Sappho translated through Constantine Caravassilis


Modern Classical Composer Constantine Caravassilis

Born in a family of amateur musicians in Toronto, Constantine Caravassilis was raised on Samos Island in Greece. Constantine started playing the violin at age six, but later switched to piano because he could do more with the instrument. When Constantine was 15, he  formed his own orchestra and choir which performed annual concerts at his local lyceum. He studied composition, conducting and piano at The Royal Conservatory of Music, University of Manitoba, York University and the University of Toronto. Constantine has also conducted gamUT chamber orchestra at the University of Toronto.

Constantine’s works have been premiered on a global scale, reaching hallmark locations in 20 countries, such as Carnegie Hall in New York, Jordan Hall in Boston and Southam Hall in Ottawa. One of his most influential teachers is renowned Canadian composer Christos Hatzis who will have his piece The Idea of Canada featured as a sound installation by the HPO at Art Crawl in Hamilton this Friday, May 9.

His talent and young age are not the only things that make Constantine a unique composer. He is a synaesthete, which means specific instruments and pitches allow him to see shapes and colours, and sometimes experience tastes and smells.


Greek Lyric Poet Sappho

Constantine draws inspiration from his Hellenic roots and references Greek mythology and Byzantine culture in many of his works. Sappho de Mytilene is a piece inspired by the ancient Greek poet, Sappho, who is known for her romantic lyrical works. Sappho’s poetry centres on the common themes of love, longing and suffering. She is referred to as a lyrist because her poems were meant to be performed with a lyre.

The sense of a word can differ between languages and its essence can subsequently be lost when it’s translated. Lera Bordoditsky of The Wall Street Journal remarks that the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” can differ in meaning from one language to another: “In Russian, you would have to mark tense and also gender, changing the verb if Mrs. Dumpty did the sitting. You would also have to decide if the sitting event was completed or not. If our ovoid hero sat on the wall for the entire time he was meant to, it would be a different form of the verb than if, say, he had a great fall.” Constantine illustrates the dissonance in translating Sappho’s poems between languages with music.

“In setting these texts to music, my aim has been to–as approximately as possible–musically reflect all that is potentially lost in the translation, both to modern Greek and to French. [Sappho’s] work is a remarkable source of the aspirations and needs, as well as the overall role of women in the ancient world,” he says.

In ancient Greece many women sent their daughters to the Island of Lesbos, where the community of Mytilene resides, to be educated by Sappho before marriage. Her poems primarily convey her affection for women, although some of her work reference her longing for men. Sappho would compose poems of adoration toward her pupils and is said to have composed wedding songs for her students. Constantine notes that “this song cycle is dedicated to women of all countries, particularly those where gender equality is not a non-existent phenomenon.”

Be sure to catch the performance of Sappho de Mytilene at A Canadian Mosaic on May 15 at 7:30 at Christ Church Cathedral. The piece will feature the HPO’s principal flutist Leslie Newman and mezzo-soprano Mia Lennox-Williams.

Here is Constantine’s …to Galliform Marionette from his debut album Visions:


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