About this Recording
8.579035 - SIMAKU, T.: Solos and Duos for Violin and Piano - Signals / Capriccioso / Soliloquy V / ENgREnage / 2 Esquisses (Sheppard Skærved, Houston, Chadwick)

Thomas Simaku (b. 1958)
Signals • Capriccioso • Albanian Folk Song, ‘Moj e Bukura Moré’ (‘My Beautiful Morea’) • Soliloquy V – Flauto Acerbo • ENgREnage • Deux Esquisses • Sound Tree – Richard • Robbins in Memoriam • The Flight of the Eagle


Signals for solo piano (2015)
Dedicated to Joseph Houston

Why ‘Signals’? Although it is not my intention to ‘translate’ the sounds into words, this piece does indeed begin with a ‘signal’ (or two) and finishes with another. The perfect fifth is the most prominent interval here: it is ubiquitously present throughout the piece, not to mention the ‘signals of fifths’ at strategic formal junctures. There is a ‘mechanico’ type of quality that seems to have engulfed the whole work, which is demonstrated by the pervasive hammering of certain notes gradually stretching all over the keyboard. The various degrees of intensity come alive in the playfulness of the texture; and all this is wrapped up, as it were, with a sweeping cascade just before the final signal is heard.

Capriccioso for solo violin (2014)
Written for and dedicated to Peter Sheppard Skærved

Composed in 2014, this work focuses on a single note. This particular sonority, ison, is ubiquitously present throughout the piece; the music begins and ends with it, and its echo is felt even when the actual sound is not heard! But it is always there in the background and it serves as a nucleus with a gravitational sonic power, around which the identity of the music is displayed. The title alludes to the genre of capriccio, in terms of both its free formal design and the overall character of the music, which invariably consists of rhythmic gestures with a high degree of virtuosity. And who better than its dedicatee, with whom I have collaborated for a number of years now, could give all these and much more! The world premiere was given by Peter Sheppard Skærved on 26 November 2014 at Kings Place, London.

Albanian Folk Song, ‘Moj e Bukura Moré’ (‘My Beautiful Morea’) (2015)

Moj e Bukura Moré (‘My Beautiful Morea’) has its origin in Southern Italy, in Calabria, where an Albanian community has lived for more than 500 years, and so has the song! The tenderness of the melodic lines expresses the love for the distant homeland, which, according to legend, can be seen from the Calabrian mountain tops. As in most folk songs, this tune is remarkably short. The melody itself has not been altered, but has been extended, enriched in texture, and presented in different ways. The melodic lines serve as a point of departure for the proliferation of a distinct harmonic vocabulary.

Soliloquy V – Flauto Acerbo (2008)
Written for and dedicated to Christopher Orton

This work was commissioned by Chris Orton with funds provided by the BBC Performing Arts Fund. After the premiere of Soliloquy I at the 2000 ISCM Festival, the idea of composing a cycle of solo pieces—the aim was to create different characters within the same protagonist who ‘narrates’ in different languages, as it were—materialised itself. This is the fifth work in the series; the first three are for string instruments, and the fourth is for bass clarinet. With each piece, the soloistic idea operates on a different instrumental canvas and is elaborated according to the expressive qualities and the technical potentiality of each instrument. The idiosyncratic quality of this particular work is to be found perhaps in the second part of the title, Flauto Acerbo!

ENgREnage for violin and piano (2014–15)
for Peter Sheppard Skærved and Roderick Chadwick

ENgREnage could well be the short name for this piece; with the music firmly centred on D, the full name is certainly Engrenage en Ré. There are several meanings embedded in this French word, but two of them seem to have a remarkably close link with the music here: the first meaning is technical, and the exact translation for it is gear (there is certainly a ‘gear’ here, which moves up and down and serves as the catalyst for the proliferation of movement and the kinetic energy that goes with it). The second meaning is more abstract, and there are several words associated with it, such as succession, suite, spiral, chain of events, etc. All these words/terms have their own ‘associations’ (metaphorical or otherwise), and each of them, one way or another, separately or in combination, seem to have something to say in what goes on in this piece!

