Këngë: Albanian Piano Music

Kirsten Johnson, piano

Wednesday 18 September 2013 by en

Kirsten Johnson’s recordings and performances have delighted listeners around the world. Building on the success of Këngë: Albanian Piano Music (Guild 7257), she has compiled a second album of pieces titled Rapsodi: Albanian Piano Music, Volume 2. On the release of Këngë, critics marvelled at the charm of this unknown repertoire.

Johnson’s interest in Albanian piano music originates from a visit to Albania in June 1993, shortly after communism had fallen. She stayed with the composer Llazar Morcka (b. 1923) and his family in Tirana, and was given tours of the Jordan Misja School of Music as well as the Music Faculty at the Academy of Arts. She performed, gave a masterclass and met many composers, pianists and musicologists.

Following this visit, Kirsten Johnson decided to make Albanian piano music the subject of the dissertation for her Doctor of Musical Arts, received from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1997. A Survey of Albanian Piano Literature is published through UMI of Ann Arbor, Michigan ( In her study of Albanian piano music, Johnson interviewed Kozma Lara, Ramadan Sokoli, Çesk Zadeja, Feim Ibrahimi and Alberto Paparisto.

She has performed this repertoire in recitals across the United States, the United Kingdom and Albania. The release of Këngë: Albanian Piano Music was followed in 2003 by Johnson’s fourth tour of Albania, with her concert in Tirana a gala event broadcast on national television.

Këngë: Albanian Piano Music (Guild 7257)

Track Listing:

Feim Ibrahimi
- Tokatë për piano

Kozma Lara
- Këngë
- March
- Ballade no. 4, ‘Pastorale’
- Valle: moderato
- Valle: allegro

Pellumb Vorpsi
- Variations for Piano (Ballad) on a Popular Theme

J. Papadhimitri
- Nina-Nana

A. Komino
- Vallja e fatosave (Children’s Dance)

Alberto Paparisto
- Çiftelia
- Këngë e lashte (Song of Ancient Times)
- Humoreska

Simon Gjoni
- Këngë trimërie (Song of Bravery)

Ramadan Sokoli Nocturne no. 2

Çesk Zadeja
- Four Pieces for Piano
- Improvizim
- Humoreska
- Prelud
- Tokata

Tonin Harapi
- Romance in Ab major
- Valle: andante con moto
- Nji dhimb je e vogël (A Little Pain)
- Valle: allegro vivo
- Romanze in A minor
- Moll ‘e kuqe top sheqere (A Candied Apple)
- Waltz on a Popular Theme

Arian Avrazi
- Tokkata

Sleeve Notes

Albania’s piano music is infused with rich folk melodies, rhythms and harmonies that have been passed down over hundreds of years. The piano tradition itself is a comparatively recent phenomenon, as prior to the 20th century Albania’s folk tradition prevailed, with a nascent classical music presence emerging in 19th century choral and instrumental ensemble repertoire. Under Enver Hoxha’s communist regime (1944-1985), the classical music tradition was nurtured and advanced. The most talented composers were sent to Moscow for training (until Albania’s détente with the USSR in 1961), and other students, including performers, were allowed to travel to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Italy and France for studies, provided they themselves posed no perceived threat to the state. Several conservatories and an Academy of Music were established in Albania during this time. Hoxha forbade the study of all music written after 5 March 1953 (the date both Stalin and Prokofiev died), all of the works of Shostakovich and Stravinsky, and all dodecaphonic and impressionistic pieces. Every new composition had to be approved by the League of Artists and Writers of Albania before it could be performed publicly. Any piece composed had to be ’for the people’ and deemed accessible. Therefore composers relied heavily on the rich folk music heritage of Albania, using folk melodies, dance rhythms and the imitation of folk instruments in their pieces. Albanian piano music is strongly influenced by this folk tradition, and must be heard and appreciated in the context of the restrictive environment in which it was composed.

Tokatë për piano, written by Feim Ibrahimi (1935-1997) in 1963, is a mainstay of the Albanian piano repertoire. The opening melody is a northern Albanian folk dance in 7/8, and imitates a quickly plucked folk instrument. This martellato effect is achieved at the piano by alternating the hands in quick succession. The contrasting middle section is based on another folk melody, a northern Albanian folk song traditionally sung by women, and juxtaposes a chordal right-hand with an undulating accompaniment made up of two, three, four and five note groupings. The opening theme returns, stated first in parallel root-position triads and later in parallel major 7ths. Ibrahimi employs changing meters and brilliant octave technique to bring the piece to a rousing conclusion.

