Archaic Xenakis

An attempt to piece together a composer’s mythology

The music of Iannis Xenakis has played an indisputable role in the course of musical events during the 2nd half of the 20th century. His application of mathematical models to the method of composition has caused persistent headache to scholars that lacked a similar background in such sciences in order to analyze his music. After all those decades, we may say today that some light has been shed on this aspect.

That doesn’t apply, however, to the issue of Xenakis’ intercourse with the so-called “Classical Antiquity”: apart from an idle aura of erudition that this intercourse seems to add to his name, research hasn’t seriously set hand to pointing out which exactly has been the part played by Ancient Greek literature in Xenakis’ work. That is most possibly due to the fact that Classics remains today a “mare incognitum” for the music scholar as much as mathematics once used to be. Furthermore, with regard to the thematology of the works, the Xenakian practice of transliteration of Greek into Roman letters according to the Hellenistic diacritics and his often ‘cryptic’ explanations essentially deprive us of easy access to the original sources, with sometimes hilarious consequences[1].

The oeuvre of Xenakis comprises 137 works[2], roughly 50% of which carry Greek-originating titles[3]. Out of the latter works, if one omits those whose title is a Greek word (existing or coined by the composer) plainly referring to a structural element of the work in question or providing with practical information[4], another 50% contains 10 works[5] that mostly set to music Classical dramatic excerpts or were even initially conceived as incidental music to the staging of Athenian tragedies, as well as a string of works, mostly instrumental, whose Greek-originating titles loosely suggest a certain theme; in other words, they appear to be extra-structural and stealthily referential. Let us examine their derivation:


Morsima-Amorsima, Atrées & Eonta are linked to each other for they all display the relation in Xenakis’ stream of thoughts between his probabilistic experiments at that time, the diptych determinism-indeterminism and the reign of destiny in Greek Antiquity[6]:

Morsima-Amorsima (1962) stands for things that are destined and things that are not destined; the adjective μόρσιμος[7] is an Homeric word, often occurring in the epics, always referring to one’s destined end (deadly fate)[8] while ἀμόρσιμος has been simply coined by Xenakis by adding the privative prefix α.

Atrées (1962) is mistakenly taken as a reference (in plural) to the mythical Atreus[9]; Xenakis is using the word ἀτρεὺς literally, as an adjective with a feminine entity, and he’s transliterating it: ἀτρῆες/ἀτρεῖες[10] means (the ones) defied, implying the Laws of Fate[11].

Eonta (1963-64), the present participle in plural of the verb to be, is another Homeric word occurring again and again in the Iliad particularly within the notorious sentence «ὃς ᾔδη τά τ’ ἐόντα τά τ’ ἐσσόμενα πρό τ’ ἐόντα»[12] meaning “the one who knew what is, what will be and what has been” and referring to the seer Calchas’ possession of total knowledge[13]. Eonta therefore stands for things that are[14].


Xenakis has manifested his love for the art of Sappho in 3 works, Anaktoria (1969), Psappha (1975) and Aïs (1980):

For Anaktoria (Ἀνακτορία) he uses as a title the name of a woman mentioned by Sappho in various places within her preserved poetic excerpts as a lover of hers[15].

Psappha (Ψάπφα) is the original Aeolic version of Sappho’s name, and the work is an étude on rhythm; Xenakis is inspired by the Sapphic principle of mutation of rhythmic cells[16].

In Aïs (Ἄϊς) Xenakis sets to music amongst others a Sapphic fragment[17] that speaks about longing for death and entering the realm of the Underworld[18]; but we shall return to this specific work later.

Libations & Death

The act of libations (χοαὶ), offerings to the gods poured[19] to the earth in memory of the dead is a ritual, which Xenakis must have felt a strong inclination to:

First of all, he deals with it in the Oresteïa (1965-66), since the context of Choephoroi (Χοηφόροι: The Libation Bearers), the 2nd part of the trilogy, is about Electra and her suite pouring libations on Agamemnon’s grave.

Then we proceed to Persephassa (1969), one of the various versions in which the word Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld, occurs in Ancient Greek literature. Xenakis does not use the Homeric type Περσεφόνεια but the Aeschylean Περσέφασσα, which occurs in Choephoroi when Electra asks the chthonic goddess to help them revenge on the murderers of their father[20]. This is certainly not coincidental: Persephassa as well as Terretektorh/Τερετέκτωρ are true ‘spiritual children’ of the Oresteïa, in the sense that they exhibit the same area of experimentation[21]. This allows us to consider Persephassa a kind of rite, an offering to the earth, and to Κόρη (the Maiden)[22].

The work Khoaï/Χοαὶ (1976) for solo harpsichord is another example: it provides a depiction of the ritual, beginning in a ceremonial, solemn manner and gradually evolving into a real nightmare – as if conjuring up and facing the departed spirits.

These naturally lead us to νέκυια, another closely related ritual that includes libations in order to call up the dead and question them about the future[23]. The word nekyia lends itself to the title of Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey[24], wherein Odysseus is instructed to, amongst others, sacrifice lambs into a pit so as to extract information from the seer Teiresias concerning his homecoming[25].

If the work Nekuïa (1981) of Xenakis accordingly depicts the summoning of the dead with profundity and lyricism, Aïs (1980) is an actual κατάβασις, a dramatic descent to the Underworld. Ἄϊς is an hypothetical Homeric form of the word Hades (ᾍδης: the Underworld) coined by Xenakis, since the word does not occur anywhere in the nominative case[26].

