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Defining interdisciplinarity and indentifying Research directions in Jani Christou’s Strychnine lady



Jani Christou was a major Greek composer, whose unusual, yet promising career was brought to an end after his untimely death in 1970 at the age of 44. His challenging and speculative output has intrigued generation of young music scholars; however, J. Christou’s work remains imperfectly and only patchily known and understood, especially outside Greece. This is partly because of the interdisciplinary nature of his late works which reduces the possibility of potential researchers who will academically establish J. Christou’s distinguished output. The aim of the present paper is to present and analyse parts of Strychnine Lady, a work composed in 1967 in order to propose research directions in an effort to confirm J. Christou’s posthumous reputation.
226 Expression
Defining interdisciplinarity
and indentifying Research directions
in Jani Christous
Strychnine lady
Maria Yerosimou, PhD
Faculty of Music Goldsmiths University of London,
Lewisham Way, New Cross, London, UK
E mail address:
Jani Christou was a major Greek composer, whose unusual, yet promising career was
brought to an end after his untimely death in 1970 at the age of 44. His challenging and
speculative output has intrigued generation of young music scholars; however, J. Christo-
u’s work remains imperfectly and only patchily known and understood, especially outside
Greece. This is partly because of the interdisciplinary nature of his late works which redu-
ces the possibility of potential researchers who will academically establish J. Christou’s
distinguished output. The aim of the present paper is to present and analyse parts of Strych-
nine Lady, a work composed in 1967 in order to propose research directions in an effort to
conÞ rm J. Christou’s posthumous reputation.
Key words: Experimental music theatre, avant garde music, contemporary music, 20th
century music, Greek avant garde composer
On the 8th January 1970 an unusual and thrilling talent was lost in a car acci-
dent: the composer Jani Christou. J. Christou was a major composer and philo-
sopher, whose unusual, yet promising career was brought to an end after his
untimely death at the age of 44. In his late works particularly J. Christou brought
into conjunction his deep immersion in philosophical and psychological studies,
including the ideas of Carl Jung and alchemy, with avant-garde musical and dra-
matic materials and means. It is crucial to mention that the composer invented a
completely personal and ground-breaking music notation system to vividly and
thoroughly describe his concepts.
J. Christou was born of Greek parents at Heliopolis, N.E. of Egypt’s Cairo on
8th January 1926. As a child he was well educated, receiving his primary education
at the English Victoria College in Alexandria. He started having piano lessons in
1931 and for a period of time he studied with the famous contemporary pianist
Gina Bachauer, who introduced him to music theory. J. Christou started compos-
DOI: 10.15503/jecs20141-226-241
Journal of Education Culture and Society No. 1_2014
ing at an early age. In 1945, he moved to Kings College, Cambridge in England
to study philosophy and formal logic, under Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand
Russell (Minou, 2010) and obtained an MA degree in philosophy in 1948. Simul-
taneously, he also started studying music on a private basis with Hans F. Redlich,
who was a well-known musicologist and had been a student of Alban Berg. He
later went to Rome to study orchestration with Angelo F. Lavagnino.
During 1951-1954 J. Christou travelled widely across Europe, ending with a
short stay at Zurich, where it is believed that he met Carl Jung and attended sev-
eral lectures in psychology with him, although this information is not conÞ rmed
by evidence. His brother, Evanghelos ! who himself was a student of C. Jung !
had greatly encouraged J. Christou"s studies in psychology.
J. Christou returned to Alexandria in 1951 where he devoted himself to com-
position. In 1956 he married his childhood friend Theresia Horemi, an exceptional
young painter from Chios. In the same year, his brother was killed at a car acci-
dent, a fact that had a deep effect on J. Christou. Evangelos was considered as his
spiritual mentor who had a great role in his creative thinking and his death had
a deep effect that stigmatised J. Christou. It is worth mentioning that Evangh-
elos"s book The Logos of the Soul was a posthumous publication edited and curated
by J. Christou himself. In 1960 he moved permanently to Greece, dividing his
time between Chios and Athens before eventually settling in the latter due to his
increasing professional demands.
J. Christou and his wife Theresia were killed in a car accident after celebrating
the composer"s name day. J. Christou died at the age of forty four on his birthday,
being already one of the leading composers of his time. His compositional and
pre-compositional work is kept in his personal archive in Athens and managed by
the composer"s daughter Sandra.
