Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Jani Christou - s/t (2001 compilation, rec. 1967-77)

Jani Christou (1926-1970) was a Greek composer, born in Heliopolis in Egypt, and before his death at just 44 in a car accident, produced some truly mindblowing and disturbing music.  He came to my attention through one of my favourite films of last year, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer.  As mindwarpingly bizarre and squickishly repulsive as a 90s Whitehouse album, the movie also had an inspired soundtrack, based around a generous amount of Sofia Gubaidulina's music.  One of the most memorable pieces for me however was Christou's Enantiodrama, which starts off this compilation of his late work.

Enantiodrama (1965-68) starts with faraway squeaking strings that gradually intensify into a Penderecki-like insect swarm.  Halfway through, this calms back down, but not for long, and shouted voices, chaotic percussion and brass are added into the mix.  Praxis (1966-9) is a piece for juddering string orchestra and piano, the barely-held-together chaos relying on a graphic score and patterns in constant conflict, and with more declaiming voices in its second half.  The CD ends with the bonus of the original version of Praxis for 12 players.

Next up is Epicycle (1968), a tape piece for instruments, actors and voices, its score allowing for improvisation.  A maelstrom of noises and unsettling vocal sounds crackle over the top of a rhythmic pulse until an abrupt end.  Anaparastasis III (1969) for piano, ensemble and tapes comes in with a menacing low-level hum over which fragments of instruments gradually appear.  Yet another tortured-sounding voice groans and screams in the ominous space, where the piano and ensemble intermittently spring into attack.

Christou's final work, Mysterion (1969) was planned as a full-scale opera for choirs, orchestra, actors and tapes, based on ancient Egyptian funeral rites, but in the wake of his death the premiere never took place, and all that remains are rehearsal tapes.  The Prolog featured here starts with echoing solo voice before a mechanical rhythm kicks in and other percussive noises click and scrape.  These five recordings were originally collected on an early 90s LP - on this CD reissue there's two handy additions: the original version of Praxis as mentioned above, and another Anaparastais, this time the first one in the planned cycle.  The text is from the Oresteia legend, with yet more wonderful orchestral chaos supporting the spoken material.
original LP cover, 1992


  1. Always on the lookout for music and musicians of this time period. I've not come across Christou before and I look forward to listening. Many thanks.


    1. cheers Brian. Look out for today's post :)

  2. Oh man - what a blast. I photocopied the score to Enantio.. ages ago, it was printed in The Score magazine or something. Truly a visually entertaining score. Too bad I can't post images here... :(