Këngë (Song) is the eleventh piece in Kozma Lara’s (b. 1930) cycle for piano Ditë të Gëzuara (Joyful Days). The gently rocking accompaniment provides a background for this hauntingly beautiful setting of an Albanian folk song. March (pub. 1975), a caricature of a military march, features seven-bar phrases and a fluctuation between a feeling of two and four beats in the bar, characteristics which endow the piece with unsettled cynicism. Lara’s Ballade no. 4, ’Pastorale’, reflects the ancient Albanian folk story-telling tradition of the epic ballad. These sung stories are historical in nature, and are passed down orally from generation to generation. Published in a pedagogical collection in 1975, the repeated notes of the opening melody become a unifying device of this piece. In three sections, the outer parts are linked by a slower, more introspective middle section. Valle: moderato (Dance), a short piece in A minor published in 1971, is in 7/8 time. The stark qualities of this work give it a particular emotional poignancy. Valle: allegro (Dance, pub. 1975) is jaunty and fun, full of twists that take one by surprise, and rhythmic drive which gives the piece edge.

Pellumb Vorpsi’s (b. 1957) Variations for Piano (Ballad) on a Popular Theme (1978) is based on the folk song, ’Why does the blackbird cry?’ Six variations follow the simple choral statement of the theme. The first is straightforward, with the unaltered melody presented over broken chord figuration. The second variation is highly rhapsodic and more exploratory in nature. The third is an allegro written in perpetual motion toccata style, followed by the fourth, a more extended variation in which Vorpsi derives his material from the second bar of the original theme and places it over a tango-like ostinato. This darker and more introspective variation is linked to the fifth variation by a brief cadenza. Variation five, an electrifying allegro agitato, is interrupted by the sixth variation, a grandiose statement of the original theme in widely-spaced chords, before building to a shattering climax which unwinds into the bass of the piano. This highly enjoyable set of variations ends with a quiet remembrance of the first half of the original theme.

J. Papadhimitri’s Nina-Nana (pub. 1983) is a gentle lullaby. The lullaby is a popular folk tradition in Albania, sung usually by women, and with a limited melodic compass.

Vallja e fatosave (Children’s Dance, pub. 1983), by A. Komino, is an appealing folk dance in 7/8, whose very simplicity reflects the innocence of childhood. The title refers to children between the ages of seven and eleven, the fatos group.

Çiftelia, written by Alberto Paparisto (b. 1925) in 1967, is an imitation of the two-stringed folk instrument by the same name. Semi-quaver alternation between the two hands, in which one hand represents the melodic string and the other the drone, drive this piece unrelentingly forward. Këngë e lashte (Song of Ancient Times, 1964) creates a mood of timelessness and nostalgia. Humoreska (1976) is more modern in approach, with the use of extended harmonies, irregular phrase structures and tweaking dissonances.

Këngë trimërie (Song of Bravery, pub. 1983) is a short but evocative piece by Simon Gjoni (1926-1991). In 7/8 time, this arresting piece in C minor gives a sense of the pride Albanians have in their ancient heritage.

Nocturne no. 2 (1942) by Ramadan Sokoli (b. 1920) resembles a lament, a folk song usually sung by women when grieving for a loved one. Repetitive rhythms in both hands and an emphasis on the second beat of the bar create a sense of loss that turns to hope towards the end with a brief foray into major tonality.

Çesk Zadeja’s (1927-1997) Four Pieces for Piano is a collection of individual works gathered together by the composer. Improvizim (1986) is a masterful free-form portrait of historic grandeur with Turkish influences showing in the melodic presentation. Humoreska (pub. 1966) is taken from Zadeja’s ballet Delina. The opening rhythm, a unifying element of the piece, is associated with the daulle, a folk percussion instrument. The first section, in which the melody is set out in parallel fourths, is reminiscent of a men’s dance, and is followed by the female dancers being represented in a higher register with parallel first inversion triads. A gentle waltz interrupts the rambunctious dance, which quickly reasserts itself and brings the piece to a boisterous finish. The third piece, Prelud (pub. 1989), is an impressionistic setting of a simple melody against quaver accompaniment. Tokata (1986) opens with a spiky left-hand melody crossing from bass to treble against an ostinato pattern in the right-hand. It is eccentric and humorous, driving forward until relaxing into an improvisatory middle section decorated with trills and figuration. The toccata returns again, building into a climax of chords and octaves that leads to a thunderous conclusion.