Engrenage is a mechanical system consisting (composed) of two toothed wheels (Ds!) that generate movement by rotating against each other. The music does indeed begin with two Ds in unison—not surprisingly, double stops will feature prominently throughout the work—and it is this ‘friction’ between them (these two layers, that is) which right from the start seems to set the music in motion and prepares the ground for an overall contrapuntal engagement consisting of several layers. From the structural viewpoint, each section (succession) in this chain of events is well identified, thus giving shape to the flux of textural activity invariably characterised by virtuosic display. But an idiosyncratic expression, at times ostentatiously static, but otherwise purely melodic, albeit microtonally inflected, is very much part of the textural canvas, and makes its presence felt in the overall architectural design; with its elegant ‘vocal’ quality it certainly stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the texture. These various degrees of intensity throughout the music are well supported by a wide spectrum of dynamics, often in their extremes, and it is this dialectic quality of opposites (in both technical and expressive terms) that seems to be the main driving force behind the character of the piece as a whole.

While both instruments pursue their own individual path, they are interconnected at various levels. Here, the ‘open space’ quality of the perfect fifth has become central to the piano part, not just at the beginning of the piece where the piano is trying to ‘imitate’ the violin with inside pizzicati based on fifths, but also throughout the work. In the main climax, for example, the textural energy of the piano part is based exclusively on piled-up fifths. A variety of harmonic colours extracted from the total chromatic spectrum, such as black and white structures, various modal segments, as well as flourishes based on the harmonic series, constantly interact.

The music finished on a high note (harmonic), whose ethereal quality, determined by both colour and location, is in sharp contrast to the earthly D4, hence ENgREnage!

Deux Esquisses (2013)
Dedicated to Terry Holmes

This piece is dedicated to Terry Holmes on his 80th birthday—his friendship and support has meant a lot to me! Three notes taken from his name are presented right at the beginning of the piece. They delineate the contours of the main melodic idea of the first Esquisse, and are thus texturally highlighted; in fact, these three notes could be described as ‘stepping stones’ of the musical landscape, for they serve as sonic pillars in holding together the architectural design of the piece as a whole. Exploring the sonic properties and the resonance of various registers, the outer pitches of the initial melodic line (E flat and B) are strategically presented at structural junctures of the first Esquisse, whilst the E, in contrast, is firmly rooted in its central location, and is ubiquitously present throughout the second Esquisse. As indicated by the description of each Esquisse, these are highly contrasting pieces; each is self-contained in its own unmistakable character, but here they are played one after the other and without a break. Despite their individual textural canvass, they are linked by a network of relationships at various levels of intensity. The title of the piece here refers to specific gestures whose impulse and energetic unfolding could well be compared to the ‘sketching’ of a drawing in one stroke of the pen! The world premiere was given by Joseph Houston on 25 November 2013 at Wigmore Hall, London.

Sound Tree – Richard Robbins in Memoriam for violin and piano (2013)

This piece is dedicated to the memory of the artist Richard Robbins (1927–2009). Richard was a prolific painter; he also sculpted a number of fine bronze heads which are displayed at the London School of Economics, including one of his father, Lionel Robbins, the scholarship in whose name I had the honour and privilege of receiving in 1992. In fact, it was this scholarship that allowed me to pursue my dream of studying at a western university. A motivic idea consisting of six notes derived from the name of Richard Robbins is imbued with various tonal colours—not unlike Richard’s own paintings. With a wealth of sonorities inherent in its intervallic properties, this musical idea is the only source for the proliferation of the pitch and harmonic vocabulary throughout the piece. With this music I simply wanted to ‘plant a tree’, with sounds, in memory of an artist and dear friend who himself conveyed his love of nature through his art.

The Flight of the Eagle (2000)

The idea for The Flight of the Eagle sprang from an ancient Albanian proverb, ‘the Eagle flies in the Sky, but makes its nest on Earth’. Although in no way programmatic, the music, amidst obstacles of varying degrees, alternates between flying and floating, and it is not until the end of the piece that the flight really takes off. The sheer power and the huge variety of sonorities of the piano made it an ideal instrument for this flight! In this context, the piece is part of the cycle of solo works all of which aim towards a thorough exploration of virtuosic potentiality and expressive qualities of their respective instruments.

Thomas Simaku

I would like to wholeheartedly thank Anne Johnson and Terry Holmes, whose continuing support over the years and with this project has meant so much to me!

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