Let us note that apart from the Sapphic fragment, Xenakis in Aïs sets to music exclusively Homeric excerpts[27], two of which derive exactly from Book XI of the Odyssey[28], while the third refers to the moment in the Iliad where Patroclus breathes his last[29]. In the 2nd excerpt, in particular, Odysseus tries thrice in vain to embrace the shade of his dead mother – this phenomenon occurs only once more in Homer, when in the Iliad Achilles attempts to embrace dead Patroclus who visits him in his dream and then vanishes. Most interestingly, Xenakis uses this latter excerpt as the ‘frontispiece’ of his work Charisma (1971)[30], which depicts the way Patroclus’ soul disappears into the earth, grinding[31].

Xenakis’ predilection for death manifests itself in another work, Knephas (1990): again an Homeric word, meaning darkness, often occurring in the epics at the depiction of nightfall[32], Κνέφας is, like Χάρισμα, a tribute to a lost friend[33]. Finally, let us not neglect to mention the Diatope La légende d’ Eer (1977), whose title refers to Socrates’ final narration that concludes Plato’s The Republic: Er (Ἦρ) dies in battle, revives two days later and describes his journey in the Hereafter[34].

The earth

A crucial feature of Xenakis’ works is the chthonic[35] element – that is, themes dealing with deities of the Underworld or alternatively born of Gaia (Γαῖα), the primordial Earth-goddess. We have already covered Persephone and Hades and we can also point out the Erinyes (Ἐρινύες: the Avengers), which provide the context for the 3rd part of the Oresteia-trilogy Eumenides (Εὐμενίδες: the Sympathetic ones).

Kottos (Κόττος) is another chthonic deity occurring in Hesiod’s Theogony[36] as one of the 3 Ἑκατόγχειρες (the Hundred-Armed Ones) who were imprisoned in Tartarus[37] where they would later become themselves the jailers of the Titans, whom they defeated, coming to the Olympian gods’ aid. As Xenakis himself mentions[38], their immense power and abilities in battle fitted the manic character of the work Kottos (1977).

Aroura (1971), meaning arable land, is another Homeric/Hesiodic word, frequently occurring for instance in the expression «ζείδωρος ἄρουρα»[39] (that is, “invigorating land”). Therefore, aroura also pertains to the earth; but if χθών refers to the interior of the soil, ἄρουρα refers to the surface of the land[40].

Erichthonius (Ἐριχθόνιος) or Erechtheus (Ἐρεχθεύς)[41] & Cecrops I (Κέκροψ) were both mythical kings of Athens and chthonic figures[42]. Naturally enough, Xenakis chose to refer to them in his 2nd and 3rd ‘piano concertos’ Erikhthon (1974) and Keqrops (1986). The word ἐρίχθων however has a different derivation: it frequently occurs in Book V of Homer’s Odyssey (as an alternative insert) in the phrase «…θυμὸν ἐρέχθων»[43] meaning “eating his heart out” or “gnawed by sorrow”, referring to Odysseus’ irremediable longing for his homecoming, which was detained by Calypso. Erikhthon, thus, can be translated as gnawing/eroding[44], adding as such a fitting property to cloning[45], which is the structural concept of the work. Κέκροψ on the other hand derives from {} κέρκος (tail) + {το} κρώπιον (scythe)[46], underlining thus that Cecrops (as well as Erichthonius) had his bottom half in serpent-form (i.e. scythe-like tail).

The double-natured

This leads us to the inclination of Xenakis to the state of double nature occurring in Greek mythology, which we detect (apart from Erikhthon and Keqrops) especially in works like Evryali, Phlegra and Dmaathen:

Euryale (Εὐρυάλη), one of the 3 Gorgons, first mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony[47] was like her sisters snake-skinned and snake-haired[48]. As for Φλέγρα[49], it is a site in northern Greece that was according to the myth the birthplace of the chthonic Gigantes (Giants), and became the battleground in the war between them and the Olympian gods[50]. The Giants, too, were depicted as having scaly skin and serpent-like tails[51].

Pindar was the first to cover the Gigantomachy in his poems; the word Φλέγρα occurs in the verse «ὅταν θεοὶ ἐν πεδίῳ Φλέγρας Γιγάντεσσιν μάχαν ἀντιάζωσιν»[52] meaning “when the Gods meet the Giants in battle on the plain of Phlegra”. The title Dmaathen also derives from another Pindaric reference to the Giants: «δμᾶθεν δὲ κεραυνῷ τόξοισί τ’ Ἀπόλλωνος»[53] meaning “and they were crushed by the thunder and the arrows of Apollo”. Δμάαθεν therefore stands for they were crushed – the verb[54] also frequently occurs in Homer, used within the context of defeat and, ultimately, death of warriors[55].

The Xenakian reference to such primeval, cosmogonic battles calls to mind another element, that of combat/contest, which characterized Xenakis’ early life warfare experiences, his approach to composition (“Composing is a battle”, he used to say[56]), the terrible ordeals he used to willfully go through with his family during their wild excursions[57] as well as the very essence of his music, its extreme challenges – its ‘impossibility’. No wonder why he (apart from the probabilistic correlation) took interest in Game theory, and went on to produce 3 works whose titles couldn’t have been more eloquent[58]. At the same time, it’s worth pointing out that the titles of another 3 works of his, Kraanerg (1968-69), Waarg (1988) and Ergma (1994) are existing or coined variations of the notion of achievement[59].


A crucial remark to be made would be that Xenakis does not look on the double-natured as something essentially monstrous; had he been interested in monsters, Greek mythology displays an abundance he could have easily drawn on. He obviously opted for those specific figures because he was attracted by their “otherness”, their idiosyncrasy of being. For a man that narrowly escaped death, left with a facial duality, a deformity that altered his relations with his fellow-beings once and for all[60], for a man who approached music like an alien this weird affinity is not that weird after all.