Tonin Harapi (1928-1992) is one of the most revered Albanian composers. Romance in Ab major (pub. 1987) creates a mood of tranquillity at the outset, becomes more passionate as the melody is developed, and moves into a sprightly allegro section before returning once again to the ambience of the opening. Valle: andante con moto (Dance, pub. 1966) is based on folk dance rhythms, evoking both a waltz and a mazurka at different stages. Nji dhimb je e vogël (A Little Pain, pub. 1966) grieves after a loss, but becomes reconciled to that pain as the piece moves through shifting harmonies. Valle: allegro vivo (Dance, pub. 1966) is an exuberant rollick in a folk dance style. Romanze in A minor’s (pub. 1966) very serenity arises from Harapi’s opaque treatment of an uncomplicated melody, which is briefly developed before returning in a slightly altered guise. Moll ’e kuqe top sheqere (A Candied Apple, pub. 1966) is a charming piece in 7/8 time, reflecting the simplicity of childhood treats in its setting of an off-beat melody against a rhythmically hypnotic left-hand accompaniment. Two northern Albanian folk songs are the basis of Harapi’s Waltz on a Popular Theme (pub. 1987), a favourite piece of Albanian pianists.

Arian Avrazi’s Tokkata (1979) imitates folk instruments and rhythms through the percussive effect of alternating hands. He explores quartal harmony, crushed dissonances and a variety of meters, including 7 + 5 / 8. Frequent meter changes and rhythmic alterations to the opening theme, including triplet quaver patterns within 7/8 and syncopations that emphasise the second half of secondary beats, give a dynamic edge to this toccata in ABA form. The solemn stillness of the central Adagio provides welcome relief from the driving intensity of the outer two sections.


Sources of Scores : Tonin Harapi’s Waltz in B minor is available through Emerson Edition (

Album pianistik by Simon Gjoni is available from Mr Andis Gjoni (

The first five piano sonatas of Kozma Lara ( are printed in Sonatas for piano and violin by Shtëpia Botuese ‘OMSCA’, Rruga ‘Frederik Shiroka’, Tirana, Albania, tel. and fax: +42 355 336 48. The same publisher prints Lara’s Eight Preludes for Piano in Muzikë Dhome: Works of Albanian Composers.

"Artes", a publishing house run by Adelina Hoxha (, has printed some piano scores: Album pianistik (Piano Album) by Albert Paparisto; Album pianistik by Ramadan Sokoli; Sonatina per piano by Limos Dizdari; Koncertino per piano (Piano Concerto) by Limos Dizdari; Peisazh e valle per piano (View and Dance for piano) by Limos Dizdari; and Album pianistik by Sabrie Nushi.

Rapsodi: Albanian Piano Music, Volume 2 (Guild 7300)

Track Listing:

- 1 Tokkata (Toccata) Çesk Zadeja
- 2 Theme and Variations in E minor Çesk Zadeja
- 3 Vals (Waltz) Feim Ibrahimi
- 4 Valle për piano (Dance for piano) Feim Ibrahimi

Tracks 5-7 Sonatina Tonin Harapi - I. Allegro non troppo - II. Andante - III. Rondo: Allegro con brio

- 8 Këngë mbrëmje (Evening Song) Tonin Harapi
- 9 Temë me variacione (Theme and Variations) Tonin Harapi
- 10 Këngë polifonike (Polyphonic Song) Aleksander Komnino
- 11 Këngë (Song) Aleksander Komnino
- 12 Vals (Waltz) Tish Daija
- 13 Baresha e Vogël (The Little Shepherdess) Jani Papadhimitri
- 14 Scherzo Alberto Paparisto
- 15 Valle (Dance) Alberto Paparisto
- 16 Ballade no. 2 Kozma Lara
- 17 Sonatë për piano nr. 2 (Sonata no. 2 for piano) Kozma Lara
- 18 Rapsodi Shqiptare nr. 2 (Albanian Rhapsody no. 2) Ramadan Sokoli
- 19 Prelud në mi minor (Prelude in E minor) Simon Gjoni
- 20 Tokata (Toccata) Simon Gjoni

