The music of Iannis Xenakis’ estranged ‘Kassandra’

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Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001) was a radically innovative composer. Violently persecuted for his leftist activism in the Greek Civil War that followed the Second World War, he fled Greece to live the rest of his life in Paris. One of the most explicit expressions of his resultant feelings of trauma, guilt, and displacement can be found in the vocal piece he called Kassandra (1987). This demanding work requires its two performers to enact and explore the alienation experienced by the prophet Cassandra in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. Xenakis’ Kassandra is defined by a symbiotic relationship between percussionist and vocalist, by a simultaneously controlled and improvisatory score based on extracts from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, and by a striking use of the baritone singer’s falsetto as well as his chest voice. These features of the piece mark out Cassandra as ‘other’ in her origins, her sex, and her language, while also hinting that her characteristics are not entirely foreign, but are in fact understood or even shared by the very communities that initially seemed to exclude her.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70–88
JournalClassical Receptions Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2021


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