Maria Farantouri, Petros Pandis
Pablo Neruda wrote the major part of his epic while in flight and in hiding. He had supported Gonzalez Videla in his bid to become president of Chile, but Videla turned out to be ferociously anti-communist. Neruda, a senator, attacked him in a virulent diatribe entitled "I accuse". The future dictator put a price on his head. Hunted by the police, Neruda was forced to write his masterpiece in secret.
A fighter's soul, Mikis Theodorakis discovered the Canto General when in 1971, exiled from Greece by the colonels, he was on a concert-tour in Chile at the invitation of president Salvador Allende. For the Greek composer, Neruda's great hymn is "a gospel of our time. In it, Neruda lays bare his fighter's soul. The work brings the historical events of his country to vivid life. It is destined to help men to vanquish in times of crisis and enforce the law. Neruda, deliberately, puts himself at the service of the peoples' revolution for freedom, independance and democracy." Theodorakis's musical setting of 13 parts of the great poem by Neruda has given us one of the major choral works of the latter half of the 20th century.
A poignant fact: Theodorakis was to premiere the first seven parts of his work in Chile in September 1973, in the stadium of Santiago. On 11th September, the military junta under Pinochet overthrows and assassinates Allende, and emprisons the supporters of the "Unidad Popular" in that same stadium, where the soldiers also torture and kill Victor Jara; they go on to lay waste the home of Pablo Neruda, who dies on the 24th from leucaemia.
Two years later, Theodorakis gives the first performance of the work in his native Greece, freed at last from the colonels' régime.
He had made the promise, on hearing of Neruda's death, to play at least one part of the Canto General in each of his popular concerts until Chile's liberation from the dictatorship.
In 1993, Theodorakis could at last conduct his score in Chile and pay homage at the tomb of Neruda.