Sleeve Notes







Photo Gallery



Jump to: Track Listing Audio Clips Sleeve Notes Return to Discography This disc at the Guild Website Buy at Rapsodi: Albanian Piano Music, Volume 2 (Guild 7300) Track Listing: 1 Tokkata (Toccata) Çesk Zadeja 2 Theme and Variations in E minor Çesk Zadeja 3 Vals (Waltz) Feim Ibrahimi 4 Valle për piano (Dance for piano) Feim Ibrahimi Tracks 5-7 Sonatina Tonin Harapi I. Allegro non troppo II. Andante III. Rondo: Allegro con brio 8 Këngë mbrëmje (Evening Song) Tonin Harapi 9 Temë me variacione (Theme and Variations) Tonin Harapi 10 Këngë polifonike (Polyphonic Song) Aleksander Komnino 11 Këngë (Song) Aleksander Komnino 12 Vals (Waltz) Tish Daija 13 Baresha e Vogël (The Little Shepherdess) Jani Papadhimitri 14 Scherzo Alberto Paparisto 15 Valle (Dance) Alberto Paparisto 16 Ballade no. 2 Kozma Lara 17 Sonatë për piano nr. 2 (Sonata no. 2 for piano) Kozma Lara 18 Rapsodi Shqiptare nr. 2 (Albanian Rhapsody no. 2) Ramadan Sokoli 19 Prelud në mi minor (Prelude in E minor) Simon Gjoni 20 Tokata (Toccata) Simon Gjoni

Sleeve Notes A rapsodi is a musical representation of the epic, a narrative folk-song which tells the story of an historic event. It is associated mostly with northern Albanian folk culture, and is primarily sung as a solo accompanied by a single instrument (such as the lahuta, a one-stringed bowed instrument). Epics are a central part of Albania’s folk tradition, as its identity is grounded in history and the sense that its people are descended from ancient Illyrian tribes. This CD is also an epic: it tells the story of a piano tradition unique in the world, birthed in the twentieth-century and nurtured under the communist regime of Enver Hoxha (1944-1985). The composers represented on this CD are some of the most revered in the cultivated music tradition of Albania, though they themselves were limited in what they could write. Under the communists all pieces ’should be moulded from the soil of this land, should be inspired by the creativeness, the work, and the aspirations of this people, and dedicated to them, the people should like them and be encouraged by them.’[1] To this end, composers were expected to include folk elements: these took the form of folk melodies, folk rhythms, imitation of folk instruments, use of folk dance patterns, folk harmonies and modes.

I interviewed Çesk Zadeja (born in Shkodra, 1927-1997) in November 1995. He studied at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow from 1951-56, and wrote works for orchestra, choir and ballet, as well as a piano concerto and smaller instrumental pieces. Zadeja spoke about his experience of censorship under Hoxha’s regime and the role of the League of Artists and Writers (LAWA), which was responsible for setting conditions of composition and performance. LAWA gave commissions to composers and decided whether a piece was acceptable: all new works had to be approved before they could be publicly performed. The communist publishing houses acted separately and could reject any piece they wished. Zadeja spoke of working the system to his advantage, and if one government body rejected a piece then going to another for approval. He remarked that the artistic climate under communism was one of freedom within imposed restrictions. Zadeja was recognised with the highest honour bestowed on a musician in Albania by being given the title ’Artist i popullit’ (Artist of the People) by the government for his services to music and in recognition of his status as a composer. Tokkata was written in 1952 and is a mainstay of the Albanian piano repertoire. Alternating semiquavers between the hands imitate the effect produced by the çiftelia, a plucked folk instrument of two strings, one melodic and the other a drone. The second theme is set pianissimo with a triplet accompanying pattern. Later, the dotted figure from the end of the second theme is developed in a march-like section, which leads back to the opening toccata figuration. The second theme then returns, followed by a brief passage of the çiftelia pattern, which leads to the coda, where the march motive is placed in the left hand and set against scale and arpeggio patterns in the right. Tokkata is brought to a thundering finish in a rising storm of alternating notes an octave apart between the hands.