J. Christou today
Today, J. Christou is considered as a major composer and a leading Þ gure in
post-war Greek music (Sakallieros, & Kyriakos, 2008). Nevertheless, J. Christou"s
work remains imperfectly and only patchily known and understood, especially
outside Greece and his name is generally unknown within international music
communities. Ironically, at the time of his death, the most ambitious project of
his music career - a large scale contemporary opera based on Aeschylus"s Ore-
steia (1967-70) - was going to be premiered at the prestigious English Bach Festi-
val in London in April 1970; performances were also scheduled to take place in
Japan, France, Scandinavia and the USA. Thus, despite being greatly honoured
in contemporary music circles in the sixties, J. Christou"s unfortunate and pre-
mature death brought to an end a promising career and secreted a remarkable
J. Christou"s death is not the only reason that his work has not yet been thoro-
ughly appreciated; the author would like to stress the issue of interdisciplinarity
as regards the composer"s late works, created 1965-1968. There is a special relation
in J. Christou"s musical compositions with other, non-musical systems of thought.
Any analytical attempt that does not include these systems could not be valid, in
228 Expression
view of the fact that J. Christou’s works could not be comprehensively analysed
by the traditional musicological methodologies. Thus, musical knowledge exclu-
sively is not sufÞ cient and a researcher should be prepared to study extensively
other, non-musical and performance areas; a fact that reduces the range of possi-
ble researches on the topic.
This paper focuses on Strychnine Lady (1967), a work included in a group of
compositions which are described by the composer himself as stage-rituals and
aim to lead the performers and audience to a transcendent stage in order to com-
municate primeval and archetypal elements of the unconscious. The interdiscipli-
nary nature of the work, as previously stated, requires a special analytical appro-
ach, which should include extended research in other disciplines. The aim here is
to present and analyse selected parts of Strychnine Lady, in the hope of furthering
research in the Þ eld of J. Christou’s studies by proposing interdisciplinary rese-
arch directions, derived from the music score.
Ritualistic qualities
Rehearsal marks 9-13
In the next paragraphs there will be an attempt at describing and analysing the
rehearsal marks1 9-13 of J. Christou’s Strychnine Lady. These particular Rehearsal
marks have been chosen as they appear to include some interesting elements in
regards to the deÞ nition of the work and its perception. In particular, they could
be references to mystical, mysterious and ritualistic qualities. Before any analytical
attempt or an outline of any context, a description of the content of these Rehearsal
marks is considered as essential.
At the Rehearsal marks 9-13, the viola player is required to play just one
continuous note. According to the music score, J. Christou gives the following
deeply meditative
• unreal
• soft
A few moments later, four actors enter the stage slowly in a row and start
reciting a Latin text, each one at a different speed. They slowly move towards the
piano, reciting the Latin text in a crescendo that leads to a shout across the strings
of the piano.
This short moment brings into sight a few attention-grabbing elements: Firstly,
the instructions that the composer gives to the solo viola player are quite unusual;
they concern a mood and an ambiance rather than a playing technique, excluding
‘soft’. In other words, the viola player has to enter a meditative mood and set her
playing of the particular note in the speciÞ c space. A question arises about why
the composer uses these particular words in describing the playing of the viola
note. The words “unreal” and “deeply meditative” are usually used to describe
1 The term “rehearsal marks” refer to the different sections of Strychnine Lady’s music score.
Journal of Education Culture and Society No. 1_2014
situations usually related to the extraordinary. There is also a connection between
the word “meditative” and the viola’s continuous playing of just one note; it could
be connected with eastern mediation practices, such as mantras based on just one
sustained note, creating harmonics and vibration on a speciÞ c frequency.
Example 1. J. Christou, Strychnine Lady, Rehearsal marks 9 – 13.
Source: Christou, 1973, p. 7.
230 Expression
The entrance of the four actors also contributes to the creation of an unrealistic atmo-
sphere associated with the extraordinary. They move slowly in a row, a scene that rela-
tes to movements drawn from ancient ceremonies. There are many scenes in various
ancient cultures that this movement resembles. One of these could be the entrance of
the chorus in ancient Greek tragedy; a scene strictly connected to ritualistic practices.