The work Antikhthon (1971) is the first piece that lays explicitly on the table the concept of otherness: Ἀντίχθων, meaning Counter-Earth[61] is, as Xenakis himself explains[62] an imaginary planet conceived by the Pythagorean Philolaus when the latter developed the first non-geocentric view of the universe. It was coined as an identical but opposite and invisible counterpart of planet Earth (then thought to be flat)[63].

Xenakis aims here at something which is hypothetical, perhaps irrational, and indescribable (like a surd); contrary to what is known and opposite to what’s considered real. And, indeed, Antikhthon is one of his most fragmentary and inexplicable scores[64]. Later works found that are dealing with otherness are Alax (ἀλλάξ) (1985), an adverb that stands for altering and Ata (1987):

Atë (Ἄτη) is the goddess of mental twist, of derangement of the senses that grants mortals mental blindness[65]. Homer provides us with a description of her downfall in the Iliad[66]. At the same time, the Doric type ἄτα that Xenakis uses occurs often in the Athenian tragedies (notably in the Oresteia) signifying a calamity, which strikes as a penalty usually because of ὕβρις (hubris).

The Argonauts

Five works of Xenakis are spotted, which stealthily refer to the Argonautic expedition, the greatest quest of all times; these are Medea Senecae (1967), Eridanos (1972), Ikhoor (1978), Kyania (1990) & Ioolkos (1996).

The work Medea was of course initially conceived as incidental music for the staging of Seneca’s tragedy; it’s not by coincidence, however, that out of 1.027 verses Xenakis selected that stasimon where the chorus contemplates on the maritime journey of the Argonauts[67].

Xenakis mentions[68] the Athenean river Ἠριδανός (today ‘buried alive’) but he obscures the fact that Eridanos is also the name of a notorious mythological river of the Greek Antiquity, and it has long been under debate whether it corresponded with an existing one[69]. The word occurs (as an alternative insert) in Homer’s Iliad[70] as well as the Theogony of Hesiod, who calls the river βαθυδίνην (deep-eddying)[71].

Most important, though, is that Apollonius of Rhodes, the neo-Homeric poet par excellence of the Hellenistic era, in his epic Argonautica offers a haunting description of Eridanos[72] while the Argonauts sail along the river[73].

Ichor ({} ἰχὼρ), the ethereal golden fluid running in the veins of immortals, is a word occurring in the Iliad[74]. At the same time, according to the Argonautica of Apollonius[75], it was the blood of the giant Talos (Τάλως) whom the Argonauts had to face while passing from Crete.

Kyania is another word coined by Xenakis, deriving from the Homeric adjective κυάνεοςηεον meaning dark (and by extension, black). The adjective frequently occurs in the Iliad, always sombrely describing clouds (either literally or metaphorically)[76]. During the Classical period, however, the adjective in the plural number (αἱ Κυάνεαι {Πέτραι}) came to characterize (and imply) the notorious Symplegades (Συμπληγάδες)[77], a pair of randomly clashing rocks, which only the Argonauts managed to pass through[78].

Finally, the work Ioolkos (Ἰωλκός) speaks for itself, since Iolcos was the hometown of Jason and the starting-post of the expedition; let us only point out that Xenakis this time doesn’t use a Homeric type (i.e. Ἰαολκός) but the Classical one.

In conclusion

Let us stop here, though the subject is not exhausted – the facts are striking: one observes that most of Xenakis’ Greek-originating themes derive from Homeric/Hesiodic words. Even more works could have been pointed out: Herma/Ἕρμα (1962)[79], Anemoessa/Ἀνεμόεσσα (1979)[80], Idmen A-B/ἼδμενΑΒ (1985)[81], Tetora/Τέτορα (1990)[82], Koïranoï/Κοίρανοι (1995)[83] etc.

For the rest, there are quite a few words deriving from Pindar and the three tragedians – titles that haven’t been discussed include Ergma/Ἔργμα (1994)[84] or Naama/Νάαμα (1984)[85].

The facts show that his ties with Ancient Greek literature were very specific and exclusive, as he himself had in fact repeatedly showed[86]: on the one hand the Homeric/Hesiodic epics, being the oldest extant works of Western literature, couldn’t have fascinated less the man who was in search of the fundamentals in everything. In any case, if the epics have been the theatre of great events, they remained tuned in to individual destinies[87], and that’s what interests Xenakis: it’s the private moments he cares for, be it Odysseus and his mother or Patroclus’ unjust death rather than heroic deeds and operations.

On the other hand, Pindar and the tragic poets traditionally shared the use of the Doric dialect, which Xenakis was attracted to, perhaps because of the Doric order in Athenian architecture that he worshipped or because of his own “Spartan” way of life or just because the Doric dialect makes ancient Greek seem even more remote[88].

Now if one places next to the above Sappho & the Pre-Socratic philosophers (that affected his ontological works of the early ‘60s), then it becomes apparent that Xenakis’ interest was primarily archaic – that is, oriented toward the era that led to the Athenian Golden Age and not the Golden Age per se[89]. This transition from darkness to light, from myth to reason, which is ideally depicted in the Aeschylean Oresteia was his world of references.

What about Plato? Plato for Xenakis seems to have been a watershed and a boundary as well; it’s not by coincidence that Xenakis largely by-passed his successor Aristotle[90], whose writings became next to the Bible the ‘bread & cheese’ of Medieval man. Plato materializes the coexistence of myth and reason, ‘digesting’ the Pre-Socratic past, his metaphysics going hand-in-hand with the birth of systematic philosophy, and this ‘double nature’ probably fitted Xenakis well.

