Maria Farandouri - The Ballad of Mauthausen

Posted By MiOd On Monday, July 15, 2013 Under
This recording of the famous ballad of Mauthausen marked the beginning of one of the most fruitious collaborations in greek music, that of Mikis Theodorakis and the singer Maria Farantouri. Farantouri was discovered by Theodorakis at age sixteen whereupon he is said to have remarked; you will be my highpriestress. The truth of this statement is immediately apparent when listening to the ballad of Mauthausen. It is unbelievable that you are listening to the voice of a girl just out of highschool. Farantouri was and still is one of those artists that communicate with their audiences without any "filters" whatsoever. She sings completely naturally from her being and transmits this undilluted with all its raw force and energy so that it reaches your heart and soul with the same intensity as with which it was conceived.
Mauthausen was a german camp in Austria during WW2 where the Nazi's forced their victims to work in the stonequary and haul big pieces of stone up a steep and very uneven ramp. Allthough not an exterminationcamp like Auschwitz countless people still were robbed of their lives in ways and under circumstances too horific to imagine.
The ballad of Mauthausen is based on the experiences of the greek/jewish playwright Iakovos Kambanellis. He wrote four poems that Theodorakis set to music. His inspriration was a photo of an unknown girl which he found in the camp and which he kept with him. The first song, the Asma Asmaton or highsong deals with the poignant question of a man who describes how beautiful his beloved is (quam pulchra es) and asks the other inmates if they have seen her. The answer being; we have seen her on a long march, standing on large square with a number on her arm and a yellow star on her heart. The repeated line; noone knows how beautiful my beloved was (kanis den ixere pos ine toso oreia) is hauntingly sung by Farantouri.
The second song O Antonis tells the story of how a jew collapses on the stairs out of the quary and is shot by the guard who then orders the greek Antonis to lift a double burden or he will get shot as well. Antonis lifts this second rock and defiantly walks on with it. In this song which also is known from the score of the film Z you can hear the stairs being depicted in the intro to every couplet.
The song the fugitive tells of a prisoner that escapes the camp but doesn't find refuge in the hostile surroundings and is captured again to be shot. Here the intro depicts the landscape of Austria with a Mozart-like melodie.
In the last song the poet adresses one of the girls he can see standing by the fence of the female camp and asks her if when the war finally will be over they can come together to kiss at the gate, make love in the quary and in the gaschamber untill the shadow of death is driven away. The song ends with an epilogue, returning to the first song ending with the plaintive, noone knows how beautiful my beloved was.
The instrumentation containing bouzouki's, spinet, electric guitar,baglamas, flute, bass and percussion help to create a desolate yet beautiful atmosphere which to me is as essential as black and white was to Schindlers List. And with the undramatic yet deeply moving voice of Maria Farantouri you have a recording that is one of the highpoints in the vast discography of Theodorakis.
The disc is complemented by the cycle six songs for Farantouri which are all wonderful. T'oniro Kapnos and O iskios epese varis esspecially among them.

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