Commissioned by Athens Concert Hall

  • 2timp/str
  • soprano
  • 25 min
  • Angelos Sikelianos, trans. Edward Keeley & Phillip Sherrard
  • English

Programme Note

The term "Agraphon" - literally "unwritten thing", designates a saying or tradition about Christ not recorded in the Gospels or traceable to its original source.

For Sikelianos everything in the natural and visible world, when rightly perceived, was an expression of a supernatural and invisible order of reality. Agraphon was written towards the end of his life, during the devastating Athenian autumn of 1941 under the German occupation of Greece, and speaks with a solemn, tragic dignity.

The music contains two symbolic ideas - the first being the opening series of intervals which appear to be inexhaustible in their multifaceted symbolism, representing the music of the spheres. If the angel's song is indeed one of knowledge, they could not choose a better theme of harmony. An then there is the apparent evil of the endless series of spiralling sixths and sevenths, falling without apparent hope of redemption through an eternal geometric series, down into a hellish realm.

Agraphon must be performed with great intensity, literally at the breaking point of intensity and petrification. For the voice the style alternates between European and classical Indian singing; for example, the passage beginning on page 12 is entirely semi-improvised. The singer must listen to many examples of classical Indian music, or else be trained by a master. The music ends fiercely at the incomprehensible clash and union between the Divine and the human.

John Tavener


Tavener: Agraphon