It was interesting to watch how the titles of Xenakis’ works become a ‘log-book’ of his readings – isolated words that do not convey their connotations easily but do fulfill his striving toward defamiliarization. And by treating them as inexplicable symbols rather than transmitters of message (as he dealt with language in general) Xenakis serves us with an artistic mythology that obsessively revolves round 3 words: the surd[91], destruction & death.


[1] James Harley, for instance, in his book about Xenakis (regardless of it being exquisite in other respects) makes various slip-ups as regards thematology & etymology, which betray that this subject is a closed book to him (cf. Harley, James Xenakis: His Life in Music – 2nd edition, Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, NY 2011). Another example, this time concerning the Greek bibliography: Aleka Symeonidou in her translation of Varga’s book transliterates back to Greek Horos as Χορός (instead of Ὅρος) and Atrées as Ατρεῖδες (instead of Ἀτρῆες).

[2] Works prior to Metastaseis or withdrawn by the composer excluded; Analogique A & B, Idmen A & B and Rebonds A & B are counted as 3 works and not 6.

[3] Contrary to a stereotyped claim that most of his works carry such titles; cf. Σολωμός, Μάκης Ιάννης Ξενάκης: Το σύμπαν ενός ιδιότυπου δημιουργού (Solomos, Makis Iannis Xenakis, P.O. Éditions, Paris 1996) – μετάφραση: Τίνα Πλυτά, Εκδόσεις Αλεξάνδρεια, Αθήνα 2008, p. 123.

[4] E.g. Tetras: a sequence of four (4 players).

[5] I.e. Polla ta δina (1962), Hiketides (1964), Oresteïa (1965-66), Medea Senecae (1967), À Colone (1977), À Hélène (1977), Serment/Orkos (1981), Kassandra (1987), La déesse Athéna (1992), Les Bacchantes d’ Euripide (1993).

[6] What remains to be answered is why, apart from a circumstantial occasion perhaps, he chose Morsima-Amorsima & Atrées out of the 5 ST-pieces for such ‘existential’ titles next to their serial number; did he draw thus a qualitative distinction? The truth is that Morsima-Amorsima differs from the rest for its spare texture, eerie harmonics, and intervals of silence. And Atrées stands out for its ritual feel that would become so typically Xenakian in the years to come. Both works, nevertheless retain this coolness, this calculated spirit, this lack of hierarchy in the end, which pervades all 5 works – cf. Matossian, Nouritza Xenakis, 2nd edition, Moufflon Publications Ltd., Cyprus 2005, p. 208.

[7] Μόρσιμος derives from the word Μόρος (Doom), a primeval deity born, together with Θάνατος (Death) and Κήρ (the Angel of Death) of Νύξ (Night) without male intervention (Hesiod, Theogony, v. 211); μόρος is called by Hesiod στυγερός (hateful). One observes that though μόρος has become, through Latin (mors mortis), the origin of the word death for Romance languages, it has a different content in Greek. It actually derives from the same stem as the word Μοῖραι (the 3 Apportioners) does: μείρομαι means to apportion.

[8] Ε.g. in the Iliad where the horses of Achilles address him saying «ἀλλὰ σοὶ αὐτῷ μόρσιμόν ἐστι θεῷ τε καὶ ἀνέρι ἶφι δαμῆναι», which means “but for you it is destined to be crushed by god and man alike” – Homeri Opera: Iliadis Libros I-XXIV, edited by David B. Monro and Thomas W. Allen, Third Edition 1920, Oxford University Press, New York, Tomus II, Lib. XIX, v. 416.

[9] The title supposedly being the plural number of the name in French – cf. Σολωμός, Μάκης Ιάννης Ξενάκης: Το σύμπαν ενός ιδιότυπου δημιουργού (Solomos, Makis Iannis Xenakis, P.O. Éditions, Paris 1996), μετάφραση: Τίνα Πλυτά, Εκδόσεις Αλεξάνδρεια, Αθήνα 2008, p. 345.

[10] From the verb τρέω (to fear). Ἀτρεύς, thus, is the one who does not feel fear (defiant) but also does not induce fear (defied).

[11] The composer is actually referring (he’s implying that himself after all in his introductory notes to the score – Éditions Salabert) to an inscription from Herodes Atticus’ property Triopio in Rome preserved in the so-called Palatine Anthology, which reads «ἐπεὶ οὐ Μοιρέων ἀτρῆες ἀνάγκαι» meaning “because the compulsory Laws of the Fates are not to be defied” – Herod. Att. Inscr. Triop. 18 (Anth. Pal. App. 50). Let us mention that Herodes’ wife, Regilla had been awarded as a priestess of Tyche (Τύχη), the Hellenistic goddess of Fortune. Let us also lay stress on the word ἀνάγκαι in this epigram: Ἀνάγκη (Ananke), meaning necessity/constraint, a primeval personification of destiny in Greek Antiquity, is one of the crucial concepts in Parmenidean philosophy and was transplanted into Plato’s cosmic view (The Spindle of Necessity – De Republica, Lib. X, 616c) since the latter was heavily influenced by Parmenides: Necessity appears to be the mother of Moirae (cf. La légende d’ Eer/1977).

[12] Homeri Opera: Iliadis Libros I-XXIV – edited by David B. Monro and Thomas W. Allen, Third Edition 1920, Oxford University Press, New York, e.g. Tomus I, Lib. I, v. 70 – notorious for it includes the 3 temporal dimensions: presentfuturepast.

[13] This sentence of course recurs in Hesiod as well, like so many Homeric expressions and vocabulary does (e.g. Theogony, v. 32 & 38).

[14] At the same time, and as Xenakis himself explains (Varga, Bálint András Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, Faber and Faber Ltd., London 1996, p. 102), Eonta is another ontological work in honour of Parmenides, since it materializes the conflict between the latter’s conception of the universe as a total existence by contrast with Heracleitus’ one as a constant change. The bonds, in any case, between Homer and Parmenides seem multi-faceted: it’s worth mentioning that Parmenides wrote in verse, adopting Homer’s heroic metre (i.e. the dactylic hexameter).