During their entrance, the actors recite a Latin text. The use of the Latin language
is very interesting and needs to be discussed for many reasons. To begin, Latin is no
longer used, it is in other words a ‘dead’ language, and it seems as though J. Christou
is bringing back to life something from the past, reaching back through the centuries.
This awakens a mysterious spirit, since there is a bringing of the past into the future,
creating a strange but still interesting redeÞ nition of time. The broad characterisation
of Latin as ‘dead’ creates on its own a weird sense of bringing the world of the ‘dead
into the living world, a fact that creates an atmosphere connected with ritual.
Concerned with the ritual, another important aspect of Latin should be mentio-
ned. Latin is the language used in many kinds and types of ceremonies and rituals
throughout the centuries, starting from the Roman-Catholic liturgy. It is the lan-
guage used in exorcisms, alchemical texts and mystical ceremonies. It is also belie-
ved to have a divine nature (Sheridan, 1994). The particular text used in this small
part of the Strychnine Lady presents the story of Gabricius, as it is described in the
ancient alchemical text Rosarium Philosophorum (Jung, 1952). There, Beya embra-
ces Gabricus with such overwhelming love that absorbs him completely into her
womb, transforming him into many invisible pieces. Following this union, the
formerly two different persons are now combined, forming a new creature. The
content of this bizarre story also relates to the extraordinary and follows the same
mood as the previous elements outlined; an atmosphere that could be characteri-
sed as ritualistic, mysterious and potentially mystical. These characterisations are
supported by the context of the text. The story of Beya and Gabricius, as mentio-
ned above, is described in the medieval alchemical text Rosarium Philosophorum.
The practice of alchemy appears to be rather ancient. The Egyptians, Greeks,
Romans, Chinese, and early Arab cultures all engaged in alchemical investigations.
Alchemists had a number of goals in their work. Several of them were seeking a
process which would turn base metals like lead into gold or silver. In addition they
had panacea as a goal also known as a cure-all, which would, in theory, extend life
for an indeÞ nite period. In Europe, alchemy experienced a resurgence during the
medieval period, as a result of an interest in translating ancient texts which exposed
people to the concepts of alchemy. In addition to being an exploration of chemistry,
medieval alchemy was also concerned with philosophy and metaphysics, and, as
chemistry commenced to emerge as an independent discipline, the exploration of
alchemy became metaphysical. People who view alchemy as metaphysical consider
alchemical terms as metaphors, and not factual references to substances.
Thus, a very important part of Alchemy is strongly connected to and funda-
mentally deals with the basic mysteries of life, as well as with transcendental
mysticism (Miller, 1986), something that strengthens the mystical dimension of
this particular part of the Strychnine Lady. It should be also mentioned that this
story is included in C. Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy (1952). C. Jung states that this
Journal of Education Culture and Society No. 1_2014
bizarre union of Beya and Gabricius is an entirely symbolic incest of the conscious
that descents into the unconscious (Sakallieros, &Kyriakos, 2008). C. Jung won’t
be analysed further in the present writing, but there will be just a reference to the
Jungian world of symbols and the unconscious, a reference that awakes, as the
previous mentioned elements, the sense of the mysterious and the mystical.
Rehearsal Marks 76-78
Referring to the ritual element, there is another part that could be characterised
as ritualistic. The part covers the Rehearsal marks 76-78.
Example 2. J. Christou, Strychnine Lady, Rehearsal marks 76-79.
Source: Christou, 1973, p. 39.
232 Expression
The Rehearsal marks 76 starts with “a desperate, human-like cry” at maximum
volume by the horn and the trombone. The viola soloist lies on the ß oor, covered
with a red cloth whilst three actors are smoking “casually”, “pensively” and “rela-
xed”. At the same moment, four trumpeters advance “excruciatingly” slowly, as
if hypnotised, gravely towards the covered viola soloist. A fourth actor has by-
-passed the viola soloist, and is gazing Þ xedly, giving the impression that he is
advancing also “excruciatingly-slowly-hypnotically”. At Rehearsal marks 78 the
trumpeters have reached the viola soloist and stand over her, in a circle, looking
down at the cloth.
The above scene closely resembles a funeral ceremony. The viola soloist is col-
lapsed on the ß oor and covered with a red cloth. The choice of red colour for the
cloth is not unintentional. Red is considered as a sacred colour and is linked with
many symbols. Red throughout the development of civilisation has had conno-
tations with the sacred. Red is associated, from ancient times, with ceremonies of
human or animal sacriÞ ce and usually represents blood. It is also the colour of Þ re,
another sacred symbol and is very often used in funerals, a fact that enhances the
assumption of the “funeral” semblance at the Rehearsal marks 76-78.
