Over the years I have listened to, and
performed, more contemporary music than
I can remember; I’ve even written some
and added to the catalogue. Like all
music, the works I heard and performed
were of varying qualities and both the
good and the bad stick in the memory.
One of the first things I learned about
contemporary music was that when a new
sound was used by one composer it quickly
started appearing all over the place,
the most obvious of these effects was
the Bartók pizzicato, which was
taken up by almost everyone. It’s a
striking sound - no pun intended - when
used sparingly and colouristically.
With the advent of the avant-garde of
the 1960s new sounds became available.
Multiphonics for the wind instruments
had its day in classical music, then
came all the bewildering varieties of
producing different sounds for stringed
instruments – sul ponticello (on
the bridge), sul
tasto (on the fingerboard), behind
the bridge, col legno (playing
on the string with the wood of the bow),
tapping the wood with the nut of the
bow and harmonics, to name but a few.
Naturally, some of these effects had
been heard before the 1960s but that
was the decade where anything was allowed
to go, and it quite often did.
Simaku is an Albanian-born composer
who graduated from Tirana Conservatoire
and gained a doctorate in composition
from York University, where he studied
with David Blake, in 1995. He says that
his exposure to folk musicians and listening
to ancient songs, whilst working in
a remote part of southern Albania, had
a lasting effect on his music, and the
resonances of that sound-world are now
subconsciously becoming part of his
own music. I have no problems with any
of this. Indeed the use of folk material,
or folk-inflected material - Simaku
says that he does not use real folk
material in any of the works recorded
here - has been with us for over a century.
The range and variety of those myriad
compositions is well known to all of
us. One of the most exciting things
about the use of this folk material
is the variety of music it has inspired
and helped to create.
it’s this great variety of works which
is most exciting and satisfying to a
listener. It’s this great variety of
music which can be created from folk-derived
material which is exactly what is lacking
in these works.
two Quartets, Simaku tells us, “… in
different ways, explore the static quality
of the drone-based type of linearity
…” yet the Third Quartet is full of
action, plus lots of sul ponticello,
glissandi, Bartók pizzicato and the
like. What the music doesn’t have is
any logical progression. What Simaku
has done is to build a work based almost
entirely on tried and true sonorities
– old sonorities but not necessarily
newly minted, perhaps – with the occasional
passage of single notes or chords sustained
for a time to depict drones. The Second
Quartet begins quite beautifully, slow
and quiet, full of expectation - a real
melody! - but all too soon we’re off
on rapid passagework, dissonant chords,
long-held solo notes (the drone revisited?),
quiet tremolando which becomes sul
ponticello and so on. By the mid-point
we’re back in the usual four instrument
scramble where the sound is scratchy
and ugly. It’s as if the players were
trying to get the ensemble back together
after becoming hopelessly lost. At one
point the music did seem to be going
somewhere with some kind of development
but it was stopped before anything could
be fully realized.
solo pieces go over the same ground
in the same way – ponticello,
Bartók pizzicato and so on. These pieces
are an handbook of what was happening
in the 1960s with nothing new added.
I have no problem with the 1960s for
that decade fascinates me – especially
as I was too young to really understand
what was going on at the time. However
I am also fascinated by progression,
growth and the seeking out of new things
in music, not just sonorities but language
and expression. What we have here is
ideas we’ve heard many times before,
and from more experienced hands. Simaku
fails to convince me that he has anything
of relevance to say and as the music
lacks any real individual personality
there is little to which one can relate.
are many followers of contemporary music
who will want this disk, but, for me,
music without any logical development,
where the music fails to progress towards
a goal, is not music. It’s sound for
its own sake with nothing to back it
up, and that is vacuous music.
booklet is excellent and the sound is
very clear so you can hear every detail.
received from the composer
hope you would forgive me for this unsolicited
e-mail, but I just read a review by
Bob Briggs of my latest CD on Naxos.
I never enter into correspondence with
reviewers (my job is to write the music),
but I thought of writing these lines
to you as the founder of MusicWeb.
I don't expect everyone to like my music,
and of course everyone is entitled of
their opinion; but one expect the reviewer
to be correct! Among other things, Mr
Briggs writes, and I quote:
"" "The two Quartets,
Simaku tells us, "
ways, explore the static quality of
the drone-based type of linearity
yet the Third Quartet is full of action,
plus lots of sul ponticello, glissandi,
Bartók pizzicato and the like.
I will not comment on his comments,
but I can assure you that there is not
a single Bartok pizzicato in my 3rd
quartet ( so I don't know where Mr Briggs
got this one!); there are only three
soft pizz (pp) in the 3rd quartet, and
none whatsoever in the 2nd.
By the way, I find
musicweb a very good site, with lots
Wishing you all the very best
Dr T. Simaku
University of York
York YO10 5DD
Tel. (+44) (0) 1904 434 448
Dear Mr Simaku,
Thank you for your
comments concerning my review of your
new Naxos CD. There are a couple of
points I would like to make in my defense.
After I read the notes,
always a good starting point when approaching
a composer who is new to you, I played
the CD four times over the next two
days. What I heard did not appeal to
me for a variety of reasons - which
need not be investigated here - suffice
it to say that your music didn't grab
me, and I thought that I must convey
my feelings to whoever reads the site.
I will not say that I am right, but
I had to speak as I heard.
As to the obviously
vexed question of the use of Bartok
pizzicato I can only say that I heard
something which sounded like the Bartok
pizzicato. Having not seen the music
for these pieces I am at a loss to know
what sound you used which came across
as the Bartok pizzicato. I apologise
for this mishearing.
I wish you all the
best for the future and I look forward
to hearing your future works for I am
always interested in what is happening
in contemporary composition and, whether
I enjoy it or not, it cannot be ignored
by anyone, nor should it.
Avanti! Mr Simaku.