[15] Xenakis mentions that he intended a hymn to love of all forms (Gibson, Benoît The Instrumental Music of Iannis Xenakis: Theory, practice, Self-Borrowing – Iannis Xenakis Series No. 3, Pendragon Press, NY 2011, p. 50). An archaic, threatening atmosphere pervades the work, which appears very similar to the Oresteïa (as well as Medea Senecae) by means of the ensemble’s lineup, the exploitation of the extremes of the spectrum, the heavily microtonal textures and a distinct ‘crawling’ element in the music.

[16] Ιάννης Ξενάκης: Ένα αφιέρωμα του Εθνικού Μετσοβίου Πολυτεχνείου προς έναν απόφοιτό του, Εκδόσεις «Σύγχρονη Εποχή» ΕΠΕ, Αθήνα 1994, p. 62 (cf. Regards sur Iannis Xenakis: Gualda, Sylvio Sur Psappha, ed. Stock-Musique, Paris 1981).

[17] Finding a way to set Sappho’s poetry to music was something that had troubled Xenakis ever since his adolescence – cf. Varga, Bálint András Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, Faber and Faber Ltd., London 1996, p. 14.

[18] Fragment 95: «κατθάνην δ’ ἴμερός τις {ἔχει με καὶ} λωτίνοις δροσόεντας {}χ{θ}οις ἴδην Ἀχέρ{οντος}» meaning “to die, a longing holds me, and see the shores of Acheron full of lotuses and dew” (cf. introductory notes to the score – Éditions Salabert). It’s interesting to recall that in the Odyssey whoever ate of lotus trees would forget one’s past in favour of living in idleness.

[19] From the verb χέω: to pour; according to the ritual, milk & honey or wine for instance (nutritive liquids) was poured at the tomb of the deceased who was honoured. An alternative term, σπονδή includes all drink-offers to the gods.

[20] Αισχύλος Χοηφόροι – μετάφραση: Τάσος Ρούσσος, Εκδόσεις Κάκτος/Οδυσσέας Χατζόπουλος & ΣΙΑ Ο.Ε., Αθήνα 1992, v. 489: «ὦ Περσέφασσα, δὸς δέ γ’ εὔμορφον κράτος».

[21] The atmosphere of a set ritual, the spatial element, the inclusion of extra sonic effects produced by gongs, wooden and metallic σήμαντρα (monastery bells), shakers and siren-whistles directly derive from Choephoroi. All these, however, may have been tried out for the first time by Xenakis in his incidental music for Hiketides (1964), of which little is known since the original version has never revived.

[22] Xenakis was commissioned to write Persephassa for the 1st Shiraz Festival held in Persepolis: though the two words have nothing in common etymologically, an illusory relation between them must have fascinated a man like him and had a share in the choice of the theme (and the title).

[23] cf. the post-Classical Greek compound necromancy.

[24] Ομήρου Οδύσσεια, ραψωδία λ – μετάφραση-επιλεγόμενα: Δ. Ν. Μαρωνίτης, Εκδόσεις Στιγμή, Αθήνα 1994.

[25] Only by drinking from the blood of the sacrificed animal that is poured into the earth will the dead ever be able to discern and converse with the living. The fact that in Nekuïa of Xenakis the voices only sing unintelligible extracts & phonemes lays emphasis on the chasm between the living and the dead.

[26] But only in other cases, e.g. «Ἄϊδι» (Iliadis Lib. I, v. 3).

[27] Aïs is the sole work of Xenakis (apart from those 10 works set out in [5] that had had a ‘functional’ starting-point) where text is used in a semantic fashion: these excerpts, regardless of the defamiliarization-effect created by the fact that they are sung at such a high register for instance, are meant to be transmitted and comprehended (ideally at least) – otherwise they wouldn’t have been chosen and combined so carefully. This realization alone makes Aïs unique within the composer’s oeuvre.

[28] Ibid. [24], book XI, v. 36-37 («…ἐς βόθρον, ῥέε δ’ αἷμα κελαινεφές – αἱ δ’ ἀγέροντο ψυχαὶ ὑπὲξ Ἐρέβευς νεκύων κατατεθνηώτων») & v. 205-208 («…μητρὸς ἐμῆς ψυχὴν ἑλέειν κατατεθνηυίης. τρὶς μὲν ἐφορμήθην, ἑλέειν τέ με θυμὸς ἀνώγει, τρὶς δέ μοι ἐκ χειρῶν σκιῇ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ ἔπτατ’ – ἐμοὶ δ’ ἄχος ὀξὺ γενέσκετο κηρόθι μᾶλλον»).

[29] «Ὣς ἄρα μιν εἰπόντα τέλος θανάτοιο κάλυψε – ψυχὴ δ’ ἐκ ῥεθέων πταμένη Ἄϊδόσδε βεβήκει, ὃν πότμον γοόωσα, λιποῦσ’ ἁδροτῆτα καὶ ἥβην» (Homeri Opera: Iliadis Libros IXXIV, edited by David B. Monro and Thomas W. Allen, Third Edition 1920, Oxford University Press, New York, Tomus II, Lib. XVI, v. 855-57).

[30] Χάρισμα: gift.

[31] «ψυχὴ δὲ κατὰ χθονὸς ἠΰτε καπνὸς ᾤχετο τετριγυῖα» meaning “and the soul, like smoke, escaped and sank into the earth, grinding” (Homeri Opera: Iliadis Libros I-XXIV, edited by David B. Monro and Thomas W. Allen, Third Edition 1920, Oxford University Press, New York, Tomus II, Lib. XXIII, v. 100). Xenakis wrote Charisma as a tribute to Jean-Pierre Guézec who ‘escaped like smoke’ at age thirty-seven.