Also, the slow movement of the trumpeters towards the red-cloth covered
viola player and the “desperate, human-voice cry” of horn and trombone bear
a resemblance to pictures from a funeral march, where people move slowly and
desperate cries accompany the whole ceremony.
The above reference to funeral ceremonies and realistic events such as a funeral
march are in contrast with the three actors who stand and smoke casually, acting
as if nothing is happening. Also, there is a fourth actor who is not related at all
with all the events and actions taking place, he is like a being in a world of his
own. The fact that there are actions taking place at the same time with no commu-
nication or logical connection between them could be a characteristic of a ritual.
Also, this illogical development of the events refers to the previously mentioned
deÞ nition of a ritual.
Strychnine lady and theatricality
In Strychnine Lady a co-existence of different performance elements is observed.
Christou requires four actors and one actress in addition to the musicians, and
demands from all of them to use a broad range of expressive means, apart from
the ordinary acts required (for example playing musical instruments).
Rehearsal marks 69-70
In rehearsal marks (=Rehearsal marks) 69-70 some examples of the coexistence
of those different elements is observed, as they present an action going beyond
what is normally perceived as music performance. In the next paragraph the
author sets out to describe this moment.
At the Rehearsal marks 69 the following directions are given to the horn and
the trombone players: “walking slowly through auditorium”. The viola player
is collapsed and remains “frozen” on the ß oor, whilst three actors, 2, 3 & 4 are
smoking casually. Another actor walks by the viola player and, “gazing always”,
Journal of Education Culture and Society No. 1_2014
Example 3. J. Christou, Strychnine Lady, Rehearsal marks 69-70.
Source: Christou, 1973, p. 36.
234 Expression
keeps advancing excruciatingly slowly. In Rehearsal marks 69, two of the smoking
actors go back “leisurely” and pick up a red cloth that is placed on a metal con-
struction, whilst the remaining actor keeps smoking “nonchalantly”, waiting for
them to return. In the meantime, the horn and trombone player are still walking
slowly through auditorium and actor 1 also walks slowly, always gazing Þ xe-
dly”. At Rehearsal marks 70, violins 1, 2 & 3 to stand up. The three previously
smoking actors are now covering casually the viola soloist “as though this is a
routine job”. A second or so after she has been covered, a spotlight comes up on
the viola player Actor 2 makes gestures on the same motives of the preciously
performed Rehearsal marks 31. Subsequently, actor 4 takes a snapshot, using a
camera, of the covered viola soloist and the remaining actors.
There is a special stage action as regards the soloist viola player; in a usual
music piece it would be enough to play her instrument and produce music at an
acoustic level. But J. Christou goes beyond that and requires a kind of a theatrical
action. At this particular part described above, she is not playing her viola and she
is sitting frozen on the ß oor, after she has collapsed. This can be characterised as a
theatrical action, since it follows speciÞ c instructions related with body movement
and directed stage performance. Also, the viola player is acting as a character,
in other words, represents someone else than herself. This strongly contrasts the
usual role of a musician, as in that case, a musician is representing himself/ herself
playing a music piece. Particularly, in music performance a performer does an
action for the audience. In the theatrical performance’s case, a performer does as
action for the audience as a character.
Another theatrical aspect of the Strychnine Lady is the use of actors. In Rehe-
arsal marks 69-70 there are four actors, required to act as characters following
directed actions. This adds to the theatricality of the Strychnine Lady, since the use
of actors gives a dramatic hypostasis to the play.
Another important factor that should be taken into consideration is the use of
extra-musical objects. In the part described above, a red cloth and a metal con-
struction are used clearly as scenic objects and not as means to create sound. The
red cloth is used to cover the frozen viola player and its meaning can lead in many
different directions. There is an issue concerning the color of the cloth, since red
color has many symbolisations. It could recall pictures from ancient theatre per-
formance practices which were connected with rituals of sacriÞ ces, therefore red
could represent blood. This notion strengthens the theatrical hypostasis of the red
The whole action does not resemble at all a usual music performance. It is clear
from this part that the work does not concern a production of sound solely, given
that it has a narrative sequence and staged action. It is also understandable that
Strychnine Lady requires the involvement of the “eye” as well, not just the “ear”,
as in typical music performances. At this point, it seems appropriate to look into
the term “theatre”. The word “theatre” is derived from the ancient Greek ljƾǂǕǒǐǎ
(théatron, “a place for viewing”) and ljdžƽǐǍǂNJ (theáomai, “to see”, “to watch”, “to
observe”). Hence, “theatre” involves viewing and observation so in this sense,
Strychnine Lady could be said to be theatrical.
