About this Recording
8.570428 - SIMAKU: String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3 / Soliloquy I-III
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Thomas Simaku (b. 1958)
String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3


The main idea behind the two quartets, and, in a wider sense, all the works included in this disc, is that of a voyage in time in search of an expression where modern and ancient aspects of utterance, musical or otherwise, interconnect and complement each other. The idiosyncratic quality of the music lies, I believe, in this search for meaningful relationships between modality and contemporary musical idioms. This is part of an ongoing research into the East-European musical aura, especially that of the Balkans, that I have been interested in for some years now. Following my studies at the Tirana Conservatoire in 1982, I worked for three years as Music Director in a remote town in Southern Albania near the border with Greece. The first-hand experience I had from working with folk musicians and listening to ancient songs seems to have had a lasting effect on my creative conscience. There are no quotations from folk-music here or in any other work of mine, but resonances of that sound-world (particularly its static quality and inner dynamics, heterophonic textures, microtone inflections, instrumental virtuosity as well as an array of gestures and quasi-improvisational elements) are now subconsciously becoming part of my own music. These qualities are incorporated in the overall musical idiom and can be clearly heard in these works.

The two string quartets, for example, in different ways, explore the static quality of the drone-based type of linearity – a salient characteristic of the ancient musical aura of the Balkans, whose roots can be traced back to primordial times. As Ligeti commented in his interview published in the Romanian Revista Muzica 2/1993 (p. 67), ‘these types of drones, the origin of long and sustained sound that supports melismatic melodies can be found on a large scale especially in Southern Albania”.

In Voci Celesti – String Quartet No. 3, this is typically demonstrated in the quasi-ritualistic expression of the slow sections and its overall stasis; whereas Radius could well be described as an ‘unbroken’ line that unfolds within the enormous ambitus of the string quartet – hence the title. An ‘atomistic’ compression in itself, as it were, the drone serves as the main source for the proliferation of a variety of textural formats. It also serves as the driving force behind the explosive sound-world of the dynamic sections, which violently attempt to disrupt the dialectics of this linearity. On a purely musical level, Radius could be described as a textural kaleidoscope with a predominantly heterophonic discourse that unfolds around one single sound-object (ison) possessing the gravitational power.


Due Sotto-Voci per Violino Solo

Written for and dedicated to Peter Sheppard Skærved

In Due Sotto-Voci, most things seem to be in pairs: I would regard this composition simply as a song and accompaniment, each of which has its own distinctive qualities and unfolds in its own time and space. I have envisaged the violin as a ‘singer that sings in two voices’ and an ‘orchestral body’ that accompanies itself! The singing quality is the main focus of the music and, as if coming from the remoteness of time itself, it is displayed in the slow sections, always muted - hence the sotto-voci ‘contribution’ in the title! Alternatively, the ‘orchestral voice’ serves as a structural framework, appearing at a number of strategic focal points, including the beginning and the end of the piece, with the same chord and the same dynamic, that is. These are some of the ‘contradictions’ inherent in this piece, echoing perhaps the one in its very title: DUE sotto-voci per violino SOLO.

Soliloquy Cycle

Soliloquy I – for Solo Violin
Soliloquy II – for Solo Cello
Soliloquy III – for Solo Viola

In my compositional practice, it is not uncommon when the idea for a new work stems from just a single word. Titles such as Canticello and Luxonorité provided the initial creative impetus for their respective pieces. Although these words do not exist in the vocabularies of their respective languages, their meaning is selfexplanatory. Similarly, the Latin-based word Soliloquy (Solus – alone, loqui - speak) was the ‘ideal’ starting point for my first solo work: Soliloquy I.

After its première at the 2000 ISCM - World Music Days in Luxembourg, the idea of composing a series of works for solo string instruments, which would all have the same ‘sound-nucleus’ as their starting point, materialized itself. The initial musical idea is thus placed at, and operates on, a different instrumental canvas, and it is elaborated according to both the expressive and virtuosic potentiality of each instrument. The aim of the whole cycle was to create three different ‘characters’ within the same ‘protagonist’ who narrates in three different languages, as it were; in turn, the ‘characters’ make considerable use of their own respective instrumental ‘dialects’!

The following programme note applies to the whole cycle:

A single note charged with ‘explosive’
elements, serves as a sound nucleus for the
proliferation of the entire vocabulary of the
musical discourse. The rays of the initial
musical object gradually open up and the
contours of a melodic line are clearly

It is the expressive power and the
contrasting fields of sonority of this melodic
substance that has now become the main focus
for generating the energy for the whole textural

In the process of the metamorphosis, these
melodically interlocked elements, at various
degrees, diverge from their melodic pathway
and gain a renewed identity by being put in a
virtuosic display and in different contextual
relationships. Each work ends on the same note
as it began, but now embellished by a trill with
microtonal inflections, as if in a quasiamorphous

Whilst the outer works of the cycle ‘mirror’ each other in various ways, Soliloquy II is strategically placed at the centre and, as such, plays a pivotal role in the overall structure of the triptych. The cello picks up where the violin left off – the same pitch that is. Freedom of interpretation is very much part of the content in each work, hence the ‘abolition’ of the bar-lines. But, whilst the structural format in the outer pieces is to a considerable extent freely organized, the pitches in the cello piece are ‘arranged’ in such a way that the contours of the whole work expand symmetrically below and above the initial E flat. In this way, the expressive power of this ‘sound-nucleus’ radiates as far above the centre as it does below, i.e. equidistantly the same number of intervals. Although the works in this disc were composed over a span of six years, they are in a number of ways interconnected. I believe that the ancient spirit in the musical idioms, in the deepest and widest sense, not only survives in our modern world, but is still capable of taking its rightful place in contemporary music.

These works were written during the tenure of a Fellowship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council in London, and my residency as the Leverhulme Fellow in Composition at the University of York.

© Thomas Simaku

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