The Kennedy Center

Skalkottas Nikos


Nikos Skalkottas, who was born in Halkis, Evia, on March 21, 1904, was one of the most important Greek composers of the 20th Century. Skalkottas began studying the violin with his father and uncle at age five, entered the Athens Conservatory at age 10, and graduated from the conservatory at age 16, according to Oxford Music Online. In 1621, he attended the Berlin Hochschule für Musik on scholarship and studied violin with Willy Hess. Though Skalkottas had a promising career as a virtuoso violinist, in 1925 he decided to focus on composition. To pursue his goal, he studied composition with Phillip Jarnach and orchestration with Kurt Weill. He then entered the Preussische Akademie der Künste, where he studied with Schoenberg, his most inspiring instructor, from 1927 – 32. During this time, many of Skalkottas's works were performed.
Skalkottas returned to Athens in 1933, where he suffered a temporary nervous breakdown, states Oxford Music Online.  In addition, Skalkottas's compositions were not well received by critics or the public, and in 1934 he was forced to work as an orchestral violinist to earn a living. He played in the Athens symphony and opera orchestras and in Greek Radio Symphony Orchestra. Though Skalkottas did little composing from 1932 - 34, in 1935, he entered a period of productivity. His wrote numerous symphonic pieces, including 36 Greek Dances, the symphonic overture Return of Ulysses, the drama Mayday Spell, the ballet The Maiden and Death, Classical Symphony for Winds, a Sinfonietta and a number of concertos, as well as chamber music and vocal works, according to the Friends of Nikos Skalkottas' Music Society.
Skalkottas remained in Athens during the World War II and was falsely arrested and detained for being a member of the Greek resistance. He died prematurely on Sept. 20, 1949, in Athens of a strangulated hernia.
Skalkottas wrote a large number of compositions in which he created his own serial techniques as well as numerous tonal works. However, few of Skalkottas's compositions were played in Greece during his lifetime, and he was little known as a composer. Skalkottas's work began to be recognized in the 1960s, when he was regarded as one of the significant mid-war dodecaphonic avant-garde composers, according to the Friend of Nikos Skalkottas' Music Society.