Thomas Simaku featured in Debussy centenary celebrations

Posted on 28 August 2018

Thomas Simaku celebrates Debussy with his new piece, written to mark the centenary of the composer's death.

Thomas Simaku’s new piece L’image oubliée d’après Debussy will receive its world premiere at York Late Music Concerts in St. Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel on 1 September 2018. Performed by James Willshire, the programme commemorates the centenary of Debussy’s death, and includes ten new piano pieces written especially for the occasion, alongside some of Debussy’s best known piano works. Full details of the concert.

Thomas Simaku has written the following notes about his new piece:

"Composed in the spring of 2018, this piece was written in response to a commission by the York Late Music Concert Series to commemorate the centenary of Debussy's death. We were asked to choose a piece by Debussy, quote it for a minute or so, and continue on our own style – easier said than done. But I was indeed intrigued by the idea and was anxiously curious to find out where this imaginary journey would take me. I chose a Debussy piece, which is not among his best-known piano works; in fact, it could be said that it's a forgotten one!

"Composed in the winter of 1894, at a time when the composer was working on his, arguably the most famous work, Prélude a l'Après-midi d'un faune (1892-94), this is the first of a set of three piano pieces called Images (oubliées), which was not published until well after Debussy's death.  In the preface to the 1977 published edition, Arthur Hoérée writes:  ‘Always concerned with perfection, severely self-critical, Debussy had not thought it opportune to have the manuscript published.'

"That said, I was immediately 'hooked' by the opening melody of the first piece Lent (mélancolique et doux), an ‘image truly ''oubliée''', as Hoérée puts it, and was amazed to discover a reservoir of harmonic colours and rhythmic suppleness hidden in the 'dream-like' atmosphere of this impeccably concise and memorable little tune. Debussy has ingeniously based this melodic gem in the tonality of F-sharp minor, and has complemented it with the limpid arpeggios of the D-sharp minor, whilst including a whole-tone segment between them.

"Emphatically displayed right at the beginning of the Image, the melody and the arpeggio (which I would describe respectively as ‘vocal’ and ‘instrumental’ elements of the composition) are to become the driving force behind the proliferation of the entire harmonic vocabulary of the piece. My idea for the continuation of this compositional journey was to bring this ‘imagery’ to the doorstep of our time. To give but one example, arpeggios have become an essential part of the sound world of this new imagery, in the sense that they are projected as ‘vertical lines’ and ‘melodic gestures’, in both directions (up and down), and are ubiquitously present throughout the piece; most importantly, they lend themselves to constant transformations, and are expanded in pitch content and tone colours. They feature the mellow middle register with clusters where invariably diatonic and chromatic segments co-exist, and highlight the bright colours of the higher register, focusing on specific intervals such as the perfect fifth – the first interval of Debussy’s opening melody.

"To sum this all up, I would quote none other than Debussy himself, who described these images as ‘conversations’ between the piano and one’s self’!"