The Waaihoek Tea Party

Dedicated to Leon Bosch
Commissioned by Leon Bosch
Duration: c. 9'00"


First performance: Wednesday 7 June 2017; International Society of Bassists 2017 Convention, Hockett Family Recital Hall, Ithaca, New York, United States; Leon Bosch double bass, : Sung-Suk Kang pianoperformance details.

Cello Sonata ('Hours with the Masters')

  1. Allegro misterioso
  2. Scherzo
  3. Fluente
  4. Adagio
To Friedrich Gauwerky and Daan Vandewalle
Duration: c. 16'00"

French Suite No 2

  1. First Dance (Non rubato; crotchet = 120)
  2. Second Dance (crotchet = 152)
Transcription of 'French Suite' for solo piano
Date transcribed: 2012
Duration: 11'00"

Programme note

The form of the French Suite is loosely related to the Bach Suites, consisting as it does of dances in contrasting styles. But there are only two, and both owe their musical genesis to Africa rather than the Baroque. The First Dance is underpinned by a chaconne-like pattern with variations in continually changing metres, interrupted regularly by a short refrain derived from Zimbabwean mbira music. The melodic material of the variations makes reference to West African kora music. By contrast, the Second Dance juxtaposes and sometimes overlays material derived from a wide range of sources including mbira music, again) and the result is analogous to cinematic montage. The instrumental writing derives from 18th-century French harpsichord music and early 20th-century French piano music. The first performance was given by Sally Rose on 26 November 1994 to launch the 'St Luke's Concerts', Brighton. I made this version for cello and marimba in 2012 at the request of a South African cellist for inclusion on a CD of South African music she was planning; unable to cope with the technical demands of the cello part, the work was not included.

100 Voicings

Dedicated to Yasutaka Hemmi and Takayo Matsumura
Duration: Variable

Programme note

100 Voicings was composed for the John Cage centenary concert I gave in the Fismer Hall, Stellenbosch on 4 September 2012 (the lone Cage centenary event in Africa). It consists of 100 revoicings of the four-note chord derived from the pitches of Cage's surname, though an inadvertent repetition resulted in 101. I began this version in Matsue in 2013 for Yasutaka Hemmi and Takayo Matsumura to illustrate one of the techniques I was teaching at a masterclass for local composers.

Alto Trombone and Vibe

Requested by and dedicated to Ivo Nilsson and Jonny Axelsson
Duration: c. 12'15"


First performance: Thursday 8 October 2015, 18h00; Konstnärsnämnden, Maria Skolgata 83, Stockholm, Sweden; Ivo Nilsson alto trombone, Jonny Axelsson vibraphoneperformance details.

Programme note

Sterkfontein, where I initially developed this piece, is situated in the Cradle of Humankind, outside Johannesburg. When I started thinking about a piece for Ivo and Jonny, I posited this question to myself: what kind of music might the early hominids have made? Then I allowed my imagination to run riot. Among other things the alto trombone could conjure up the lumbering of large prehistoric animals in this landscape with the very muted, often quite inaudible vibraphone perhaps suggesting more agile creatures.

Five Pieces for Piccolo and Tuba

Duration: Variable


First performance: Thursday 12 March 2015, 18h15; GUS, Dorp Street, Stellenbsoch, South Africa; Michael Blake Ensemble: Marietjie Pauw piccolo, Le-Nique Brand tubaperformance details. Thursday 30 April 2015, 17h00; Purpur Festival, Young Blood Gallery, Bree Street, Cape Town, South Africa; Michael Blake Ensemble: Marietjie Pauw piccolo, LeNique Brand tubaperformance details.

Programme note

Five Pieces for Piccolo and Tuba grew out of a whim: the perverse idea of the two extremes of the woodwind/brass sections of the orchestra duetting with a kind of noman’s land between them, and perhaps also something comical about these two quirky members of the orchestra. Questions I never asked were: would anyone ever play it? Or what would players make of it?

The decision to notate it as a graphic score came from an interest in working with Dada, and in Johannesburg in the 1970s Dada was one way of responding to the stiflingly conservative politics of the time. Unbeknown to me, Willem Boshoff was following a similar path, and although we were born in the same year, just a few weeks apart, our paths only crossed several decades later. Then we could both say “Snap!”

Being naturally both curious and subversive as a student (and eventually as a professional), I consciously resisted the received thinking about composition and performance of music, choosing not to compose sonatinas, rondos and suites but rather to set out on a more radical path, and thus to find an original voice (or not).

Five Pieces for Piccolo and Tuba came about largely by accident: having chosen the instrumentation, I sought out piccolo and tuba excerpts from various standard orchestral works – but also including the famous piccolo and tuba solos from Sousa’s Stars and Stripes – and then photocopied and cut them up, and made collages on A4 pages.

