28 April 2024

‘Never on Sunday’:
Manos Hatzidakis,
the composer and
his links with Rethymnon

The composer Manos Hatzidakis (was born into a family from the village of Myrthios, 20 km south of Rethymno in Crete

Patrick Comerford

I was writing yesterday about the philologist Georgios Nicolaou Chatzidakis (1848-1941), who is celebrated as the father of linguistics in Greece, and his statue outside the town hall in Rethymnon. He was born in the small mountain village of Myrthios, 20 km south of Rethymnon, and his family took part in the many Cretan revolts against the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century.

But another member of the Chatzidakis family from Myrthios near Rethymnon – and one who is better known in Northern Europe – is the Greek composer Manos Hatzidakis (1925-1994).

He is often associated with the title song of the film ‘Never on Sunday’ … so, perhaps, his story is appropriate to tell on a Sunday afternoon. He is widely considered one of the greatest Greek composers, and was one of the main proponents of the ‘Éntekhno’ form of music, along with Mikis Theodorakis.

Manos Hatzidakis (also spelled Hadjidakis) was born Μάνος Χατζιδάκις on 23 October 1925 in Xanthi, Greece. His father to lawyer Georgios Hatzidakis was a lawyer from the village of Myrthios, 20 km south of Rethymno in Crete; his mother Aliki Arvanitidou was came from Adrianoupolis.

The family prospered from sales of tobacco grown locally, but Georgios Hatzidakis died in 1931 and the boy’s mother took Manos to live in Athens, where they lived in comparative poverty.

Hatzidakis studied music theory with Menelaos Pallandios, in the period 1940-1943. At the same time, he studied philosophy at the University of Athens. However, he never completed this course.

He met and connected with other musicians, writers, and intellectuals including George Seferis, Odysseas Elytis, Angelos Sikelianos, Yannis Tsarouchis and especially the poet Nikos Gatsos, who became a close friend.

During the last stages of the Axis occupation of Greece, Hatzidakis was active in the Greek Resistance through the United Panhellenic Organisation of Youth (EPON), the youth branch of the major resistance organisation EAM. There he met the composer Mikis Theodorakis and the two soon developed a strong friendship.

Hatzidakis’s first composition was the tune for the song ‘Paper Moon’ (Χάρτινο το Φεγγαράκι) in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire staged by Karolos Koun’s Art Theatre of Athens. His first piano piece, ‘For a Little White Seashell’ (Για μια Μικρή Λευκή Αχιβάδα), came out in 1947, and in 1948 he set a collection of poetry by Nikos Gatsos to music, ‘Blood Wedding’.

Hatzidakis co-founded the Greek Dance Theatre Company with the choreographer Rallou Manou in 1949.

That year, he shook the musical establishment in Greece with an influential lecture on rembetika, the urban folk songs that flourished in Greek cities, mainly Piraeus, after the influx of refugees from Asia Minor in 1922. He focused on the economy of expression, the deep traditional roots and the genuine emotions displayed in rembetika, and by composers such as Markos Vamvakaris and Vassilis Tsitsanis.

Hatzidakis put theory to practice and adapted classic rembetika in his 1951 piano work, Six Popular Pictures (Έξι Λαϊκές Ζωγραφιές), later also presented as a folk ballet.

At this point, he began writing immensely popular songs and film soundtracks alongside more serious works, such aa The CNS Cycle (O Kyklos tou CNS), a song cycle for piano and voice in 1954. He wrote the score for Michael Cacoyannis’s film Stella (1955) with Melina Mercouri singing the film’s best-known song ‘Love that became a double-edged knife’ (Αγάπη που 'γινες δίκοπο μαχαίρι). A year later, he composed the score for the film Laterna (Λατέρνα, φτώχεια και φιλότιμο) in 1955.’

Hatzidakis met Nana Mouskouri in 1958, and described her as his first ‘ideal interpreter’.

Manos Hatzidakis refused to collect his Academy Award in 1961

Hatzidakis achieved international fame and success in 1960 with his song ‘Never on Sunday’, or ‘The Children of Piraeus’ (Τα παιδιά του Πειραιά), sung by Melina Mercouri in Jules Dassin’s film Never on Sunday (Ποτέ την Κυριακή).

The song won Hatzidakis an Academy Award for Best Original Song and became a worldwide hit. But he did not attend the Academy Award ceremony in 1961, and refused to collect his award, saying the film with a prostitute as its protagonist reflected negatively on Athens and misrepresented Athens.

Hatzidakis founded a music competition to encourage Greek composers in 1962, with the first award going to Iannis Xenakis in 1963. At this time, he produced the musical Street of Dreams (Οδός Ονείρων) and completed his score for Aristophanes’ Birds (Όρνιθες), an Art Theatre production that caused an uproar over Koun’s revolutionary direction. The score was later used by Maurice Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th Century.

Hatzidakis wrote the music for ‘All Alone Am I’, for which Arthur Altman added the English lyrics and the gave to Brenda Lee. His album 15 Vespers (Δεκαπέντε Εσπερινοί), including the song ‘Mr Antonis’ (‘Ο Κυρ Αντώνης’), was released in 1964. His album Gioconda’s Smile (Το Χαμόγελο της Τζιοκόντας) was released in 1965.

Hatzidakis went to New York in 1966 for the premiere of Illya Darling, a Broadway musical based on Never on Sunday and starring Melina Mercouri.

He then lived in the US from 1966 to 1972, when which he completed several more major compositions and compilations, including Rhythmology, Gioconda’s Smile and the song cycle Magnus Eroticus (Megalos Erotikos), in which he drew on classical works by Sappho, and Euripides), mediaeval folk songs, George Hortatzis’s romance ‘Erophile’, works by modern poets, including Dionysios Solomos, Constantine Cavafy, Odysseus Elytis and Nikos Gatsos, as well as the Biblical ‘Song of Songs’.

His album Reflections was a collaboration with the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble.

Despite his opposition to the colonels’ regime, Hatzidakis returned to Greece in 1972 and recorded Magnus Eroticus with Fleury Dantonaki and Dimitris Psarianos.

After the junta collapsed in 1974, he became active in public life and assumed a number of leadership positions in the Athens State Orchestra (KOA), the Greek National Opera (ELS/GNO), and the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT). In 1989, he founded and directed the Orchestra of Colours, an ensemble performing lesser-known works and the music of Greek composers.

Hatzidakis influenced a broad swathe of Greek culture through his writings and radio broadcasts. In his later years, he explained that his work was meant not to entertain but to reveal and disclaimed part of his work, written for the Greek cinema and theatre, as unrepresentative.

Manos Hatzidakis died in Athens 30 years ago from a heart attack on 15 June 1994 at the age of 68. He was buried in Paiania.

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