Iannis Xenakis, happy to be known as an iconoclast, has been singularly uninterested in promoting the music he wrote prior to his first major orchestral work, Metastaseis. This is understandable, since the leap from what he had been doing to that remarkable piece of musical architecture is quantum. Be that as it may, scholars and performers have maintained an interest in Xenakis' early works, and manuscripts have gradually been brought to light. The first score to be brought out, performed and published, is Zyia, a work dating from 1952. It was this work that earned the young Xenakis Olivier Messiaen's praise ("talented and naïve") when he sought the older composer's advice in his early years.
Different versions of the score seem to exist, but the core of the piece is based on music for soprano, flute, and piano, setting a folkloric Greek text (also by Xenakis). The music is a strange mixture of elements: Greek modal melodies, Romantic flourishes of virtuosity, chromatically inflected organum-like harmonizations, tone clusters, arithmetical rhythmic series, and Bartókian additive meters. While not quite measuring up to its models in the music of Bartók or Ravel, this piece is nonetheless engaging. Beyond that, Zyia is of historical interest, particularly in light of Xenakis's occasional return to Greek themes and musical elements at various points throughout his career.