It was April 1930 when Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949) presented two new pieces to an audience in Berlin, his Suite for piano and small orchestra and his Concerto for violin, piano and orchestra. The Greek student of Kurt Weill and Arnold Schoenberg was already known among the proponents of the Berlin School as an emerging musical talent from poor Greece, but despite his budding fame, Skalkottas was careless about safeguarding his scores and often lost them or gave them away.
Experts researching the Greek composer’s significant body of work have seen a poster for that concert in April 1930, but the sheet music was presumed lost – at least until about five years ago.
“These are masterpieces. It was like bringing to light a splendid monument at an archaeological dig,” says virtuoso violinist Giorgos Demertzis of the two pieces of music that were discovered by musicologist Ioannis Tselikas in the United States.
“The assumption is that these manuscripts came into the hands of Lukas Foss, a [German-American] composer and pianist who was part of the Berlin set and fled to America with the rise of the Nazis,” says Demertzis.
The most likely scenario is that Foss kept the scores in his library when he went on to teach at the State University of New York in Buffalo and were filed away after his death in 2009 until they were unearthed by Tselikas and purchased by Greece’s Friends of Music Society.
The sheet music was in piano form, with notes by Skalkottas, and had to be orchestrated, by Yiannis Sabrovolakis, to reach symphonic form.
“These are two of Skalokottas’s more joyful pieces, as they came before his painful return to Greece,” says Demertzis.
The violinist, who has specialized in the composer’s music, will be presenting the two pieces at the Athens Concert Hall on Tuesday, February 13, with acclaimed pianist Vassilis Varvaresos and the Athens Philharmonic, conducted by Byron Fidetzis.
“As I got deeper into Skalkottas’s music, I discovered a youthful, playful quality similar to jazz. Skalkottas is usually treated to a more academic approach, even though he did not write music to be performed for academics but in front of a live audience. This is what we want to highlight,” says Varvaresos.
The pieces will be recorded after the concert by BIS Records.