Zadeja’s Theme and Variations in E minor are based on an irregularly-phrased folk-like melody, set in one three-bar phrase followed by two six-bar phrases. Melancholic in nature, the theme is then put into four and eight-bar phrases in the first variation and placed against a gentle, lulling accompaniment. In the subsequent variation the melody is decorated with triplets and grace notes and set against answering left-hand semiquavers. Next, Zadeja switches to the key of A minor with an Allegro variation featuring six notes to the beat in scintillating passagework. Remaining in A minor, the next variation juxtaposes a version of the melody in the left hand with chordal semiquavers in the right. Moving into F lydian, an Andante sostenuto variation follows in which Zadeja introduces a barcarolle accompaniment as a backdrop for the melody. This leads directly into the final variation (again in A minor), an Allegro con fuoco of syncopated chords and octaves, which brings the piece to a fiery, A major, climax.

I spoke with Feim Ibrahimi (born in Gjirokastra, 1935-1997, ’Artist i popullit’) in his Tirana flat in November 1995. Ibrahimi studied with Tish Daija at the Conservatory in Tirana, being one of the first composers entirely educated in his own country. He served as secretary of the music section of LAWA from 1977-1991. Ibrahimi said that communism had compromised his style as there was tremendous pressure to stay within the system, but that he had attempted to write valid works in spite of these restrictions. Interestingly enough, he was told that his use of pulsating rhythms, fragmentisation of melodies and unconventional harmonic resolutions, all of which are evident in the two pieces on this recording, were not in line with social realism. Ibrahimi explained that he used folk elements as a shield to cover his real intentions as a composer. He wrote works for orchestra, ballet and choir, as well as two piano concerti and smaller piano pieces. Vals (Waltz) is searching and melancholic in nature. Written in B minor, the piece opens with a G major 7th underlying harmony, implying the lydian mode from the outset. The sense of unsettledness continues in the phrasing: the melody is set in two four-bar phrases followed by a five-bar culmination. The cadence at this point reflects Ibrahimi’s stretching of the norms: rather than a dominant to tonic resolution, Ibrahimi uses a F dominant seventh to resolve to B minor, therefore with a root relationship of a diminished fifth. The brief middle section is a recitative-like, with the contrasting material first placed in unison between the hands and then in tenths. The opening theme returns to complete the simple A-B-A structure, with the decorated melody interspersed with secco quaver chords above a strong sense of G lydian in the left hand.

Valle për piano (Dance for piano) alternates unpredictably between 5/8 and 7/8, with driving quavers accentuated by chords at the cadence points. One can hear feet stamping and hands clapping at these phrase endings. In imitation of a folk dance, this piece is sectional in nature, with the opening activity around C followed by a cantabile section in G minor. This moves into B-flat major, with material from the first section returning in a developmental fashion, and leads to a rollicking 2/4 in E-flat mixolydian with plagal cadences in F aeolian. The rhythmic drive of the opening material returns in octaves and triumphant chords, with Valle ending abruptly on a v-I cadence in C major.

Tonin Harapi (1928-1992, ’Artist i Merituar’ [Artist of Merit]) died the year before I first travelled to Albania. He studied at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow and then completed his studies with Zadeja at the Tirana Conservatory. Highly regarded in Albania as a composer of great stature, Harapi’s output includes operas, works for choir and orchestra, songs, a string quartet and a piano concerto, as well as a plethora of pieces for solo piano. A piano competition is held regularly in Tirana in his honour. The first movement of Sonatina follows sonata-allegro form, with the opening theme in C minor followed by the second, dolce, theme in the relative major. The development section works through permutations of both themes in various keys and guises before the return of the main subject almost verbatim, and then followed by the second subject in C major. Various elements of the development section are briefly used in expounding this material before the arrival of the coda, in C minor, which builds upon the main theme through chord and octave sequences, rising to the upper end of the keyboard before resounding unison Cs have the final word. The key relationship between the movements of Sonatina are those of Beethoven’s Op. 13, the Pathetique Sonata. The second movement, in A-flat major, opens with a warm accompaniment pattern in thirds which provides a back-drop for the entry of the melody in a higher register. The recitative-like melody offset against the unrelenting thirds is modified and decorated through various keys before winding down to a low A-flat major sonority. The final movement of Sonatina is a straightforward rondo, with the lively theme interspersed with two contrasting sections. Harapi alternates bars of 2/4 and 5/8, and uses elements of Albanian folk dance to give the piece edge and excitement.

