Zervanos, Lydia. Singing in Greek: A Guide to Greek Lyric Diction and Vocal Repertoire.
The widespread adoption of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for the study of lyric diction has produced singers who are adept in performing repertoire in many languages. This linguistic proficiency, and the proliferation of pronunciation guides and transcription collections, enables singers to perform repertoire not included in concert programs until recently. The newest addition to the resources for singers focuses on the lyric diction and song repertoire of Greece. Authored by Lydia Zervanos, the book follows the paradigm established by Timothy Cheek in Singing in Czech: A Guide to Czech Lyric Diction and Vocal Repertoire (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2001).
It is Cheek, in fact, who contributes the foreword. In it he points out that the Greek language is ideally suited for singing because it has only five vowels, all of which are pure. Greek contains no glottal stops or double consonants, and there is frequent occurrence of palatalization, whereby nonpalatal consonants are changed to palatal consonants. Zervanos, in the introduction to the sounds of the language, adds details to Cheek's broad characterizations. Digraphs, which are two vowel letters that produce a single vowel sound or vowel-consonant combination, are very common, while diphthongs, sounds formed by moving from one vowel to another, are very rare. In addition to the prevalence of palatalization, Greek also is marked by assimilation, or the connection of words.
Zervanos leads the reader through a detailed explanation of each sound, including advice for pronunciation and representative words. Audio examples of each sound are available on the publisher's website, a feature that makes the volume eminently practical, for it is impossible to learn the pronunciation of a language without aural aids. The author also recognizes that an ability to pronounce the sounds of Greek is useful only if it is applied to repertoire; accordingly, the volume offers an introduction to Greek art music in general, and vocal music in particular.
The historical overview is preluded by a brief discussion of the music of the late 18th century, but the study begins in earnest with the composers of the mid-19th century. This group, which is known as the Ionian or First-Generation School of Music, includes the composer Nikolaos Halikiopoulos-Mantzaros (1795-1872), who wrote the Greek national anthem. The next generation of Greek music was the National School; Manolis Kalomiris (1883-1962) is acknowledged as the founder of this movement that sought to combine pure Greek motifs with aspects of the German, French, and Russian models of music. An important facet of Greek vocal music was operetta, which flourished in the first three decades of the 20th century. Finally, after the mid-20th century, Greek composers were influenced by contemporary compositional styles, giving rise to the modernism. Mikis Theodorakis (b. 1925) and Iannis Xenakis (1921-2001) are exponents of this period. Both are well known outside of Greece, the former for film scores (including those for Serpico and Zorba the Greek) and the latter for his influence on post-war avant-garde music.
The historical overview is important because most Greek composers are relatively unknown to the rest of the world. Zervanos lists more than sixty composers in the survey, yet only Theodorakis and Xenakis have international reputations. For performers who are interested in programming Greek songs, the volume contains more than 50 transcriptions and translations of songs, arias, duets, and chamber music. Zervanos includes the Greek national anthem, the Olympic hymn, and excerpts from operettas. Five Greek Folk Songs by Maurice Ravel is also included; the author states that the skillful translation by Calvocoressi justifies singers presenting this cycle in either French or Greek.
Singers who are familiar with the aforementioned book by Cheek will recognize the same methodic approach to explaining pronunciation. In addition, Zervanos includes contact information for publishers of Greek music and other organizations (such as libraries) that are sources for this repertoire. A listing of Greek writers is another helpful resource. This volume is highly recommended for performers who want to explore Greek vocal music.
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|Publication:||Journal of Singing|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2016|
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