Battle of the Bands: Greece versus Germany

Brit wonders whether their respective musical styles can shed some light on the cultural differences between the Greeks and Germans, currently locked in a loveless economic embrace…

Given that the relationship between these two ancient European powers is currently of major international interest, I thought it might be apt this Sunday to compare the respective musical achievements of Greece and Germany.

Now some might argue that since the Germans can lay claim to two of the three greatest composers in human history the fight is not a fair one, but let us not forget the inexplicable popularity of David Hasselhoff in the Vaterland, which by itself goes a long way to undoing the good work of Beethoven and Bach.

And if there’s one thing the Greeks have definitely got over the rest, it’s antiquity. The First Delphic Hymn, dated c.138 BC, is the earliest unambiguous surviving fragment of notated music in the western world. Its composer is an unknown Athenian and it was discovered inscribed in stone in Delphi by a French archaeologist in 1893.

Here is a reconstruction of the piece by composer and Hellenic scholar Christodoulos Halaris…

We must skip forward all the way to the Fifth Crusade of 1217-21 for the Palästinalied (Palestine Song) – the only song by Middle High German poet Walther von der Vogelweide for which both the original tune and lyric have survived the centuries. The last of 13 strophes begins Kristen juden und die heiden jehent daz, dis ir erbe sî and translates as: Christians, Jews and Heathens claim this to be their heritage. God has to assign it in the right way, for His three names. The whole world is coming battling here – our cause is right. It is right that He is granting it to us.

Here’s a version by one Arun Zoltan…

Can we detect in these two antique pieces, then, the origins of each nations’ national character – the florid, lazybones Greeks; the mechanical efficiency of the Teutons? Listen carefully and the answer is no. So let us instead turn to Kraftwerk (see also Daniel Kalder’s excellent post this week) and their kleine und sehr camp Pocket Calculators.

Time and fashion have not been so kind to Vangelis as to Kraftwerk, though like them his work is instantly identifiable. By far his finest moment is not Chariots of Fire but this, the gorgeous Love Theme from Blade Runner. Contrast its romantic wooziness with the ticktock bleepings of the Krautrobots and perhaps the stereotypes seem well-founded…

So, what have we learnt from all this? Well nothing we didn’t know already. But if we take that nothing and combine it with spurious conjecture and fanciful invention, a picture of two great musical cultures divided by a common currency begins to emerge. Or does it? I’ve no idea, so instead here’s a bonus track. This is previously unseen footage of a rare duet between a declining George Best and a young Sarah Palin. Enjoy!

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6 thoughts on “Battle of the Bands: Greece versus Germany

    James Hamilton
    October 16, 2011 at 10:13

    That Greek piece from 123BC is one of the spookiest things I’ve ever heard. Brrr. But marvellous that it survived, and a pity there isn’t more: I’d love to hear some Sumerian music, always having been curious about Ur and what kind of city it was (Paris? or, because it was so new, Milton Keynes..)

    I thought there’d be some good Greece v Germany battling in this, but no…

    October 16, 2011 at 14:31

    Topical indeed and some nice numbers there Brit. From the mob who allegedly conceived our civilization and the crew who nearly destroyed it, chalk-cheese.
    The extremely delectable and saintly Joanna L’s recent Grecian wheeze includes a moment unmusicaux with that Greek folksy person who used to sing about goat shagging forlorn shepherd boys playing the pan-pipes, again and again and again, forever man. Nana warbled in a stony auditorium the ensuing sound best described as crap. One notes her appearance in the post, coupled with that other colossus of late twentieth century top of the pops culture, Demis the singing frock. One plus one equaling two equals weapons grade crap.
    Kraftwerk of course not the only group with which to judge / label the modern Kraut music scene, there are others. Your Bläck Fööss f’rinstance, exponents of the Schlager school of music, a type of euronoise. A good cross section of modern Kraut taste in music can be unearthed by attending various concerts at the Lanxess Arena, Macca is appearing soon and the venue, formerly the Kölnarena is the centrepiece of exquisite poppy taste, why only last year both Circlip Richards and Boy George appeared on the same bill, it doesn’t get any better than that.

    Or worse.

    Satnav directions: from the city centre walk across the Deutzer Brücke then straight ahead for 10 mins, can’t miss it, says Lanxess Arena on the side.

    As for Greek stuff, who knows, it probably died with Maria Callas and the emergence of Zorba

  3. Brit
    October 16, 2011 at 14:47

    Thanks Malty – how about a krautmusik Lazy Sunday from you one week?

      October 16, 2011 at 15:19

      Consider it on the front burner.

    October 17, 2011 at 02:05

    Struggling to think of other Greeks in the world of popular music… I suppose there’s Jim Sclavunos, the extremely tall drummer in Grinderman and the Bad Seeds, and Diamanda Galas, who played in a similar scene in the 80s. But they are Greek Americans, so they don’t really count. Although Hasselfhoff, I assume must likewise be a German American.

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