Prenk Jakova was a well known Albanian composer, musician, and author of Mrika opera, which premiered in 1958 and is popularly considered the first Albanian opera. A native of Shkodra, he studied under Martin Gjoka and Zef Kurti, and he was also an alumnus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Being a virtuoso clarinetist, he worked as a music teacher for most of his life and distinguished himself as the mentor of the four most important composers of classical music from northern Albania: Cesk Zadeja, Tish Daija, Tonin Harapi, and Simon Gjoni. Jakova was the director of a music band, as well as Director of the House of Culture of Shkodra. Besides Mrika, Jakova also composed Skenderbeu, another opera which premiered in 1968.
Along the operas, Jakova left to posterity many songs and other musical pieces, several of which are commonly believed to be Albanian folk music, rather they are Jakova’s compositions. He was imprisoned by the Albanian communist regime for his brother’s political opposition to it and was demanded to work more than he could bear. Despaired and stressed from the excessive demands on his work, he killed himself in 1969. His legacy is that of one of the most important Albanian composers of all times.
Prenk Jakova was born on June 27, 1917 in Shkodra, northern Albania. His family’s background was from Gjakova, from which originated the last name. His grandfather, Dede Jakova, was a clarinetist at the Shkodra Jesuit College, whereas Prenk’s father, Kol Ded Jakova, was a commander in the Albanian army. Jakova went to elementary school in 1924-1929 and from there he pursued secondary studies in the Illyricum Lycee of his native city. When in high school, he switched from the classical concentration into the general gymnasium, which he finished in 1935. During his high school years he was part of the musical band of school and also, encouraged from his father, he started acting in the theatrical associations Bogdani and Vllaznia. Later, the school band became the city’s band, and Jakova its clarinetist. During that period Jakova started to write musical motifs based on well known folk songs such as(The Sheep), Hayredin, The Besa of a Brave Man), and I Come and Go Flying Like a Bird. His two musical teachers were Martin Gjoka and Zef Kurti, probably the most important Albanian musicians of northern Albania at that time.
At 18, Jakova was nominated artistic director of his school band and his first students were Cesk Zadeja, Tish Daija, Tonin Harapi, Simon Gjoni, Tonin Rrota, Zef Gruda, and many other famous Albanian composers. Jakova started to compose marches and other pieces. On January 2, 1936 he was sent to teach in Berdica where he took care of the musical education of the children. There he learned to play the guitar. During the summer of 1939 he purchased an accordion and learned that too. At that point he was an advanced, sometimes virtuoso player of the clarinet, the guitar, and the accordion. In 1939 Jakova went to teach in Orosh, Mirdita District, where he wrote a piece for accordion entitled “Mall” (English: Nostalgia), and later the song “: The Shepard’s Flute, whose text is unknown to us today. This was the first song of Jakova whose text and music had been both composed by him, according to the tradition of the Shkodra Serenade). In 1940 Jakova was transferred back to Shkodra where he started a cycle of songs for children and an operetta on two acts entitled ‘The Dwarfs’ Yard’. In the academic year 1941-42, Jakova was again transferred in Katerkoll, a village close to Ulqin and Osho in the Kraja region of Yugoslavia, to where he would commute with his bike from Shkodra, covering 50 kilometres (31 mi) every day. In 1942 he went to study clarinet at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Italy where he finished with excellent results.
In 1944 Jakova was hired by the chorus of the First Partisan Brigade of the House of the Youth where he was named director. During this time he was arrested by the communist regime and held in prison because his brother had been an opponent of the regime, persecuted, and killed by the communists. His former alumni, Cesk Zadeja and Tonin Harapi witnessed that, once released from the prison, Jakova went back to work and started to go to work at 7 in the morning and go back home only by late night. The group gave performances not only in Shkodra but also in various cities of Yugoslavia, such as Ulqin, Cetinje, Titograd etc. In 1947, Jakova wrote a cycle of songs entitled “Dasma Shkodrane” (English: The Shkoder Wedding), with which he represented his city in a song festival in Tirana. During 1948-1951, Jakova worked as a music teacher in two schools of Shkoder and never quit for a single day practices of the chorus and the orchestra of the House of Culture of Shkodra. At that time he composed the song “Gruri i ri” (English: The New Wheat) with a text of Dhimiter Shuteriqi, which was put on stage from Pjeter Gjoka along with other songs which were brought to the 1950 Festival in Tirana.
At the beginning of the 1952 festival in Albania there were high quality soloists and good symphonic orchestras. In June 1952 poet Llazar Siliqi was put in charge to write poetry on youth’s work on a new hydroelectric power station, which was being built on the Mat river. The piece started as a song, but afterward it took a longer shape and was divided into two movements called Lights on Albania), and was presented in 1952 in Tirana. The piece was nothing but the embryo of the first Albanian opera, Mrika, which was worked upon by Jakova in the following 6 years and eventually rehearsed on 2 May 1958, and put on stage on 12 November 1958. Rehearsing was done in the House of Culture, the Old Theatre and the new Migjeni Theatre in Shkoder. On November 27 the general rehearsal was given and in 1 December 1958 the opera premiered in the Migjeni Theatre, and after some performances in the city, in 27 and 28 December it showed in the theater of the Academy of Music and Arts of Albania, where Enver Hoxha, then Albania’s premier, assisted it. At the end of the show Kadri Hazbiu, then Minister of Interior thanked all the artists and raised a toast to Jakova. The event was considered important and Jakova received telegrams of congratulations from many of his peer composers all around the world for the success of his first opera.
The extraordinary success of Mrika led to an encounter between Enver Hoxha and Jakova. Hoxha asked Jakova to write another opera, this time on Albanian national hero, Skanderbeg, but Jakova answered that “operas are not like loafs which can be put in the oven at any time”. It is reported that Hoxha laughed at that response and that he immediately assured Jakova that he personally would provide to all the necessary conditions to guarantee the opera’s success. Skanderbeg would indeed premiere 10 years after Mrika and was of a much better artistic quality then Mrika. Jakova worked very intensively on the music while at the same time he had other responsibilities as the director of the House of Culture and also teaching assignments. He spent several months only on the work of separating the Turkish music from the Arabic one, which was one of the elements of the opera, and many classical composers struggled with, because of the very distant relationship between classical music and oriental one.
Jakova left a very important musical heritage. Beside the two operas there are dozens of songs, orchestral and choral pieces, movies’ music, and operettas that he left to posterity. Jakova is considered as one of the most important Albanian composers of all times.He composed the operas Mrika in 1958 and Skanderberg in 1968, for which he is known as the creator of the Albanian national opera. His operas were influenced by traditional Italian opera, the belcanto style and Albanian folk song.
Jakova has also become well-known for many folk Albanian songs, which are so widespread, that there is an erroneous belief that they are traditional Albanian popular songs, whereas they are instead composed by Jakova. One of his most famous songs is Margjelo.