[32] e.g. «…δύῃ τ’ ἠέλιος καὶ ἐπὶ κνέφας ἱερὸν ἔλθῃ» meaning “until the sun sets and sacred darkness comes on” (Homeri Opera: Iliadis Libros I-XXIV, edited by David B. Monro and Thomas W. Allen, Third Edition 1920, Oxford University Press, New York, Tomus I, Lib. XI, v. 209) – cf. Nuits (1967).

[33] Maurice Fleuret (1932-1990).

[34] Πλάτων Πολιτεία (ή περί δικαίου), 5 τ. – μετάφραση: Φιλολογική Ομάδα Κάκτου, Εκδόσεις Κάκτος/Οδυσσέας Χατζόπουλος & ΣΙΑ Ο.Ε., Αθήνα 1992 (De Republica, Lib. X, 614b-621d).

[35] Χθόνιος, deriving from the word χθών; it can be translated as earthy/subterranean.

[36] E.g. «Κόττος τε Βριάρεώς τε Γύγης θ’, ὑπερήφανα τέκνα» (v. 149). The Hecatoncheires were personifications of violent natural phenomena, having 50 heads & 100 arms each.

[37] cf. Theogony, v. 618. Tartarus: a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides beneath the Underworld.

[38] Introductory notes to the score – Éditions Salabert.

[39]E.g. Ησίοδος Άπαντα – μετάφραση: Σωκράτης Σκαρτσής, Εκδόσεις Κάκτος/Οδυσσέας Χατζόπουλος & ΣΙΑ Ο.Ε., Αθήνα 1993, Works and Days, v. 173.

[40] Aroura initiates, as such, a string of works that Xenakis wrote ever since the ‘70s, which we may call “physiographical” or “topographical” for they are being inspired by and dealing with the natural environment or even the depiction of certain topoi (places). At least 25 works may belong to this category: Aroura (1971), Antikhthon (1971), Eridanos (1972), Evryali (1973), Cendrées (1973), Phlegra (1975), Akanthos (1977), Jonchaies (1977), Anemoessa (1979), Aïs (1980), Mists (1981), Embellie (1981), Nekuïa (1981), Pour les baleines (1982), Lichens (1983), Naama (1984), Nyûyô (1985), Knephas (1990), Kyania (1990), Krinoïdi (1991), Dämmerschein (1994), Sea Nymphs (1994), Kuïlenn (1995), Ioolkos (1996), Sea-Change (1997) – next to the Polytopes of course. At the same time, in the early stochastic works the concepts of mass and cloud had nature as a starting-point, as he himself has pointed out. The role of nature, topos and depiction in Xenakis’ work is a subject yet to be elaborately covered.

[41] Those two were often treated as identical in Pre-Classical times.

[42] I.e. sons of Gaia.

[43] Ομήρου Οδύσσεια, ραψωδία ε – μετάφραση-επιλεγόμενα: Δ. Ν. Μαρωνίτης, Εκδόσεις Στιγμή, Αθήνα 1992, Book V, e.g. v. 83.

[44] Xenakis arbitrarily interprets the word ἐρίχθων as force of the earth (cf. introductory notes to the score – Éditions Salabert): ἐρίχθων derives from the verb ἐρέχθω meaning to gnaw/to shatter and has nothing to do with χθών (earth). Equally indefensibly (apart from his inner need for an all-embracing interrelation), he relates it with Ἐριχθόνιος, which derives from ἔριον (wool) + χθών: according to the myth, Ἐριχθόνιος was born of the semen of Hephaestus that Athena threw with a scrap of wool onto the earth.

[45] Or arborescences, as cloning is called according to custom.

[46] Here, too, Xenakis provides us with a hypothetical derivation of the word Κέκροψ in order to relate his theme with the structural concept of the work: suppose it derived from κρέκω (to weave) + ὄψις (aspect), then Keqrops would stand for texture (cf. introductory notes to the score – Éditions Salabert). Solomos takes this guesswork as a starting-point and advances even farther: cf. Σολωμός, Μάκης Ιάννης Ξενάκης: Το σύμπαν ενός ιδιότυπου δημιουργού (Solomos, Makis Iannis Xenakis, P.O. Éditions, Paris 1996) – μετάφραση: Τίνα Πλυτά, Εκδόσεις Αλεξάνδρεια, Αθήνα 2008, p. 354.

[47] «Σθεννώ τ’ Εὐρυάλη τε Μέδουσά τε λυγρὰ παθοῦσα» (Ησίοδος Άπαντα – μετάφραση: Σωκράτης Σκαρτσής, Εκδόσεις Κάκτος/Οδυσσέας Χατζόπουλος & ΣΙΑ Ο.Ε., Αθήνα 1993, Theogony, v. 276).

[48] Xenakis inexplicably identifies Euryale with her sister Medusa (cf. Matossian, Nouritza Xenakis, 2nd edition, Moufflon Publications Ltd., Cyprus 2005, p. 282 – also cited by Harley/op. cit., p.79, who heavily draws on Matossian in general). He also suggests that the word Εὐρυάλη means εὐρεῖα ἅλς (wide sea); it apparently, however, derives from εὐρύς + ἅλλομαι meaning the far-springing, underlining thus her special ability as the names of the other two Gorgons accordingly do.

