Critical Music Histories: Petros Vouvaris – Biographic and analytical discourse in the case of Skalkottas

A place in the canon: Biographic and analytical discourse in the case of Skalkottas

In epistemological terms, the difference between a biographic and an analytic approach seems apparent. On the one hand, composers’ biographies, usually considered in the style of “works and days”, emphasize the historical -though subjectively constructed– context.

On the other hand, music analysis, in its most essentialist guise, focuses on the decontextualised work, often deprived from any semantic possibilities. Despite this apparent difference, biographic and analytical discourse share a common illocutionary commitment with regard to the establishment of the canon. The former subtly connects a unique story that is worth telling to a unique music worth deal with, while the latter enforces the “canonic status” of particular musical works by tending to naturalizee their structural units and relations. The talk approaches this uneasy alliance between biographic and analytic discourse through a case study investigation of Skalkottas. This investigation aims to reveal the emergence of Skalkottas as a par excellence image of the modern subject, whose alienation complies to the principle of “EinsamkeitalsStil”, representative of his modernist music idiom. At the same time, the uniqueness of this idiom, highlighted by several analysts and always posited by comparison to the modernism of Schoenberg and other composers, is closely related to the narrative of individualism that signifies many biographical notions of Skalkottas’ life. Demonstrating virtually no interest for the numerous works that have been largely characterised as “non-avant-garde”, academic research has therefore construed out of Skalkottas an archetypal of the modernist Greek composer, and inextricably bound, his place in the canon of Greek art music with this role.


The Critical Μusic Histories study group was formed in January 2014 at the School of Music Studies, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, by A.U.TH. postgraduate and undergraduate students as well as recent alumni, supervised by Danae Stefanou, Assistant Professor in Historical Musicology.