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William Nicodeme, composer

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 07.12.2007:

A Vibrant Soul and Challenging Artist in Jerusalem

One of the major characteristics of life achievements is to be capable of pursuing goals that may sound impossible. Although achievements may be material or intellectual, nevertheless diligence and persistence are the main driving force behind such success, if talent and creativity exist.

William Nicodeme, a pianist, composer, and artist, is a perfect contemporary example of such dedication and determination, although the difficult circumstances in which Palestinians live nowadays are even more difficult for people in the world of fine art.

William was born in 1947 into the family of Julio Nicodeme. The Jerusalemite Arab family was living in the eye-of-the-storm period of Palestinian history: a time when society was in transition and under the threat of imminent war; strangers began to populate the towns; economic life was deteriorating; and most of all, security was becoming every family’s major concern.

People who know of Palestinian composers would usually think of François Nicodeme, the elder brother of William. He too was a celebrated Palestinian composer and pianist. Although twelve years younger, William became the main concern of young François when their father passed away. William was barely eight years old at the time. The significant difference in age between him and his elder brother contributed immensely to William’s feelings of deep solitude. Another event in his early childhood also took its toll: when he was four years old, a large stone fell on his left hand and seriously damaged his muscles and left one finger permanently disabled.

As a young child, William often accompanied his father to church where he was the organist. After the death of his father, William was further encouraged to explore the world of music through his brother François. In addition, he studied music under the great Augustine Lama at St. Saviour School in Jerusalem. This accomplished musician noticed the talent and gifted soul of this young boy and, consequently, dedicated more time to teaching him. However, he and other teachers said that young William had little chance of becoming a pianist due to his damaged left hand.

William was determined to overcome this challenge and to play the piano professionally. During school hours he would skip classes in order to sneak into the teacher’s room to play the piano. Once the school principal discovered his escapades, he punished William by not allowing him to continue to take piano lessons from Augustine Lama. However, he continued to sing in the choir and, at the age of twelve, was awarded a gold medal from the Patriarch of Jerusalem for a brilliant solo performance.

In 1965 William graduated from high school, and his brother François tutored him and gave him master classes for two years. After the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, William got a scholarship to study music at the Robin Academy of Music in West Jerusalem. It was not easy for him to study in an Israeli environment, but he pursued a four-year programme in piano performance. After these years he joined Fr. Armando Perucci to study music composition for seven years at the Franciscan Monastery in the Old City of Jerusalem, after which he completed the diploma in composition as well.

In 1972 he began to perform in music events and private concerts. During one of these concerts he was invited to tour Europe and perform in Switzerland, England, France, and Monte Carlo. The most significant moment during the tour was his performance of Schumann’s touching and famous A minor piano concerto.

William taught music and art at the Freres School in Jerusalem, but decided later to dedicate more time to composition and painting.

His music is characterized as late romantic, and probably more romantic in style than that of his brother François. The listener can easily identify the mist of melancholy and perpetual tranquillity that bring to mind the style of the great Schumann in his later works.

William’s mother was a major figure in his life, which is evident in the titles of many of his works. She was the main source of care and love after the passing of his father. Her passing away distressed him deeply, and his psyche translated such sadness into emotional and touching piano works in the form of nocturnes and other works, including “Tears of a Mother.” Among his compositions there are many fugues, etudes, preludes, dances such as a Habanera, fantasies for the piano, and a suite called the “Carnival of Melancholy.” One other remarkable composition is a march called the “March of the Victim.”

His latest works include masses for four voices and organ, Ave Maria, and other compositions.

William remains a living symbol of the contemporary music and art worlds of Palestine, as he continues to compose and paint in Jerusalem. His works invite us to document, perform, and cherish the creative, talented Palestinian mind in the midst of these turbulent times in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine.

Dr. Saleem Zougbi

Bethlehem Academy of Music


This Week in Palestine

December 2007

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