[49] Φλέγρα derives from the verb φλέγω (to flame) and therefore stands for flaming field. The site was called Παλλήνη (πάλλω: to vibrate/shake) in Classical times and is nowadays called Κασσάνδρα. Its ancient names seem to relate to the site’s volcanic nature, which suggests that the Giants be seen as instigators of meteorological phenomena (something implied by their own names as well).

[50] Xenakis obviously confuses the Titanomachy and the Gigantomachy (like Hellenistic poets also did) when he writes that Phlegra was the battlefield between the Titans and the Gods (cf. introductory notes to the score – Éditions Salabert): the Titanomachy took place in Thessaly earlier in myth, and it’s covered in Hesiod’s Theogony (cf. v. 629-735).

[51] It’s interesting to note that if the work Phlegra ‘claims’ any depictive character, it certainly doesn’t sound as if it describes the Gigantomachy; it rather gives off an enigmatic atmosphere of desolation and suspense as if dealing with the site per se and its ‘chorochronic’ associations (the topographical element).

[52] Πίνδαρος II: Νεμεόνικοι – μετάφραση: Κώστας Τοπούζης, Σειρά Αρχαίοι Έλληνες Λυρικοί/12, Εκδόσεις Επικαιρότητα ΟΕ, Αθήνα 1998, Pind. Nem. 1, v. 68.

[53] Πίνδαρος IV: Πυθιόνικοι Β΄ – μετάφραση: Κώστας Τοπούζης, Σειρά Αρχαίοι Έλληνες Λυρικοί/14, Εκδόσεις Επικαιρότητα ΟΕ, Αθήνα 1998, Pind. Pyth. 8, v. 17-18.

[54] Δμᾶθεν is the Doric version (passive past tense) of the verb δάμνημι/δαμάζω: to subdue/crush/defeat. Xenakis opts for non-contracted vowels (δμάαθεν), which add a Homeric touch.

[55] E.g. cf. [8]. Solomos (op. cit., p. 350) as well as Harley (op. cit., p. 104) uncritically state that Dmaathen is, according to Xenakis, a pure combination of phonemes signifying nothing: had Xenakis indeed said that, he would have done so inadvertently (it’s highly unlikely that he reinvented a word he knew very well!) or it might have been another meaningful wink of his in order to obscure rather than clarify.

[56] Varga, Bálint András Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, Faber and Faber Ltd., London 1996, p. 204.

[57] Cf. Ξενάκη, Φρανσουάζ Κοίτα πώς έκλεισαν οι δρόμοι μας (Xenakis, Françoise Regarde, nos chemins se sont fermés, Albin Michel, Paris 2002) – μετάφραση: Σώτη Τριανταφύλλου, Εκδόσεις Πατάκη, Αθήνα 2003.

[58] Duel (1959), Stratégie (1962), Linaia-Agon (1972) – for the latter, Xenakis provides as context (cf. introductory notes to the score – Éditions Salabert) the myth of the fatal musical contest/agon (ἀγών) between Linus (Λῖνος) and Apollo. Unfortunately, Xenakis’ coined word Linaia is mistakenly transliterated in Greek bibliography as Λήναια (e.g. cf. Solomos, op. cit., p. 348), confusing thus Linus with the Lenaia, annual festivities & dramatic contest held in Athens in honour of Dionysus Lenaius (Λήναιος Διόνυσος).

[59] Kraan-erg, a coined compound out of the Greek words κραίνω (to bring to an end) + ἔργον (work/deed) means accomplished work; Waarg is an imaginative transliteration of the proto-Greek word Fάργον (ἔργον) while Ergma/Ἔργμα means accomplishment.

[60] Cf. his confession in Varga, Bálint András Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, Faber and Faber Ltd., London 1996, p. 47-49.

[61] During Roman times, however and in the plural number it came to stand for the peoples who inhabit the antipodes.

[62] Cf. Introductory notes to the score (Éditions Salabert).

[63] It is presumed by Aristotle (Metaphysics 985 b 23) that Philolaus needed a 10th object for his Cosmology, that’s why he devised Antichthon: number 10 according to Pythagoreanism displays unity of a higher order, since figures 1, 2, 3 & 4 (the Holy Tetraktys), the ratios of which symbolized the Harmony of the Spheres, add up to 10.

[64] Perhaps also in deference to an imagined choreography as Harley points out, for it was conceived as a ballet (cf. Harley, James Xenakis: His Life in Music – 2nd edition, Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, NY 2011, p. 74).

[65] Ibid. [62].

[66] Homeri Opera: Iliadis Libros I-XXIV – edited by David B. Monro and Thomas W. Allen, Third Edition 1920, Oxford University Press, New York, Tomus II, Lib. XIX, v. 91-136. N.B. the recurring sentence «…Ἄτη, ἣ πάντας ἀᾶται» (e.g. v. 91), through which Homer offers us the explanation of the name: Ἄτη derives from ἀάομαιῶμαι (to blind).

[67] Seneca VIII: Tragedies – Edited and Translated by John G. Fitch, LCL 62, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts/London, England 2002, v. 301-379.

[68] Ibid. [62].

[69] According to Herodotus, it may have been the river Padus (Po) in N. Italy.

[70] Ibid. [66], Tomus II, Lib. XVI, v. 151: «…παρὰ ῥόον Ἠριδανοῖο».

[71] Ησίοδος Άπαντα – μετάφραση: Σωκράτης Σκαρτσής, Εκδόσεις Κάκτος/Οδυσσέας Χατζόπουλος & ΣΙΑ Ο.Ε., Αθήνα 1993, Theogony, v. 338.

[72] Απολλώνιος Ρόδιος Αργοναυτικά – μετάφραση: Φιλολογική Ομάδα Κάκτου, Εκδόσεις Κάκτος/Οδυσσέας Χατζόπουλος & ΣΙΑ Ο.Ε., Αθήνα 1999, book IV, v. 596-626.

