I find this fascinating.
You may not find this fascinating. It involves Greek music of the 40s.
I’ve been listening to Dalaras’ 1980 recording of wartime rebetika. I realised that one of the songs, Haidari, I had already heard before, and loved it. It’s a chilling song about someone about to be executed, in the Haidari concentration camp in Athens. Its lyrics and its music both have an astonishing urgency, with the music careening between panic and sorrow.
You could argue Dalaras’ 1980 recording is overproduced, too smooth. But it’s also oracular the way Dalaras manages. And it’s the version I’ve known and loved.
Run mother, fast as you can,
run and save me,
and free me, mother,
For I am about to die
and I am condemned.
A seventeen year old boy
locked up in irons.
They take me from Sekeris St
[where the Sicherheitsdienst HQ was]
and hour by hour I wait
for Death to take me.
Now, it’s a miracle that the Wartime Rebetiko songs were recorded at all. They were not recorded during the war. With many of them pro-communist and most of them suspect, they were not recorded after the war. And that extended to this song, too, which was written in 1943 by the Master of Rebetiko, the Great Markos Vamvakaris.
And with the songs not recorded during the war, or after the war, an inconvenient truth surfaced about Haidari. Noone in 1980 was sure what the tune was. There were multiple tunes in circulation, and what Markos himself had set it to was unknown; Markos himself had died in 1972. All anyone knew was the characteristically curt description in Markos’ autobiography:
Then [after the war] I went back to perform at Amphissa nightclub. We’d play all my pre-war songs there. I’d written a few new songs in the meantime. One that went quite well was Haidari. A zeibekikos in the niavendi (Nahawand) scale. I didn’t record it. I sang it in parks [clubs].
According to Markos’ son Stelios, Markos himself barely remembered the song, and the recording went ahead with music that Stelios wrote.
It’s an amazing tune, like I said. But it’s no zeibekikos; the article above describes it as a tsifteteli. It’s not in Nahawand scale. And if you think about it (and know the styles), there’s nothing ’40s about it: it’s a setting that wouldn’t make sense before 1960.
What happens if you find Bach’s completion to his last fugue? Or Schubert’s completion of his Unfinished Symphony? Or a Requiem that Mozart finished all on his own, without Süssmayr? Would it be what you expected? Would you want to risk disappointment?
And how much more of a risk would it be, if it was like this song, where the music wasn’t even the original?
Well, I found out today that Markos had remembered the original tune just fine, and a recording surfaced a couple of years ago from 1966.
That blog article was: Το αυθεντικό ‘Χαιδάρι’ του Μάρκου Βαμβακάρη από χαμένη ηχογράφηση του 1966
The audio is abominable, and Markos was never a great singer, but…
… The striking thing about the original Haidari: it’s exactly what you’d expect from Markos in 1943. It follows the path he’d laid out in his 1930s Peiraeus style. It’s jaunty, not desperate (outside of the wavering of Markos’ out-of-tune tenor: the desperation is very subtle). It’s ordered, not impassioned, with all the familiar tropes and Mozartian symmetry of the 30s. It thumps along at a fast pace. It’s not as imaginative and soaring as his son’s setting: after all, his son had benefitted from 40 years of broadening of the bouzouki repertoire. And its tone, ultimately, is all fatalism and little panic.
And it has three more stanzas, one of which is heard in the recording (and all of which had been published in 1947):
You should see Death’s sword,
mother, how it changes things,
oh, and how it will take way
mother, everyone’s life.
And when you see me dead, mother,
tell the other mothers—
for they too have ached
with even greater sorrow—
That I have seen their children
bound in chains,
dressed in the uniform of the condemned,
and unjustly slain.
… I think the new version is greater, it dares more, it feels more. Yet the understated, ordered, fatalistic original, numbly wrapped up in the familiar old tropes and symmetries, is probably truer to how Markos felt, as he saw Jews and resistance fighters being dragged off to Haidari.