Nineteenth-Century Music Review

Research Article

From Popular to Esoteric: Nikolaos Mantzaros and the Development of his Career as a Composer

Kostas Kardamisa1 c1

a1 Ionian University


Nikolaos Halikiopoulos Mantzaros (1795–1872) was a noble from Corfu and is better known today as the composer of the Greek national anthem. However, recent research has proved his importance as a teacher and as one of the most learned composers of his generation, renowned, in Italy and France as well as Greece.

The aim of this article is to present Mantzaros’ developing relationship as dilettante composer to the emerging European nineteenth-century music and aesthetics, as featured through his existing works and writings. In his early works (1815–27) Mantzaros demonstrates a remarkable creative assimilation of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century operatic idioms, whereas his aristocratic social status allowed him an eclectic relationship with music in general. From the late 1820s, Mantzaros also began setting Greek poetry to music, in this way offering a viable solution to the demand for ‘national music’.

From the mid-1830s onwards, Mantzaros’ already existing interest in Romantic idealism was broadened, affecting his work and thoughts. He stopped composing opera-related works and demonstrated a dual attitude towards music. On the one hand he continued composing popular music for the needs of his social circle, but on the other he developed an esoteric creative relationship with music. The latter led him as early as the 1840s to denounce the ‘extremities of Romanticism’ and to seek the musical expression of the sublime through the creative use of ‘the noble art of counterpoint’. This way he attempted to propose a re-evaluation of nineteenth-century trends through an eclectic neoclassicism, without neglecting the importance of subjective inspiration and genius.

(Online publication June 27 2011)


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Kostas Kardamis received a BMus (2000) and a PhD (2006) from the Ionian University, and an MMus (2002) from Royal Holloway, University of London. He is a lecturer in the Music Department of the Ionian University and curator of the Archive and Museum of the Corfu Philharmonic Society. His published studies and articles are mainly focused on neohellenic music – with particular interest in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – as well as on opera and musical theatre. His research interests also include band music and the interaction between music, society and politics.