It was when photocopying them – on an early Rank Xerox machine at Wits University Johannesburg (for ZAR 0.5 cents a page) – that I accidentally removed a page too soon and discovered a photocopying equivalent to the canvasses of Jackson Pollock. The results were my first chance compositions - and I simultaneously made my debut as a visual artist.

I composed this graphic score in 1971 in the same year most white South African composers were responding to commissions in praise of the Second Republic – that of the apartheid regime – for performance at various 10th anniversary festivals for the white elite. My work most definitely did not commemorate this occasion. I never found piccolo and tuba players to interpret it, so it ended up in the bottom drawer for four decades, travelled around the world with me, at some point the original Xeroxes getting lost (but fortunately there were copies), and having found willing players in the 21st century, it was performed for the first time on 30 April 2015 at the Young Blood Gallery in Cape Town. The performers were Marietjie Pauw (piccolo) and Le-Nique Brand (tuba).

Standing Stone Circle for harp and peripatetic violinist

Written for Yasutaka Hemmi and Takayo Matsumara


First performance: Friday 15 November 2013; Dojin Christian Church, Tokyo, Japan; X(iksa): Yasutaka Hemmi violin, Takayo Matsumura harpperformance details.

Programme note

Standing Stone Circle was composed and developed during a joint residency with X(iksa) - Yasutaka Hemmi (violin) and Takayo Matsumura (harp) - at the Nirox Foundation, Sterkfontein, South Africa during January and February 2012. The work takes its title from Richard Long’s site-specific artwork Standing Stone Circle (2011) at the Nirox Foundation. I revised the work at the Visby International Composers Centre, Gotland during June 2013. The first performance was given by X[iksa] on 15 November 2013 in Dojin Christian Church, Tokyo.

Leaf Carrying Song

Date transcribed: 2011
African Journal No 12c
Requested by Yasutaka Hemmi and Takayo Matsumura
Bardic Edition Score and instrumental part in preparation
Duration: 8'30"


First performance: Wednesday 1 February 2012; Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, Johannesburg, South Africa; Yasutaka Hemmi violin, Takayo Matsumura harpperformance details.

Programme note

Leaf Carrying Song is something of a companion piece to the earlier Honey Gathering Song (1989; rev. 1999) for flute and piano. Both belong to my loosely collected African Journal, containing all of the African-inspired music I wrote during the two decades I lived in Europe (1977-1997). South African guitarist Simon Wynberg, now artistic director of ARC in Toronto, wanted a piece he could perform with his oboe (and flute) duo partners on both sides of the Atlantic; he also wanted a piece that exploited the sonority of the 10-string guitar. While I chose the oboe d’amore as the melody instrument for Leaf Carrying Song specifically because of its gentler overall sound and its dark lower register, the piece can be played on the standard oboe as well as the flute, just as the guitar part may be played on a standard 6-string guitar. While the guitar sometimes accompanies, more often than not the instruments are treated as equal participants in the musical narrative. Like a number of my pieces since the early 1990s, this one uses a Stravinskian mosaic type of structure built up from varied interlocking materials; and it has a similarity to the fractured narrative found in the novel and in film, for example.

Pieces with titles like Leaf Carrying Song (or Honey Gathering Song) can be found among the music of the pygmy communities in Central Africa, but while I do make use of African materials and compositional techniques, generally filtered or paraphrased, there is no direct reference to pygmy music in this piece. Although I wrote the work in 1991 it was never performed at the time; in 2002 I revised the work for a possible premiere performance in Canada. The first performance eventually took place on 2 November 2008 in the ZK Matthews Hall, Pretoria, with Kobus Malan (oboe) and Michal George (guitar). Leaf Carrying Song was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for Simon Wynberg, to whom it is dedicated. While working in Sweden last August, I made this transcription at the request of my good friend Yas Hemmi. The piece lasts about 9 minutes.


Dedicated to Darragh Morgan, Mary Dullea and Daithi Morgan
Commissioned by SAMRO Endowment for the National Arts
Bardic Edition Score and instrumental part: BD in preparation
Duration: c. 16'00"


First performance: Wednesday 31 July 2019; Hythe Concerts, St Leonard's Church, Hythe, Kent, United Kingdom, United Kingdom; Darragh Morgan violin, Mary Dullea pianoperformance details.

Programme note

After the initial performances of Do you prefer red or white? Darragh morgan suggested a new work inspired by the peculiarly South African practice of driving slowly in the middle lane of the motorway and becoming a hazard in the process. The plan of D.S.I.M.L. was mapped from my daily route on the M1/N1 between Johannesburg and Pretoria, when I was working at the University of South Africa in 2007. Key landmarks on the route became changes of direction in the piece. Much of the piece is soft and dream-like, as if the players are sleepwalking - the violin often playing glacial harmonics, the piano liquid semiquaver passages in the high register - but regularly interrupted by disjunct Cecil Taylor-type textures. D.S.I.M.L. was commissioned by the SAMRO Endowment for the National Arts for Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea. 

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