I first heard Këngë mbrëmje (Evening Song) played by Margarita Kristidhi, an Albanian pianist who had the good fortune to study in Paris with Vlado Perlemuter. This opportunity was arranged after she played privately for Hoxha, but after six months of study in Paris she was recalled to Tirana by the government who said she needed to give her talents back to Albania. Dreamy, with elements of impressionism, Këngë mbrëmje is a lovely evocation of mood and colour. In song-form, Harapi utilises gentle broken chord patterns, planed triads, extended harmonies and sequential development in setting out this evocative melody.

Harapi’s Temë me variacione (Theme and Variations), published in 1966, is one of the best known pieces of this form in the Albanian piano repertoire. With a folk-like melody in G-minor, the theme is set in 2/4 time in a combination of three and two-bar phrases, with the penultimate bar in 3/4 time. This irregular structure is maintained through much of the work, lending the piece a distinct folk flair in both rhythm and melody. With nine variations altogether, Harapi transforms the theme by various devices: melodic decoration and sharing the melody between the hands (variation 1); quick broken chord figuration (var. 2); a march-like style (var. 3); melodic semiquavers (var. 4); a distilled, quiet sarabande (var. 5); a martial, bombastic arrangement (var. 6); repeated chords (var. 7); a brilliant, leggiero, alternating hands pattern (var. 8); and a final, extensive, variation which has its own second theme and development. This last variation leads to a grand restatement of the main theme, with full orchestra being brought in for a majestic conclusion.

A. Komnino’s Këngë polifonike (Polyphonic Song) is a simple piece in ABA form. Questing and timeless, Komnino explores two-part polyphony using chromaticism in the accompaniment of the melody and parallel tenths in setting out the first part of the middle section. The next piece, Këngë (Song), features a mirror phrase structure: A, B, C, C, B, A. This is cleverly done by putting the material in different octaves when it recurs in the B and C phrases. The overall effect is beautifully hypnotic, with one phrase eliding into the next.

Tish Daija (born in Shkodra, 1926-2004, ’Artist i popullit’) is credited with writing the first Albanian string quartet (1953) and the first Albanian ballet, Halili dhe Hajrija (Halili and Hajrija, 1963). Having studied in Moscow at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory from 1950-56, he also wrote pieces for symphony orchestra (Një ditë pikniku, ’A Day at the Picnic,’ 1955) and operas (Pranvera [The Spring], 1960). This little Vals (Waltz) reminds one of Satie, both in the accompaniment pattern as well as in the placement of the melody. The irregular phrase structure consists of three and six bar groups, with interjections of four-bar phrases. A minor 9th chord finishes this simple waltz with a quirky flourish.

Baresha e Vogël (The Little Shepherdess) by Jani Papadhimitri is a folk-inspired piece. The undulating accompaniment sets the stage for a melody that one could imagine being played on a fyell (a recorder-like flute), decorated with short trills (also an element of folk improvisation). The melody has a small compass: only six notes are used in the right-hand in the entire piece. This is also a key folk element, as the fyell was based on a heptatonic scale (seven pitches). A folk dance can be heard in the rhythmic phrase endings of the middle section, and folk harmony is evident in the use of parallel fifths in the accompaniment of the same section.

I also interviewed Alberto Paparisto (born in Elbasan, 1925) in November 1995. Primarily a musicologist, he studied at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow from 1951-56. I was immediately struck by his sense of humour: he is a lively, personable man, and these traits are reflected in his Scherzo and Valle. The first is quick and playful, the second angular and jolly. Scherzo begins with a brief introduction which leads to the primary material, a semiquaver melody which dances up and down the keyboard. This is developed in runs and parallel first-inversion triads and ushers in an introspective middle section of a more dramatic nature. The opening theme returns in full and is followed by a brief coda of unison scale patterns which collapse in a giggle. Valle (Dance) is light and fun, with the opening motive, accentuated by colourful dissonance, unifying this charming piece.

I first met Kozma Lara (b. 1931, ’Artist i Merituar’) in Tirana in 1995. He also studied composition at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, but his studies were interrupted in 1961 when Albania broke off relations with the Soviet Union. He returned to Albania to complete his studies under Zadeja at the State Conservatory in Tirana. Lara’s compositional output includes five piano concerti, four rhapsodies for piano and orchestra, six piano sonatas, four ballades, four albums of piano pieces, one set of theme and variations (1965) and eight piano preludes (1997). Lara’s Ballade no. 2 (1983) is based on the rich folk tradition of epic ballades. This ballade opens with a recitative in single notes which leads to the main theme in C lydian. Parallel fourths, fifths and seventh chords support the melodic development as the material grows into bigger chordal expressions of the narrative. A contrasting middle section explores a gentle dance-like second theme, before returning to a condensed version of the ’A’ section. This builds into an abrupt, jagged ending: a cry of anguish to end the epic.

