General information
Title CZŘecké pašije
Subtitle CZopera o 4 dějstvích - 1. verze
Title ENThe Greek Passion
Subtitle ENopera in 4 acts - 1st version
Title DEGriechische Passion
Subtitle DEOper in vier Aufzügen - erste Fassung
Title FR
Subtitle FR
CategoryStage Works and Film Music
Halbreich number and suffix372 I
Parts of composition (movements)
Solo voiceFlauto dolce S, A, T; Cl; Fisarm; Vl (na scéně/on stage)
List of charactersKaterina (S / mS), Lenio (S), Manolios (T), Yannakos (T), Michelis (T), Panait (T), Nikolio (T), Grigoris (BBar), Archon (BBar), Fotis (BBar), Kostandis (B), Andonis (T), Ladas (Sp), narrator (Sp), 7 smaller patrs, boy choir, 2 mixed choirs
Diplomatic transcription of dedication
Note on dedication
Place of composition
Year of origin1957
Initiation of composition20.02.1956
Finishing of composition01/1957
Last modification of composition
First performance
Performer Ulf Schirmer (dir./cond.), David Pountney (režie/direction), Stephan Lazaridis (scéna/scenography), Nina Stemme (Katerina), Christopher Ventris (Manolios), Adrian Clarke (Kostandis), Egils Silins (Fotis), Esa Ruuttunen (Grigoris)
Clarke, Adrian
Lazaridis, Stephan
Pountney, David Willoughby
Ruuttunen, Esa
Schirmer, Ulf
Silins, Egils
Stemme, Nina
Ventris, Christopher
Date of first performance20.07.1999
Location of first performanceBregenz, Austria
Ensemble Wiener Symphoniker, Moscow Chamber Choir, Bregenz Musikhauptschule Children's Choir
Autograph deposition
InstitutionPaul Sacher Stiftung
Deposition location
OwnerPaul Sacher Stiftung, Basel
Note on manuscriptFragments of the autograph score. *** Other fragments held by the UE Wien. Sketches and two fragments of the autograph score are located at the Bohuslav Martinů Centre in Polička.
Place of issue
PublisherUniversal Edition
Year of publication1998
CopyrightUniversal Edition, Vienna
NoteLibretto (in English) by B. Martinů after Nikos Kazantzakis' novel "Christ Recrucified" (Nice, August 1954 - October 1955, New York, November 1955 - January 1956). *** Greek translation by Christina Lazaridi (2004). *** First, "London" version. *** Dates and places of the composition - 1st and 2nd act: New York, 20.02.1956 - Schönenberg, 28.07.1956; 3rd act: Schönenberg, August 1956 - November 1956; 4rd act: Rome, November 1956 - January 1957. *** Reconstructed by Aleš Březina.

The Greek Passion

Bohuslav Martinů (8.12.1890 born in Polička, former Czechoslovakia) remains one of the most important composers of 20th century music. As a youth in his hometown of Polička, he learned violin and later attended the Prague conservatory, where he was expelled for lack of diligence. He spent a few years as a second-violin player of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and after a short period of time studying composition under Josef Suk, he moved to Paris to study the same subject under Albert Roussel in 1923. He spent the next 18 years in France and composed a major part of his work there. Soon after World War II started, he and his wife Charlotte saved their lives by fleeing to the USA, where he continued composing and also taught composition at several universities. After 1953, he lived alternately in Italy and Switzerland, and died in the latter on August 28, 1959.

Martinů’s musical language made a very colorful journey during his active period. After Martinů’s youth, when he completely fell for the style of Claude Debussy, he was attracted to the poetics of neoclassicism by Igor Stravinsky and the French Music-Hall. From the '30s on, Martinů was increasingly inspired by folk and folk literature - literature in general had a major influence on his work all his life. His life-time body of work includes over 400 compositions and covers all contemporary genres such as miscellaneous duets, works for various chamber ensembles, symphonies, songs, cantatas and operas, from compositions arranged for a standard concert hall to the works written for either radio or television. Among the frequently performed compositions belong Symphonies Nos. 3, 4, and 6, Concerto Grosso, Double-concert, Rhapsody concerto, two great operas--the dreamy Juliette and The Greek Passion--and the cantata The Opening Of Springs is a mostly Czech hit.

The Greek Passion belongs to Martinů’s most profound works. The opera and its libretto are based on Christ Recrucified (1951), a novel by Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957). The author made Jesus come alive in his novels at least twice, previously in The Last Temptation of Christ. The life of Christ meant a great inspiration for Kazantzakis, who was actually more a philosopher than a writer and he modified the biblical persons in very original manner in both novels mentioned. Greek Passion takes place in the rough Greek countryside in the early 20th century. As a part of an application for a grant, Martinů himself described the story as such:

“The story starts when the priest Grigoris calls down the patriarchs of village Lykovrissi and chooses from them Christ and the Apostles for a passion-play from the villagers. The village lives in supreme peace, perhaps even too blithely, until the town is torn by a sudden shock. As God requires proofs of trust, refugees from a plundered village come to the town-square and ask for asylum. However, they are wrathfully refused and are forced to seek for their shelter in the rocky mountains, where they must feed their hunger with feral grass but satiate their hearts with prayers. The newly appointed saints, led by the highest priest and their spiritual leader, Father Fotis, follow the refugees. Daily worries of the actors fade little by little; the strength of their trust and the roles of the approaching passion-play raise their minds to another level. Manolios, a shepherd and a dreamer, experiences a tremendous struggle as constituting Christ, a naive merchant gives up his little trinkets, lascivious widow Katerina as Maria Magdalena pays dearly for her newly attained trust, and wild Judas is devoured by his own fate. We can recognize each man and woman in their own mental metamorphosis, each willing to reach their goals in an anxiously live and resolute manner. Along with them, we experience a joyful summer and harvest-time: the passionate love of Nikolios and Lenio in the wild nature, a hopeless fight between the villagers and the refugees, and the tragic death of shepherd Manolios - Christ. Like two streams of blood, two major themes penetrate the story: the human heritage of Christian virtue and responsibility of man for humanity. Those who head for philanthropy find their way blocked by those who refuse to give up selfishness. Each man and each woman return to the only one way of life: either to do good or to do evil. Holy forces, coming from the earth, sweep everything away with themselves.”

In 1957, just two years after beginning Greek Passion, Martinů’s opera was completed and ready to be offered to the Royal Opera Covent Garden with the Czech Rafael Kubelík as the conductor. The initially positive expectations were disappointed when three skilled critics dismissed the opera, which was intended for performance in the upcoming season. Thus, Martinů decided to offer his masterpiece to the opera in Zurich, and after a couple of complaints from the management, he rushed to dramatically change the entire opera. Alterations ranged from significant transformations of the libretto itself to different usage of characteristic musical themes for particular semantic symbols. The opera premiered under the direction of Paul Sacher on June 9, 1961 – unfortunately, neither of the authors lived to see it. Almost forty years later, Czech musicologist Aleš Březina reconstructed the first version of The Greek Passion from shattered parts that the composer gave to his friends and resurrected the opera in all its dramatic unity. Though rather late, the original face of the opera was finally performed at the Festival in Bregenz in 1999 and one year later The Greek Passion was performed in the place where Martinů initially wished it to – in Royal Opera Covent Garden in London. Since 2000, it has also been performed in Bremen, and it is to be rehearsed in Thessalonica, Greece and in Cagliari, Italy.


Pavel Mužík



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