The cimbalom is a type of dulcimer, in the zither/chordophone family, that originates from Central-Eastern Europe. It is trapezoidal in shape with strings stretched across the top. It has a dampening pedal that is much like the pedal system of the piano or vibraphone. The dulcimers that I've had a long interest in are hammered dulcimers, and most countries in the northern hemisphere have a traditional hammered dulcimer that is integral to the folk music; the German Hackbrett, the Chinese Yangqin, the Persian Santoor, etc. The performer utilizes different stick-shaped hammers that widen at the striking end; bare wood, with a rawhide strip, or wrapped in cotton in the case of the traditional cimbalom hammer.
In the late 19th century the Hungarian instrument maker, Josef Schunda, developed the 'concert' cimbalom, the one you will hear on my concert at Studio Z on April 22nd. He was interested in improving on the common regional/folk instruments already in circulation in order to solidify this particular zither within a strong Hungarian national identity in the classical music of the area. The cimbalom is offered as an instrument for study in the conservatories of Hungary and cimbalom players are often the leaders of the folk ensembles and orchestras of the region. An extremely influential moment for me was when I got to see a concert by the Moldavian National Folk Orchestra in Chisinau, Moldova. The leaders and central focus of the group were the two cimbalom players alternating between the melody, improvisation, and common accompaniment doubled by the 'rhythm' section; the viola, accordion, and bass. Stage right there were six violins and stage left there were a combination of clarinets, ocarinas, pan flutes, and possibly other winds. They played for three hours straight, full volume, fast and furious, with the audience clapping along the whole time!
What cimbalom music should we look forward to hearing on the 22nd?
I will perform traditional and classical music of Eastern Europe. It was somewhat common for composers of that region to add cimbalom to their symphonic orchestral music. Stravinsky, Bartok, and Kodaly are the main three from the turn of the century. I've created a version with piano of the Song and Intermezzo movements from Kodaly's Hary Janos Suite that featuring the cimbalom more than it does in the original orchestral version. We will also perform two traditional dulcimer tunes from Moldova, Fantezie on American hammered dulcimer, and Briu on the cimbalom. We will also perform two movements from the Hungarian Dances by Brahms. These come from a version for cello and piano that I've adapted for the cimbalom.
Tell us about your project of performing Book 2 from J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier on the marimba. How did this project come about and what will it entail?
This project reflects a path I started down early on with solo marimba performance. I've always had a fascination with fugues and complex contrapuntal works. I've written several modern fugues for myself and commissioned composers to write them for solo marimba. Along the way (since 1998) I've been playing movements from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier. There are also some large-scale marimba solos that I've tackled over the years that reflect this interest: Nereus by Jeffrey Holmes, Night and Fugue by Ben Phelps, my own Concealed Chambers, Trois Tableaux by Tobias Brostrom, and of course Khan Variations by Alejandro Vinao. I think I was originally drawn to the WTCii because it seemed to be uncharted territory following much of the Bach performing that Vida Chenoweth and Leigh Howard Stevens did on marimba. I also realized early on that a soloist could potentially play every movement in the work with almost no alterations. After some 'false' starts, and performing some of the movements individually along the way, I officially 'launched' the project in 2017 with performing five preludes and fugues, 10 movements. I will attempt to add 6-8 movements each season, and in five years or so I hope to have worked my way through the whole collection of 48 pieces and recorded much of it! Additionally, one day I would like to commission a collection of several modernized Preludes/Interludes and Fugues by multiple composers.
The modern fugues I've commissioned/written and premiered include:
Fugue on a Chromatic Subject by Bjorn Berkhout
Four Etudes and Fugues by Andrew Ardizzoia
Superfluous I and II, Pentagonal Arabesque, Crazy Characters, and III. Cortex from Concealed Chambers by Matthew Coley
Fugue Odyssey by Dolores White
MATTHEW COLEY, MARIMBA AND CIMBALOM
WITH KOREY BARRETT, PIANO