Lovedale Harmony (in memory of Siya Betana)

  1. Steadfast (c. 7'15")
  2. Molto adagio e sempre legato (c. 6'30")
To the Stockholm Saxophone Quartet
Bardic Edition Forthcoming
Duration: c. 14'00"


First performance: Friday 23 February 2018; Fourth Purpur Festival, Youngblood Gallery, Bree Street, Cape Town; Stockholm Saxophone Quartetperformance details.

Fuga sopra FuGArD (after Schumann's Fuga III sopra BACH)

In honour of Athol Fugard
Duration: c. 3'30"

Programme note

In November 2014, when we were both in residence at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, my friend Athol Fugard went to Japan to receive an award from the Emperor, acknowledging his life’s work as a distinguished playwright. I wanted to honour Athol musically and it occurred to me that his name literally embodied that most noble of musical forms, the fugue. I immediately started reimagining one of Robert Schumann’s organ fugues on the name of Bach, substituting those four musical notenames (B flat-A-C-B natural) for the four in Fugard (F-G-A-D) and transcribing it for string quartet. Other changes I made are mainly rhythmical, to set in relief the name of the new honoree. But it took almost two years – until August 2016 - to solve the puzzle I had set myself.


Leaf Carrying Song

Date transcribed: 2016
To Simon Wynberg
Commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain
Duration: c. 9'00"


First performance: Saturday 8 October 2016; Beatričė Kleizaitė-Vasaris Art Gallery, Marijampole, Lithuania; Darius Klisys birbyne, Members of Chordos String Quartetperformance details.

Programme note

Leaf Carrying Song is something of a companion piece to my earlier Honey Gathering Song (1989; rev. 1999) for flute and piano. Simon Wynberg 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 may be played on the standard oboe or even flute, just as the guitar part may be played on a standard 6-string guitar. The instruments are generally treated as equal partners.
Pieces with titles like Leaf Carrying Song (or Honey Gathering Song) can be found among the music of the pygmy communities in Central Africa. While I 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, which sadly did not materialise. 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. It lasts about 9 minutes.
More recently I made a version for soprano birbyne or another wind instrument in C and harpsichord, and in 2016 transcribed the harpsichord part for string trio. It was first played in this form on 8 October 2016 in Marijampole, Lithuania by Darius Klisys (birbyne) and members of the Chordos String Quartet.

Gary and Elbé's Love Song

For Gary and Elbé on their wedding day (24 November 2007)
Duration: 3'15"

String Quartet No 5

  1. Remote and restless
  2. Steady
In memory of Katharina Wolpe
Composed during residencies in Druskininkai, Lithuania and STIAS, South Africa
Bardic Edition Score and Parts BDE 1146
Duration: c. 10'00"


First performance: Friday 14 September 2018; Komponisten Initiative Kassel, Anthroposophische Zentrum, Kassel, Germany; Chordos Quartet (Lithuania)performance details.

Programme note

Katharina Wolpe, friend and  pianist, with whom I studied from time to time, died in 2013; on a number of occasions I performed the quite remarkable music of her father Stefan Wolpe. His Form for piano, a key work in Kathi’s repertoire, informs this quartet in various ways, not least in its quotation and use of the opening 6-note row. At the same time, Schubert’s late Drei Klavierstücke, to which Kathi brought unforgettable insights, provides the raw material for my piece which is cast in two movements.

My fifth string quartet was composed during two residencies, July to August 2014 in Druskininkai at the invitation of DAR (Lithuanian Composers Union), and from September to November 2014 in Stellenbosch at the invitation of STIAS (Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study). For these opportunities, my thanks go to Egidija Medeksaite and Zita Bruzaite; and to Hendrik Geyer and the Board of STIAS.

Souvenir de Prague

Dedicated to Vit and Barbara Zdrálek
A companion to Dvorák's Bagatelles Op 47
Bardic Edition Score and parts forthcoming
Duration: c. 10'00"

English Suite

Music arranged from the Symphonies of William Boyce


First performance: August 1986; Edinburgh Festival Fringe, United Kingdom; Dancers Anonymous, Ensemble directed by Michael Blakeperformance details.

Three Pieces for Oboe Quartet

  1. First piece (2'00")
  2. Second piece (3'15")
  3. Third piece

String Quartet No 3 (“Nofinishi”)

Dedicated to Kevin Volans
Recorded by the Nightingale String Quartet on "The Bow Project" (TUTL FKT 044)
Bardic Edition Score BD; Parts BD in preparation
Duration: 5'30"


First performance: Sunday 19 July 2009; Nederburg Concert Series, Manor House, Paarl, South Africa; Nightingale String Quartet (Denmark)performance details.

Programme note

From the time I initiated the Bow Project in 2002, I wanted to contribute a piece myself, based on the song Inxembula (The ugly one), because this was Nofinishi’s personal song which I vividly remember her performing at a concert in Grahamstown in 1998. My short String Quartet No 3 also has a connection to a solo piano piece, Ways To Put In the Salt, which I wrote in 2002, the year the Bow Project was launched at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and where I explored uhadi bow song techniques, especially the use of overtones. The quartet is very concise, in keeping with the directive all composers had in this project, and draws together many compositional threads I have explored in the past decade. It is dedicated to Kevin Volans in honour of his 60th birthday in 2009. The first performance was given by the Nightingale String Quartet in the Nederburg Manor House, Paarl on 19 July 2009. (MB)


String Quartet #3 is a crystalline example of what I have chosen to call the composer’s “spider’s strategem”. A composing system unique to Michael Blake which is heavily indebted to the intricately complex but always perfectly resolved structure of the web. Despite shifting patterns based on ancient uhadi bow music, and harmonies that bring mediaeval choral textures to mind, the futuristic sound progression of this quartet is irrevocably blakean: the end begins with the first note played.
Aryan Kaganof, Kagablog, Tuesday 14 April 2009
’n Kort en stimulerende slot vir ’n interessante, uitdagende musikale ervaring.
A short, stimulating conclusion to an interesting, challenging musical experience.
Naudé van der Merwe, Die Burger, Cape Town, Monday 20 July 2009
Translation: Giel Swart
At some point in one of the final pieces of the evening (Blake’s String Quartet No. 3 (Nofinishi) 2009) it suddenly felt as if I was listening simultaneously to each musician separately! It was an astonishing experience and I wondered if this was somehow intricately wound round, into and from the presence of Mantombi — she certainly responded with her arms and body! Four individuals bound together by an entangled weaving of musical notes contributing along a time-stream of precision and fluidity. And this was where the second ‘magic’ of the evening took on a zest all of its own!
Helgé Janssen, Helgé Janssen Blog, Friday 24 July 2009
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