Balkan Songbook (2007-2014)
for flute and guitar (there are also versions for clarinet, oboe, violin and cello)
[click here for clarinet versions]
(Demo recordings: Cavatina Duo (Shepherd's Dream, Sivi grivi),
Fiorella Camilleri/Luca Lucini (Haj mene majka, Ajde jano),
Alan Thomas/Joanne Kirkwood (Evgenija, Lament), Duo Allegro (At
Sunset), Christoph Kieser/Andreas Hiller. The others are computer
MIDI demo recordings.)
Scores: see above; for versions for violin, oboe, cello etc., please contact
Performers have included: The Cavatina Duo, The Balkan Duo,
The Madison Duo, Duo Allegro, Annica Gerlecz/Jon Larsson, Redbrick Duo,
Adi Sehu/Djani Sehu, Roberto Casado/Sergio Larrion, EOS Duo,
Flutar Duo, Agnew-McAllister Duo, Fiorella Camilleri/Luca Lucini, Duo de Vista,
Duo Tapas, Christoph Kieser/Andreas Hiller duo, Duo Gross & Lucini.
Recordings: The Cavatina Duo (Cedille Records), Agnew/McAllister Duo (Baros),
Redbrick Duo, Fiorella Camilleri/Luca Lucini, Duo Gross & Lucini
My Balkan Songbook began life with a commission from the outstanding
Cavatina Duo to write a piece for their "Balkan Project" concert
programme. The idea was to create an original composition using pre-existing
material from a folk song. As I worked on the piece and began listening
to more of the music from the region, I became increasingly drawn to the
incredibly rich musical culture of the Balkans. Though of course the music
varies greatly from country to country (and within individual countries),
common traits emerge in the use of complex asymmetrically structured meters
and modally-based scales and harmonies.
Generally Romantic in style, the pieces in the Balkan Songbook range from fairly straightforward arrangements
to more abstracted (à la Bartok) approaches to the Balkan source material and even some newly-composed melodies. While the pieces are conceived
as a complete set to be played in its entirety, performers should certainly feel free
to choose a selection of the pieces which suits their interests and artistry,
programming whatever number of movements in contrasting/complimentary moods and keys.
Individual piece programme notes:
Sivi Grivi: Sivi grivi ("Gray mane") is based on
a dance from the Pirin region of Bulgaria. Typical of the region, the piece
employs an asymmetrical meter (7/8 in this case), and has a largely stepwise
diatonic melody featuring the exotic sounding augmented 2nd interval.
by the Cavatina Duo (flautist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic),
and first performed by them in 2008.
Lament is based on "Si Zaljubiv Edno Mome", a beautiful
Macedonian song in which tells of the singer's dead love. Having loved her
since childhood, when he comes to her now he sees only her white face and
"closed black eyes".
Rachenitsa: The rachenitsa is a Bulgarian wedding dance
in 7/8 time, which is often played at virtuosic breakneck speeds. Though
based on a newly composed melody within a more lyrical flavour and varied
harmonic context than is the norm, my version nonetheless attempts to retain
the drive and energy of the traditional dance.
Evgenija is a more or less straightforward arrangement of the
beautiful Macedonian song "Bor Sadila moma Evgenija".
Haj, mene majka is in a fast 9/8 meter and makes
use of the Arabian-derived Hizaz scale. I have often noticed connections between Balkan music and flamenco (which is not too surprising, given the musical "interbreeding" of the cultures of southern Europe), and this piece attempts to explicitly combine the two styles.
The Shepherd's Dream: While perusing a folk song collection,
I came across a little tune labelled as "Croatian Lovesong". Though
only eight bars long and extremely simple in its rhythmic and melodic construction,
I became somewhat obsessed by the haunting beauty of this melody. I am often
troubled by these "earworms", and as I sang the
melody over and over in my mind, an image began to form of a shepherd on a
hillside in the still evening air, playing variations on the melody as he
drifted off to sleep. The score is headed with an excerpt from a poem by W.B.
Yeats: "And I dreamed my lost love came stealthily out of the wood/With
her cloud-pale eyelids falling on dream-dimmed eyes".
Cavatina Duo, 2008.
Ajde jano: Ajde Jano is a re-working of the first movement
of my Concerto for Flute and Guitar. The piece draws its inspiration from
the Serbian dance "Ajde Jano" ("Come on, Jana"), a courting
song which embodies the ardent emotional idealism of youth. (“Let's sell the
horse, let's sell the house, just so we can dance!”)
Ruza is based on the Bosnian song "Jutros mi je ruza procvetala",
in which the singer compares the lips and tender glance of her lost love to
a rose. The piece is effectively a passacaglia which takes the musical "sigh"
motif to extremes, as a descending chromatic thread leads through the entire
piece. I imagined each falling semitone as the dropping petal of the rose.
Rondo: Rondo is a re-working of the third movement
of my Concerto for Flute and Guitar. As in the concerto, this movement also features a Spanish folk song melody and draws on the sound of Renaissance music as seen through a Balkan prism.
At Sunset: At Sunset is based on the beautiful Macedonian
song "Zajdi, zajdi", the lyrics of which are a poignant evocation
of the autumnal passing of time and the loss of youth. The singer calls to the forest, asking that they grieve together--the forest for her lost leaves and the singer for his lost youth. In the final lines, the singer realises that the forest's leaves will return in Spring, but his youth will never return.