Sonata no. 2 opens with a declamation in E minor, presented in octaves, with rhetorical answer in the lower register. In one movement, the introduction is followed by the presentation of the main theme in thicker chords in C major, with a low ostinato bass pattern in support. Written in 1974, Sonata no. 2 juxtaposes these two tonal centers to heighten tension. The piece also moves through various other keys and utilises wrong-note dissonance to lend a dimension of dark colour. The second theme, in E-flat minor, is quieter and introspective, and is expounded above a meandering semiquaver pattern in the left hand. The main development section follows and is episodic, with various elements of the introduction, first and second subjects developed rhythmically and melodically with octaves, repeated notes, parallel fifths and running passages. The recapitulation is harkened by a grandiose version of the introduction, presented in the upper register of the piano, and then followed by a statement of the main theme. The second subject returns in C major, and is then enhanced with elements from the development section. A coda follows, remaining primarily in C major, and brings the circle to full completion with bravura use of material from the introduction.

Ramadan Sokoli (b. 1920), an esteemed Albanian musicologist, wrote Rapsodi Shqiptare nr. 2 (Albanian Rhapsody no. 2) in 1961. Narrative in nature, one is reminded of a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody in the extemporaneous unfolding of melody, though this piece does not reach the technical highs associated with the virtuoso pianist-composer. I first heard Rapsodi played by Lili Tafaj during our interview in the Recital Room of the Opera and Ballet Theatre in Tirana, on an old baby grand piano which had seen better days. Lili is an emotive pianist, and as she talked and played through various pieces in her concert repertoire her eyes grew moist with nostalgia, recalling her performances and work with many prominent Albanian composers. Albanians, whether in the developed classical music tradition or in the folk tradition, are passionate about music. Following a concert I gave in Tirana, the folk band at the restaurant afterwards began to play The Snowdrop (1949) by Simon Gjoni. This song is a national favourite, and the entire table of eminent musicians, including the head of the Music Faculty as well as government representatives, stopped eating and chatting and joined in full throttle to all of the verses of the song, with tears in their eyes. This passion comes through in Rapsodi Shqiptare nr. 2, an arrangement of two folk-like melodies. Sectional in form, an introduction leads into the first tune, set in an improvisatory style and then developed with sequential pianistic flourishes. The second melody is placed in thirds in the right hand accompanied by demisemiquavers in the left. After rhapsodic expansion on this material and a brief cadenza, the second theme returns. Elements of the introduction follow, culminating in a chordal, theatrical ending.

Simon Gjoni (born in Shkodra, 1923-1991, ’Artist i Merituar’) studied conducting in Prague from 1952-1958, and upon his return to Tirana worked at the Opera and Ballet Theatre. He toured China in 1967, and was one of the founders of the Albanian Radio-Television Symphony Orchestra. Gjoni was instrumental in introducing many standard orchestral works in Albania, including Beethoven’s Symphonies nos. 7 and 8, Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite and Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances. He was one of the first lecturers at the newly founded State Conservatory of Tirana in 1961. As a composer, he wrote over two hundred songs, pieces for solo instruments, cantatas and major orchestral works (Four Albanian Symphonic Dances, the Symphonic Suite ’Albania Celebrates’ and the Symphony in E-flat major). Prelude in E minor (1965) is a mesmerizing miniature with the solo melody set above a repetitive left-hand accompaniment. It is ageless, giving a sense of Albania’s ancient history marching through time. Tokata (1968), in 7+5/8, is a vivid depiction of a north Albanian folk dance. A drum motif, which one can imagine resonating in the mountains, opens the work Gjoni uses repeated notes, chromatic patterns, unisons between the hands and alternating fourths in capturing the flavour and excitement of the dance.

[1] Enver Hoxha, Reports and Speeches 1972-1973 (Tirana, Albania), 319. Quoted in Alfred Uçi, ’The Place of Folk Art in Socialist Artistic Culture,’ in Questions of the Albanian Folklore, Institute of Popular Culture (Tirana: 8 Nëntori Publishing House, 1984), 35.

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