Journal of Education Culture and Society No. 1_2014
Psychological aspects
Rehearsal marks 44-45
In the Rehearsal marks 44-45 some notions of psychology can be observed.
J. Christou’s relation to psychology and C. Jung is known and obvious in other
parts of the work, taking into consideration the fore-mentioned story of Beya and
Gabricius, included in Psychology and Alchemy (Jung, 1952). The following paragra-
phs present an attempt at indentifying where these two rehearsal marks lead in
relation to psychological elements, psychological conditions and others.
Firstly, a description of the Rehearsal marks is required in order to realise what
happens in this part of Strychnine Lady. At the end of Rehearsal marks 43, a previo-
usly immobile, with a soft, child-like smile actor (actor 1) has a sudden, soundless
panic attack. The actress sitting in the audience screams, so does actor 1 and at the
same moment, the viola soloist stops smiling (half smile vanishes), an action that
has taken place in the previous Rehearsal marks and starts playing her viola with
“sudden aggressiveness”. Actor 1 stays immobile with an expression of horror
whilst the three other actors are smoking casually, according to the composer, “in
a silent action, miming”. The soloists keep playing furiously, while actor 1 looks at
her feet, slowly raises his head and gazes at her hips.
It is interesting to discuss the directions that the composer gives to the perfor-
mers. In the soloist’s case, directions include the following words:
• aggressiveness
erotic ferocity
obsessive relentlessness
• hysteria
threats alarm savage desire
It is clear from the above that the composer wants to describe the psychological
condition of an action and does not give aesthetic directions on the performance.
The words described are quite unusual and refer to a very special emotional and
psychological condition in which the performers have to bring themselves into,
in order to achieve the requested performance result. The term “erotic ferocity”
refers to an emotional condition that is very speciÞ c and not a general emotional
direction. The soloist needs to experience in her inner world this situation; other-
wise there is no other way to perform it in the correct manner. This also applies
to the direction of “hysteria” and “aggressive relentlessness”, as these are spe-
cial emotional situations that demand an experience rather than a mimetic action,
otherwise they cannot be effectively produced. This makes the performer’s role
much more difÞ cult, as they are required not only to perform, but to experience
this particular emotional situation, to have this situation psychologically control-
led and to perform it at the same time in an environment of a pre-arranged and
scheduled performance.
All of the above concern in the same way the actors. They have to act casually
and smoke at the same time that the soloist is under “hysteria”, actor 1 and the
actress in the audience are screaming and the bass drum player is playing aggres-
sively at maximum volume. They need to remain in the same stage of nonchalance
236 Expression
and experience an emotion of numbness. The difÞ culty in this action for the actors is
how to experience numbness, since there is no way of not being affected by the other
actions on stage, which are completely opposite psychologically.
What is very interesting is how the spectator of the Strychnine Lady is affected
by all of the above. They experience actions out of the every-day experience, com-
Example 4. J. Christou, Strychnine Lady, Rehearsal marks 44-45.
Source: Christou, 1973, p. 36.
Journal of Education Culture and Society No. 1_2014
pletely different and with no connection between them: panic, screaming, hyste-
ria, numbness, impassiveness, horror, threat. All these form an experience that
cannot leave them unaffected. It affects their psychology in ways that they cannot
control anymore, even when they leave the hall where the performance is taking
place. This situation concerns feelings and emotions that are represented to the
spectator, which are out of their everyday life situations; they usually exist in a
deeper level which J. Christou brings to the surface.
Emotions like panic, horror and hysteria have a primitive hypostasis they are
usually related to the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is a part
of a theory that the Swiss psychiatrist C. Jung shaped in the Þ rst decades of the
20th century. C. Jung distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal
unconscious; the personal unconscious is a personal pool of experience inimita-
ble to each individual, whereas the collective unconscious collects and organises
those personal experiences in an analogous way with each associate of a particular
species. For C. Jung: “My thesis then, is as follows: in addition to our immediate
consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe
to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as
an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and
impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious
does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the
archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give deÞ nite
form to certain psychic contents” (Jung, 1996, p. 43) .
