The pianist as accompanist and as collaborator

I am fascinated by two very different performances of the same Greek song (Prosopika/Personally 1988)* with the same musicians: the singer Eleni Dimou and the composer Yiannis Spanos at the piano.  The musicians are the same but the role of the pianist changes, and so does the song. While in the first version he plays as an accompanist, in the second he participates as a collaborator.   The comparison of the two versions illustrates the substantial difference that the interpretation of a collaborative pianist can make in the performance of a musical piece.

The studio version of the song is a mimetic interpretation as the lyrical “I” of the verses and the singer become identical, and the piano plays an illustrative role: it sets the atmosphere, depicts the emotions, intensifies the meaning, and with its sentimental jazzy feel encourages empathy for love’s bitterness.   We feel for the loneliness of this confessing person, even identify with her as we make the song our own.

The TV version consists in a critical interpretation as the pianist does not so much accompany the singer as he collaborates with her, which makes for a different song. It is worth listening to it by focusing primarily on the piano.

Rather than play together, the beats of the two musicians play off each other. Instead of articulating a mood, the pianist sets the stage for a performance and provides a running commentary. Arpeggios, trills, phrases go their own way providing neither direction nor cushion for the singer, who is thus discouraged from identifying with the grammatical “I” of the lyrics. Each time she is about to sing, the pianist seems to recall other songs or consider new versions of this one, suspending her hope to be honest with herself, and leaving her wish for the listener’s empathy unfulfilled.

The singer ends up not singing but declaiming her repeated desire to sing in the first person singular/prosopika. Because of the disorienting collaboration of the pianist who keeps suggesting other songs and other interpretations, we hear not what she feels or even might feel but how she may or may not express how she feels. The meaning of the title, then, changes: She does not sing “Personally” personally but as a persona, navigating the obligatory rhymes which rhyme with/re-iterate the title and making the adverb of the title sound like an intransitive verb. What was meant to be another directly personal and totally sincere performance ends up being a collaborative rehearsal of possible ways in which to perform sincerity. The entire song works as a deeply melancholic, gripping reflection on the very possibility of singing to somebody in the first person singular.

Noticing such interpretive possibilities is part of listening to music with my “other self,” Pantelis Polychronidis, himself a splendid collaborative pianist.

January 10, 2016

* Personally

Lyrics: Lina Nikolakopoulou

Music: Yiannis Spanos

First version: Eleni Dimou


Personally, I have no friendly feelings for you, just some offended erotic steps
 that make me rashly go away

Personally, I reasonably don’t want to have anything with you, I like your voice’s sound tragically and in the end I’m not exchanging your body with your perfect life

Personally I go crazy 
for being your fairy tale and appearing so Personally I’ve got no sense
whether this thing we’re living together is true or an illusion

Personally, it happens on nights hearing “laika” songs
 dressed and empty and spread all over in general
 to translate the scene dramatically

Personally, my time is turning round and round
and at the end my tone changes specifically,
 that’s why you should know I insist even if you’ve made it clear that it’s definitely over.



Στίχοι: Λίνα Νικολακοπούλου

Μουσική: Γιάννης Σπανός

Πρώτη εκτέλεση: Ελένη Δήμου

Προσωπικά δεν έχω αισθήματα για σένα φιλικά
 μονάχα βήματα θιγμένα ερωτικά,
 που μ΄αναγκάζουνε να φεύγω βιαστικά

Προσωπικά δε θέλω τίποτα μαζί σου λογικά 
μου πάει ο ήχος της φωνής σου τραγικά
 και δεν αλλάζω το κορμί σου με την άψογη ζωή σου 

Προσωπικά εγώ τρελαίνομαι
 το παραμύθι σου και να `μαι και να φαίνομαι

Προσωπικά δεν έχω αίσθηση
 αυτό που ζούμε αν είναι αλήθεια ή παραίσθηση

Προσωπικά, τυχαίνει βράδια με τραγούδια λαϊκά 
ντυμένη κι άδεια κι αφημένη γενικά
 να μεταφράζω τη σκηνή δραματικά

Προσωπικά, εμένα ο χρόνος μου γυρίζει κυκλικά 
κι αλλάζει ο τόνος μου στο τέλος ειδικά
 γι΄αυτό να ξέρεις κι επιμένω, κι ας μου το `χεις ξεγραμμένο 

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