Model Role Details

François Nicodeme

Sector : Cultural Figures , Singers / Musicians

Personal Info

  • Country of residence : Palestine
  • Gender : Male
  • Age : 0
  • Curriculum vitae :

Information

An Unfinished Piano Concerto? Or an Unfinished Composer’s Life…

The race with time is as old as the existence of humanity. One can still remember Mozart’s feverish race with time as he tried to finish his celebrated Requiem. A Palestinian composer also raced to write his compositions. One difference is that Mozart probably knew that he had only a short time to live, but François Nicodeme most likely never knew that his passing was to be much sooner than he expected. He was a virtuoso pianist who performed all types of music, and he excelled at what he loved most: romantic music. Although he wrote a work of variations for piano and orchestra on themes by the famous Arab-Oriental composer, Abdul Wahab, this work was much closer to a piano concerto than just simple variations.

The son of a trader in the Old City of Jerusalem, François Nicodeme was born on August 15, 1935. As a young child, he exhibited a genuine inclination toward music. His father, who also loved music and played the organ in churches in the Old City, was hoping that one of his sons would become a musician. Both sons, in fact, François and the younger William, grew to become famous Palestinian pianists and composers.

At the age of eight, François earned the Palestinian Radio music prize. Although he had a good piano teacher, his desire was to study with his idol, Augustine Lama. As he turned 15, he was a true pianist, playing compositions of Mozart, Beethoven, and many others.

As other Palestinian artists, intellectuals and, certainly, musicians, he was forced to go to other Arab countries after the 1948 tragedy. By 1950 he was playing music in Amman, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and Kuwait. He earned his living by playing in clubs and cultural salons, as very few concert halls existed at that time. Shortly after, he performed in cities in Bulgaria, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Egypt, West Germany, and Russia. During this period of time, François was introduced to the world of pianists in the Middle East and Europe and thus gained the incentive to become a world-class pianist. He learned quickly how to interpret major classical works and, consequently, was driven towards composition. This era of his life marked the transition to his becoming a mature, creative, and talented musician - and he found himself racing to compose. Unfortunately, he had neither the social stability nor the financial means to dedicate his time to composition and music. Rather than finding a simple job to provide the security he needed, he continued to seek further professional development. Hence, he embarked on the third and last stage of his short life.

This stage could be classified sadly as the beginning and the end of this great, unfortunate composer. While he was in Europe, he took short, intensive conducting courses by the famous conductor, Eduard van Beinum, who encouraged him to compose. Afterwards, he spent time transforming many of his smaller compositions into mature, larger ones - orchestral, instrumental, or mixed. He also began to write overtures and the early designs of his first symphony.

Following the 1967 occupation of Jerusalem, he tried to settle in to his sad native city and raise his family as comfortably as he could; but the financial stress experienced by all inhabitants of Jerusalem at that time, especially artists and musicians who had very little chance of work, started to take its toll on him and his creative life. Some of his works were performed in Jerusalem, at the YMCA for example, but it was evident that his ambition was much larger than reality. When he realized this bitter fact, he began his final race with time - a race to leave a legacy of as many manuscripts of his works as possible.

As a result of such hard work and creative talent, he wrote three symphonies, seven overtures for orchestra, many chamber pieces for piano and violin, and his series of fifteen piano pieces, “The Oriental Dances,” which remind the listener of Dvorak’s Slavonic dances. Of his several piano pieces, his nocturnes are perhaps the most well-known. His grand composition for piano and orchestra consists of variations on a theme by Abdul Wahab (Al-Lil Lamma Khili). As someone who loves piano concerti - Chopin’s being my favourite - I felt as though I were listening to the lost script of Chopin’s third piano concerto, even though there is no such script! Nicodeme’s style was extraordinary indeed, as the distant tones of an Arab-Egyptian song were transformed into a first-class piano-orchestral dialogue.


When I was nineteen, I tried to impress a classmate with my naïve efforts to play Liszt’s La Campanella at one of the youth meetings in the Arab Women’s Union hall in Bethlehem. I noticed that a thin man was staring at me. He smiled and patted me on my shoulder and praised me. I did not know who he was, so I started to explain to him how difficult it was to play this piece and that I was perhaps the only one in town who could play it even with such mistakes. He asked if he could replace me at the piano and, jokingly, I asked if he had ever heard of Liszt. His response came not through words but through his fingers. To my surprise, heavenly sounds immediately filled the room. Whether it was Liszt’s creativity or Paganini’s theme, it was clearly François Nicodeme’s exquisite musical interpretation. That was the only time I ever met him. A few years later, I learned that he had passed away on February 14, 1976, at the age of 41, during a music tour in Amman.

It is now left to us, music lovers and intellectuals of Palestine, to race with time to document and publish Nicodeme’s manuscripts, before these significant contributions to Palestinian cultural heritage are lost to oblivion.

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