[73] Xenakis proposes (ibid. [62]) the adjective ἐριδανός (supposedly meaning discordant) as an alternative interpretation of Eridanos next to Ἠριδανός – another illusory interrelation (another wink?) and another coined word of his, since ἐριδανός does not exist and couldn’t have existed: from a verb ending in -αίνω (ἐριδαίνω: to bring discord) no adjective ending in -ανός can derive (had an adjective existed, that would have been ἐριδαρός). But Xenakis’ affinity to Ἔρις, goddess of Strife overmastered him.

[74] Ibid. [66], e.g. Tomus I, Lib. V, v. 339: «ῥέε δ’ἄμβροτον αἷμα θεοῖο, ἰχώρ, οἷός πέρ τε ῥέει μακάρεσσι θεοῖσιν».

[75] Ibid. [72], book IV, v. 1679.

[76] Ibid. [66], e.g. «…φάλαγγες κυάνεαι» (Tomus I, Lib. IV, v. 281) or «…κυάνεον Τρώων νέφος» (Tomus II, Lib. XVI, v. 66) or «νεφέλη δέ μιν ἀμφεκάλυψε κυανέη» (Tomus II, Lib. XX, v. 417).

[77] Let us recall that in his Medea Senecae Xenakis chooses to equip the chorus with pebbles as a symbolic reference to the Symplegades (cf. introductory notes to the score – Éditions Salabert).

[78] Cf. the beginning of Euripides’ Medea: «Εἴθ’ ὤφελ’ Ἀργοῦς μὴ διαπτάσθαι σκάφος Κόλχων ἐς αἶαν κυανέας Συμπληγάδας» (v. 1-2) or Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica, book II, v. 317.

[79] It frequently occurs in Homer, meaning bond/foundation – e.g. «ὑπὸ δ’ ἕρματα μακρὰ τάνυσσαν» (Iliadis Libros I, v. 486); during Classical times, however, it came to stand for germ/embryo – e.g. «…λαβοῦσα δ’ ἕρμα Δῖον…» (Aeschylus Hiketides, v. 580).

[80] Xenakis uses an updated version of the Homeric feminine adjective ἠνεμόεσσα meaning wind-swept. It occurs in the so-called Homeric Hymns, characterizing Aegean islands – e.g. «οἳδ’ Ἰκάρῳ ἠνεμοέσσῃ» (Εἲς Διώνυσον [I], v. 1) or «…καὶ Κάρπαθος ἠνεμόεσσα…» (Εἲς Ἀπόλλωνα [Δήλιον], v. 43).

[81] Ἴδμεν meaning we know derives (cf. Introductory notes to the score – Éditions Salabert) from Hesiod’s Theogony, v. 27 that reads «ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα, ἴδμεν δ’ εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι».

[82] E.g. Hesiod Works and Days, v. 698.

[83] E.g. «οἵτινες ἡγεμόνες Δαναῶν καὶ κοίρανοι ἦσαν» (Iliadis Libros II, v. 487).

[84] Ἔργμα (accomplishment/achievement) occurs often in Pindar within an athletic context (and contest: cf. 58-59) – e.g. Pind. Nem. 1, v. 8. Solomos mistakenly claims that Ἔργμα is a Hesiodic word (cf. op. cit., p. 358). Ἔργμα shouldn’t be confused with ἕργμα (meaning prison – e.g. Sophocles Antigone, v. 860: «πρὸς ἕργμα τυμβόχωστον ἔρχομαι τάφου ποταινίου»), which carries a rough breathing and would be therefore transliterated as hergma.

[85] We find the word νᾶμα often in Sophocles, e.g. «Κασταλίας τε νᾶμα» (Antigone, v. 1130) or «δακρύων ῥήξασα θερμὰ νάματα» (The Trachiniae, v. 919). Again Xenakis opts for non-contracted vowels (νάαμα).

[86] E.g. in Varga, Bálint András Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, Faber and Faber Ltd., London 1996, p. 15 or cf. Matossian, Nouritza Xenakis, 2nd edition, Moufflon Publications Ltd., Cyprus 2005, p. 25.

[87] Κούντερα, Μίλαν Συνάντηση – μετάφραση: Γιάννης Η. Χάρης (Milan Kundera, Une rencontre, Gallimard, 2009), Βιβλιοπωλείον της «Εστίας» Ι. Δ. Κολλάρου & ΣΙΑς, Αθήνα 2010, p. 70.

[88] The Xenakian tendency to deal with remote or extinct languages and the practice of isolating inexplicable phonemes in his works manifests itself best in Nuits (1967), where the composer draws on Sumerian & Assyrian extracts amongst others in order to express the inexpressible, the “other”.

[89] Cf. Σολωμός, Μάκης Ιάννης Ξενάκης: Το σύμπαν ενός ιδιότυπου δημιουργού (Solomos, Makis Iannis Xenakis, P.O. Éditions, Paris 1996) – μετάφραση: Τίνα Πλυτά, Εκδόσεις Αλεξάνδρεια, Αθήνα 2008, p. 123.

[90] Cf. Varga, Bálint András Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, Faber and Faber Ltd., London 1996, p. 15.

[91] As far as I know, the first one to have called the music of Xenakis “music of the surd” (by comparison with that of Cage, which he calls “music of the absurd”) ever since the late ‘60s has been Eric Salzman, striking the right note – cf. Σάλτσμαν, Έρικ Εισαγωγή στη μουσική του 20ού αιώνα (Salzman, Eric Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction, Prentice Hall History of Music Series, USA 1967/1974) – μετάφραση: Γιώργος Ζερβός, Εκδόσεις Νεφέλη, Αθήνα 1983, p. 256.