J. Christou had a special interest in C. Jung’s theory, encouraged by his brother
Evangelos (Evis) who he himself was a student at the C. Jung Institute. C. Jung’s
inß uence can be observed in many parts of the work, considering the alchemical
text of Beya and Gabricius that is included in Psychology and Alchemy (Jung, 1952)
and was outlined in previous writings concerning different parts of Strychnine
Lady. C. Jung presents the story of Beya and Gabricus as a parallelism to the descent
of the conscious area into the unconscious. C. Jung interprets the ‘death’ of Gabri-
cius as follows: “ On descending into the unconscious the conscious personality
Þ nds itself in a dangerous situation, for it seems as though it were extinguishing
itself. It is the situation of the primitive hero who is devoured by the dragon. Since
it is a question of the diminution or extinction of the conscious personality. . . the
intentional or wanton provocation of this state is a sacrilege or a breach of a taboo,
which is followed by the severest punishments” (Jung, 1952, p.319)
According to Curtiss Hoffman, C. Jung equates this myth with a process
of individuation where the union of body and mind in the darkest part of the
unconscious leads to a temporary elimination of consciousness, “followed by its
redemption through the divine intercession of the Self” (Hoffman, 2002).
Considering the previously mentioned Jungian descent of the conscious into
the unconscious, a parallelism can be found in the Rehearsal marks 44-45 that this
section is dealing with. In Rehearsal marks 44 the actors are smoking casually.
This is considered to be an everyday action that could be assumed as an action and
as a picture, to exist into the area of consciousness. On the other hand, during this
action of consciousness, some other actions are taking place, that belong mostly to
238 Expression
an unconscious area with primitive hypostasis. They start being developed based
on a realistic event, something that could be another parallelism of the previous
mentioned descent of the conscious into the unconscious area.
Rehearsal marks 0-2
There is an additional part that could be a parallel with the Jungian descent of
the conscious to the unconscious: the beginning of the work. At Rehearsal marks 0,
actor 2 enters the stage casually and makes an announcement, saying that the work
will not be performed for technical reasons; another work of the same composer
will be performed in its place. The actor is prepared to give details for this replace-
ment but he is interrupted by the protest of an actress sitting in the audience. Up to
this point, the whole action belongs to the realm of consciousness, of the everyday
life. What follows moves to the realm of the unconscious: two other actors, 3 and
4, enter the stage and they start performing a sequence of slow, ritual movements,
including the placement of a red cloth in the middle of the stage. During all these
actions, actor 2 is staring, motionless, at the actress in the audience, while she also
stares back at him coldly. It is clear that the whole scene deals with another level
of reality which does not belong to the everyday realisation and does not follow
any logic of consciousness. Subsequently, the music starts with percussion effects
from the basses, pppp effects from the percussion and improvisation on motives
from the violins, violas and celli, all following a crescendo. Actor 2, always staring
at the actress in the audience, says that “there is absolutely no real cause of alarm”.
The whole of this action, as mentioned before, could be a parallel with the Jun-
gian representation of the story of Beya and Gabricius. The Þ rst part portrays a reali-
stic event, Gabricius, the conscious. The second part portrays an unrealistic event,
Beya, the unconscious, and Þ nally the last part portrays the start of the transition of
reception level, the symbolic union and the formation of the new being.
In a microscopic view, many parallels can be found with this story. It is inte-
resting though that this parallel might exist in a macroscopic view as well. C.
Jung describes this union as follows: “In order to enter into God’s Kingdom the
king [Gabricius] must transform himself into the prima materia in the body of his
mother [Beya], and return to the dark initial state which the alchemists called the
»chaos«. In this massa confusa the elements are in conß ict and repel one another;
all connections are dissolved. Dissolution is the prerequisite for redemption. The
celebrant of the mysteries had to suffer a Þ gurative death in order to attain trans-
formation” (Jung, 1952, p.283).
In view of the above statement, could the start represent the absorption of
Gabricius into the womb of Beya, in other words, the descent of the conscious into
the unconscious?
