuses on Skalkottas's reluctant return to Greece from Berlin.

Skalkottas managed to burn his bridges both with his patron and with potential employers in Greece in the early 1930s, and after Hitler's rise to power in 1933, the composer, now deeply in debt, was put on a train back to Athens and his passport impounded. On his return, he had a complete nervous breakdown. The only thing he lived for was composition, and for the next ten years he would write music at a prolific rate. With Donald Macleod

04The Hidden Man20120426

Donald Macleod focuses on Skalkottas's experiences during the Second World War in Greece.

In Athens Skalkottas had to go back to being a working musician again, joining the orchestra of the Athens Conservatory. The former violin gold-medallist of the Conservatory took his place on the front desk of the first violins, but over the next few years, he found himself humiliatingly demoted, until he was relegated to the back desk, where he stayed for the rest of his life. He felt frustrated, depressed and isolated, and gradually withdrew into an inner exile, playing in the orchestra by day, and composing at night. During the Nazi occupation of Greece Skalkottas didn't engage with the war going on around him, but found himself suspected of being a member of the resistance and imprisoned in Haidari concentration camp by the SS. Donald Macleod explores this, the most difficult period of Skalkottas' life.

05 LASTI'll Go Away To Araby20120427

Donald Macleod explores the sad end to Skalkottas's ill-starred life.

The last three years of Skalkottas' life were played out against the background of Greece's descent into the brutal chaos of civil war. Despite the conflicts and the disintegration going on around him, things were going quite well for Skalkottas - he got married, and now concentrating on tonal music, he at last began to hear his pieces performed in Athens. But his ill-starred life ended, two days before the birth of his second son, just as he had begun to find happiness and recognition. Given the way he had been marginalised since his return to Greece, there were several overly sentimental tributes to him by members of the establishment after his death. Donald Macleod explores the final tragic chapter of Skalkottas' life.