When Thomas Simaku graduated from the University in Tirana he had a high enough grade to have been immediately employed as a professor. But the government had other ideas and one did not argue with the Hoxha regime. He was sent to Permet, a distant town in south-east Albania, on the border with Greece, where his job was to teach. He was very close to a free, western nation, nearer to freedom than he had ever been, but in reality, he could hardly have been further from cosmopolitan, metropolitan life, which is vital fuel for many composers. Of course, the border with Greece was tightly shut, as Hoxha had placed his country on war footing with progressively, the entire world. The links with Russia had been severed in 1961, and later from with Mao Tse-Tung, as the paranoid great dicator had taken to lecturing his communist confreres on the inadequacy of their Marxist-Leninism. All other countries became perceived as threats and the whole of Albania was turned into a giant bunker-every family encouraged constructing one of the thousands of domed pillboxes that are strewn around the country like marooned concrete turtles.
Thoma is a man of great personal charm, courage and resourcefulness. I reminded him of the predicament, of Prokofiev, stuck in the boondocks of the northern Caucasus in 1941 and he smiled:
‘Precisely. I thought that I was going to find myself in hell. I am certainly not going to pretend that it was fun, to be stuck in this town with 4,000 inhabitantsm in the middle of absolutely nowhere, but then I realized that my cup, far from being half empty, was actually more than half-full.’
He paused to think; we were sitting by the fireside of a restaurant in Athens, replete after a wonderful meal and conversation, post-concert.
‘You know, I think that was the turning point for my music. Ever since then, I have made a deliberate attempt NOT to use folk music in my composition-you know of course that the use of this material had been almost obligatory for any ‘socially responsible’ composer in Albania-if they wanted to stay out of prison, that was-Anyway, I have never used the folk music in my writing, but you know, on reflection, I think that the ‘feel’ of that music, the textures, the rhythms, of the music around me in that distant place, have provided the foundation for everything that I have written since.’ Peter Sheppard Skaerved with Thoma Simaku, “Interview,” Athens, 22 12 2002.
Peter Sheppard Skaerved with Thoma Simaku, “Interview,” Athens, 22 12 2002.