In a macroscopic view of Strychnine Lady, some elements of C. Jung’s statement
can be found. First, there is no connection between the soloist, the actors and the
music. Secondly, most of the times the events and gestures taking place are in
conß ict. Then, there are certainly situations that could be characterised as chaotic;
and Þ nally, the soloist carries out actions that lead to dissolution. Considering that
the beginning of the work could be the descent of the conscious into the uncon-
Journal of Education Culture and Society No. 1_2014
scious, then the progression of the work could be the process of transformation,
the return to “chaos”, according to the above quote of C. Jung.
There is an argument that refers to the above hypothesis # that, macroscopi-
cally, Strychnine Lady could follow the Beya-Gabricius model. There is no writing
on this subject in the composer$s archive, thus there is no certainty that this hypo-
thesis is valid. The story of Beya and Gabricius is only heard in a small part of
Strychnine Lady and this particular fact does not allow any assumptions as far as
the whole work is concerned. In my opinion, the fact that the story of Beya and
Gabricius is included as performing material in the work is not unintentional. It
Example 5. J. Christou, Strychnine Lady, Rehearsal marks 0.
Source: Christou, 1973, p. 2.
240 Expression
would not be rational for a composer who gives instructions and guidelines in
such detail, even including the performers’ movements and facial expressions, to
include something that does not have a deeper meaning. Also, J. Christou had stu-
died C. Jung and alchemy for many years and would not choose to include a story
Example 6. J. Christou, Strychnine Lady, Rehearsal marks 1.
Source: Christou, 1973, p. 3.
Journal of Education Culture and Society No. 1_2014
in his work simply because he liked it, taking into consideration that he would
work for a long time on each work in order to produce the exact result that he
wanted. This conclusion results from studying the composer’s archive, where all
his preparations for each work are chronologically and carefully saved in detail,
with separate Þ les for each work.
J. Christou today is considered as a major composer and a leading Þ gure in
Greek post-war music. However, his work has not been thoroughly appreciated
especially outside Greece. The author stresses the fact that there is a lack of publi-
shed sources and academic research in the Þ eld of J. Christou’s studies and states
that this is partly because of the interdisciplinary nature of J. Christou’s works
that involve elements from other, non-musical areas. This paper analyses selec-
ted parts of Strychnine Lady in order to afÞ rm interdisciplinarity in this particular
work and mark research paths towards other directions. Finally, further research
on the subject is suggested and particularly in the areas of rituals, dreams, drama-
tic aspects and psychology, in relation to the work.
Christou, J. (1973). Strychnine Lady. Full score. London: J & W. Chester Ltd.
Hoffman, C. (2002). The Seve n Story Tower: A Mythic Journey Through Space and Time. New York: Basic
Jung, C. G. (1952). Psychology and Alchemy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1996). The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. London: Routledge.
Miller, I. (1986). Introduction to alchemy in Jungian psychology and, Alchemical Imagination: Making Psyche
Matter. Retrieved from:
Minou, A. (2010). Sibyl’s Leaves: understanding musical performance issues in Jani Christou’s Anaparastasis
III and Epicycle. PhD thesis. Goldsmiths University of London, Department of Music.
Sakalieros, G. & Kyriakos, K. (2008). Musical conception, para-musical events and stage performance in Jani
Christou’s Strychnine Lady (1967). Proceedings of the fourth Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicol-
ogy. Retrieved from:
Sheridan, M. (1994). Last rites for a dying language. The Independent. Retrieved from: http://www.frcoul-
Full-text available
The music of Jani Christou (1926-1970), although widely recognised and appreciated among contemporary musicians and especially composers, has not received the amount of attention that it may deserve. Only in recent years has interest in Christou’s music been revived, and along with it, academic interest on his musical processes and influences has been ignited. Nevertheless, the literature is limited and the majority of it focuses on his later musical output, without devoting due attention to his earlier compositions, such as his Op. 1, Phoenix Music. Furthermore, the literature seems to reach a consensus regarding the influences of Jungian psychology on the composer's development and creative process. Given that Jung’s theories were greatly concerned with the significance of human myth and its role for the human psyche, it is only natural that myth and especially Jungian perspectives on myth may constitute a useful framework for attempting to understand Christou’s music — which is to say that a Jungian perspective on Jani Christou’s music may be able to provide us with insightful hermeneutics of his creative decisions and compositional processes. Furthermore, although Christou’s compositional style drastically changed and evolved throughout his life, these Jungian influences remained a ubiquitous attractor for his creative and intellectual thought (Lucciano, 2000, 145). It is this relationship between Jungian psychology, its perspectives on myth and Christou’s music that is going to be the focus of this paper: moreover, through the use of rigorous formal, morphological and motivic analysis, this paper will attempt to propose a deconstruction of Jani Christou’s first published work Op. 1 Phoenix Music and, at the same time, propose an interpretation of the work based on the significance of its titular reference to the myth of the Phoenix.
