Author: Sotiraq Hroni
When Paloke Kurti (1860-1920) wrote the “The Unity of Albania March” in 1878, Albania was still a long way from establishing a classical or professional music tradition. Kurti was a musical amateur, singer, instrumentalist and composer educated in the popular music of his native city, Shkodra, in northern Albania. Albanian musical form took its first real steps
towards professionalism during the second decade of the 20th century with its main initiator, the Franciscan priest, Padre Martin Gjoka (1890-1940) who has the distinction of being the first person in Albania to compose classical music in different genres. Following the classical music tradition of Bach and Handel, Gjoka wrote polyphonic and choral works as well as an unfinished symphony. He can also be considered the first Albanian musician who showed serious interest in traditional Albanian folk music, mostly that of the deep mountainous areas which was less influenced by Eastern music. However, because of the lack of musical institutions and any system of professional music education, his works remained an isolated phenomena – they were performed mostly by amateurs and heard only in small circles. Nevertheless, thanks to Gjoka and a few other musicians of his time, Shkodra became the most important focus of musical life in Albania during the period between the two wars and, especially, after WWII. There, the first orchestral and choral groups were formed and the first musicals were staged, practices that later spread to the southern city of Korça. As a result, Shkodra became the center of education for some of the most distinguished representatives of the first generation of Albanian composers during the second half of the 1900s.
Preng Jakova (1917-1969), who studied clarinet at the Conservatory “Santa Cecilia” of Rome, wrote mostly vocal music. With his operas “Mrika” (1958) and, later, “Scanderbeg” (1968), he is known as the creator of the Albanian national opera. As a composer with lyric inspiration, he wrote under the influence of the traditional Italian opera of the 19th century and in the operatic style of belcanto, at the same time involving the intonations of Albanian songs and dances.
There is no doubt that the most famous composer in Albania of all the time is Çesk Zadeja (1927-1997), also born and raised in Shkodra, and rightly called the father of Albanian classical music. Zadeja graduated in music composition from the Conservatory “P.I. Tchaikovsky” in Moscow, and from 1956 until the end of his life, he propogated his artistic activities in Tirana. He was one of the founders of the Music Conservatory of Tirana, the Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and the Assembly of Songs and Dances. Equally important were Zadeja’s teaching activities as the founder of the Academy of Arts in Tirana and its professor of music composition for 30 years. Under his direction, well-known figures of Albanian classical music were educated. Zadeja’s musical repertoire spawned the formation of classical music tradition in Albania after he wrote his first symphony in 1956. He also composed two ballets, several concertos for instruments and orchestra, dozens of symphonic pieces, several sonnets, music for trio and quartet, etc. Zadeja’s compositions are distinguished for their polished technique and for the rational integration of intonational structures of rhythm and timbre of the most valued Albanian folk music.
During the second half of this century, Albanian music had to confront major challenges resulting from the absence of true professional tradition. This is one of the reasons that its musical development concentrated mainly on classic-romantic styles. The Albanian classical musical scene during 1950-1990 is replete with names such as Tish Daia (b. 1926), the composer of the first Albanian ballet “Halili and Hajria”, Nikolla Zoraqi (1928-1991), a composer with very wide and complex activities that include some short instrumental and vocal pieces for opera and ballet; Tonin Harapi (1925-1991), who was one of the first piano teachers at the national level; Feim Ibrahimi (1935-1997), who, with two concertos for piano during 1970-1980, played a sensitive role in the emancipation of the Albanian musical theatre; Shpetim Kushta (b. 1943), Thoma Gaqi (b. 1949) and others.
With the advent of democracy in 1990, Albanian music had to confront new challenges. Liberation from the constraints of state dictatorship and ideology resulted in the creation of completely new musical structures. Two important musical groups – “The Society of Music Professionals” and “The Society of New Albanian Music” – were formed during 1991-1992, and both became members of the most prestigious European and world musical organizations. Recruiting the best talents and performers of the country into these societies created a different environment for Albanian music and accelerated integration into the world contemporary music scene. Since 1992, the Society of New Albanian Music has organized annual Festivals of New Music while the Society of Music Professionals directs the concerts of New International Chamber Music. Among the composers who are most active in Albania today are Aleksander Peçi (b. 1951), Sokol Shupo (b. 1954), Vasil Tole (b. 1963), and Endri Sina (b. 1968).
Frosina thanks Sotiraq Hroni for supplying the above information and Migen Hasanaj for the translation from Albanian into English.
The compositions of Çesk Sadija, Tonin Harapi, Ramadam Sokoli, and other Albanian composers can be heard on the CD Disc titled “Kenge – Albanian Piano Music”, Guild GMCD 7257.