The hedonistic composer – Samy Moussa
Towards the end of our conversation Samy Moussa says something wonderful about how he sees himself as a composer. He composes, he says, for his own pleasure. In one way or another, this is probably true of all composers. In Moussa’s case, however, it seems to be particularly fitting. Moussa was born in 1984 in Montreal and has been living in Europe since 2007 and is also a successful conductor. When he talks about his work and his plans, what he likes and doesn’t like, it is easy to see that, for him, music – his own music and other music – is a matter of direct subjective experience, it is about being enraptured. These are good prerequisites for a composer who, like Samy Moussa, wants to ignite the same enthusiasm in his audience. Composing to satisfy individual wishes does not exclude a special openness towards the audience. Indeed, the two seem to be related: hedonism is fertile ground for art.
But how does one compose for one’s own pleasure? Samy Moussa has developed his own personal grammar, a harmonic language based on various scales and on chords derived from them. These chords can also function for Moussa as a kind of “new tonality”. The orchestral work Cyclus (2007) demonstrates what this can mean. Its harmonies are familiar with the relationship between the fifths while at the same time allocating harmonic functions to certain sounds. He uses this grammar – which is also present in works such as the Kammerkonzert (2006) – to produce individual gestures and also whole blocks of sound that he arranges and moves around the orchestral space like a painter who varies the structure of his canvas by changing brush width and intensity of colour. In accordance with this approach to composition, Moussa prefers to devote his time to works for orchestras and large ensembles. And that fact that he adapts polyphony and counterpoint to his compositional thought fits in nicely with the painterly analogies he likes to use. As the equally beguiling and violent soundscape of his 4 Études pour grand orchestre (2008/09) demonstrates, Moussa’s creative instinct always ignites when confronted with an energetic and high-contrast play of colours, and less often when confronted with a mesh of layered and intersecting lines. Clarity and – for Moussa the foundation of all aesthetic pleasure – recognisability are his maxims, even when writing for small ensembles. His piece Ruah for accordion (2010) and also his String Quartet (2012) experiment with this almost to the point of minimalism. Ruah, in particular, makes extremely high technical and physical demands. This, on the one hand, is a treatment of the “exhaustion”, the breathlessness, that the title alludes to. “Ruah” is Hebrew for “(life)spirit”, “air”, “wind”, in relation to living organisms “breath”. This breathlessness becomes a poetic paradox in the course of the piece, since the accordion “breathes” without actually being alive. On the other hand, the piece wants not only to depict corporeality but also to trigger it; it appeals to more than our aesthetic reflection, it wants visceral immediacy, as it were. This is a special attribute of Samy Moussa’s music: the pleasure he wants to bring himself and his audience, as a conductor and as a composer, is to be experienced in a directly physical way.
Translation: Andrew Williams