Background in music analysis. Jani Christou (1926-1970) was a eminent Greek avant-garde composer who expanded the traditional aesthetics of musical conception, as well as of concert and stage performance, to a whole new art-form that involved music, philosophy, psychology, mythical archetypes, and dramatic setting. His ideals and envisagements, constantly evolving from the late 1950s, are profoundly denoted in his late works, created between 1965-1968 (Mysterion, Anaparastasis I – III, Epicycle, Strychnine Lady). These works, originally conceived as 'stage rituals', include instrumental performance, singing, acting, dance, tape and visual effects, and thus combine musical and para-musical events and gestures. Background in theatre studies. From the early 1960s music theatre comprised a major field of avant-garde composition in which spectacle and dramatic impact were emphasized over purely musical factors. Avant-garde performance trends and media, such as Fluxus or happenings, had a significant impact on several post-war composers both in Europe and North America (i.e. Cage, Ligeti, Berio, Nono, Kagel, Henze, Stockhausen, Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies), which led to the establishment and flourish of the experimental music theatre during the 1960s and 1970s. The use of new dramatic and musical means combined elements of song, dance, mimic, acting, tape, video and visual effects which could be tailored to a wide range of performing spaces. All this resulted in evolutions on musical notation and scoring, instrumental and vocal performance, as well as stage layout and audience perception. Aims. As we define the musical and para-musical parameters of Jani Christou's Strychnine Lady, we aim to clarify the composer's art-conception, elements of musical structure and means of stage performance in corellation to trends of post-war western european experimental music theatre of the 1960s and 1970s. The procedure focuses on analytical aspects of the score, definiton of compositional-aesthetic terms given by the composer himself (patterns, praxis, metapraxis, lunar pattern etc.) and commenting on the intermediate phases (mainly concerned with philosophy, occultism and psychology) that are important for a stage realisation of the work. Since the composer informs us that para-musical events (gestures, actions, theatrical fragments) do not always coincide with musical activities, we also aim to define the meaning of music material into the score, in terms of music analysis, but also out of the score and into the stage, in terms of theatrological research, performance, and audience perception.
From the white stag to the green knight, The Seven Story Tower examines how myth colors our perception of history, nature, and ourselves. Organized around seven key myths-representing the Irish, Greek, Sumerian, Indonesian, Amazonian, and Inuit cultures, as well as the fantasy world of J. R. R. Tolkien-this book is the perfect intro-duction to the common themes found in world mythology. Curtiss Hoffman, a noted archaeologist and anthropologist, takes us beyond the entertaining stories and uses insights from cultural anthropology and analytical psychology to analyze the many common themes found throughout. In particular, he examines the significance of names, numbers, plants, animals, the heavenly bodies, and the human body. The Seven Story Tower will enhance the reader's appreciation of myth's power today over our lives and cultures.
Strychnine Lady. Full score
  • J Christou
Christou, J. (1973). Strychnine Lady. Full score. London: J & W. Chester Ltd.
Psychology and Alchemy
  • C G Jung
Jung, C. G. (1952). Psychology and Alchemy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Introduction to alchemy in Jungian psychology and, Alchemical Imagination: Making Psyche Matter
  • I Miller
Miller, I. (1986). Introduction to alchemy in Jungian psychology and, Alchemical Imagination: Making Psyche Matter. Retrieved from:
Last rites for a dying language. The Independent
  • M Sheridan
Sheridan, M. (1994). Last rites for a dying language. The Independent. Retrieved from:
Musical conception, para-musical events and stage performance in Jani Christou's Strychnine Lady
  • G Sakalieros
  • K Kyriakos
Sakalieros, G. & Kyriakos, K. (2008). Musical conception, para-musical events and stage performance in Jani Christou's Strychnine Lady (1967). Proceedings of the fourth Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology. Retrieved from: