Hymn and Variations

African Journal No 1
Dedicated to Stanley and Liz Glasser
Duration: c. 7'45"

Programme note

Sometime in early 1978 I heard Stravinsky's Octet in a concert by the London Sinfonietta (in St John's Smith Square, where the brass resonated beautifully), and the "Theme and Variations" fired me up to write my own variations on a hymn, which I finished in the summer when house sitting for Stanley and Liz Glasser. While Stravinsky's "Theme and Variations" are very reminiscent of Kurt Well, mine - the theme in particular - are modelled on, and quite reminiscent of, Stravinsky.”

Let us run out of the rain

Date arranged: 1995
African Journal No 7c
Dedicated to Ensemble Bash
Commissioned by Chris Brannick for Ensemble Bash
Recorded by Ensemble Bash on "Damba Moon" (SoundCircus SC006)
Bardic Edition Playing score BD 0318 (2 copies included)
Duration: 7'30"


First performance: Friday 1 March 1996; The King’s School, Canterbury, United Kingdom; Ensemble Bashperformance details.

Programme note

Let us run out of the rain paraphrases Nsenga kalimba (thumb piano) music recorded in the Petauke District of Zambia (in southern Africa) by John Blacking in 1961, and transcribed by him. The tunes were composed and performed by Gideon Bingaili, Ackson Lungu, Taiad Mwanza and Ackson Zuly. The work was originally composed for piano or harpsichord duet and also transcribed for orchestra with the title Kalimba. It was premiered by Roy Stratford and Michael Blake at the British Music Information Centre, London on 23 June 1986. This version for percussion quartet was commissioned by Chris Brannick for Ensemble Bash in 1995 and premiered at the Purcell Room, London on 19 July 1996. It is scored for marimba (2 players) and vibraphone (2 players). Ensemble Bash has recorded Let us run out of the rain on 'Damba Moon' (SoundCircus SC006).


Michael Blake's composition Let us run out of the rain persists in the memory, captivating above all with its playfulness and simplicity, with the infusion of a poetic sense characterized by clarity of ideas and delight in the creation of music.
Igor Berger, Musical Life, Bratislava, Wednesday 16 June 1993
Melodic strands on marimba and vibraphone coalesced and separated in a beautifully intricate way. It reminded one of an exquisite piece of Brussels lace.
Neville Cohn, OZartsreview, Melbourne, Sunday 7 May 2000

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Audio excerpt: percussion, 4 players

Quartet for flute, violin, viola and cello

African Journal No 9b
Transcription of "Honey Gathering Song"
Bardic Edition Score BD 0756; Parts BD 0756/1
Duration: c. 6'00"


First performance: Sunday 31 March 2002; Europe-Asia Festival, Kazan, Tatarstan, Russian Federation; Vladislav Zakharov flute, Members of the Tatarstan State String Quartetperformance details.

Programme note

The Quartet for flute, violin, viola and cello is an adaptation of Honey Gathering Song for flute and piano (or harpsichord). Honey Gathering Song was composed during January to March 1989 as music for a short dance choreographed by Gill Clarke, titled For the Off. (I remember Gill Clarke finished choreographing the last bar and headed straight for the airport and South America to give workshops there — hence the title of the dance.) It was revised ten years later and the first concert performance was given on 28 April 2000 in the Beethoven Room, Grahamstown, South Africa by Anne La Berge (flute) and Michael Blake (piano).

Pieces with titles like Honey Gathering Song are found among the music of the Rain Forest Pygmies, but no direct reference is made to their music in my piece. The first performance of the Quartet for flute, violin, viola and cello took place at the Europe-Asia Festival in Kazan, Tatarstan in March 2002. It lasts about 8 minutes.


Coming closer to home, I especially enjoyed Michael Blake's Quartet for Flute and Strings. This highly evocative work had a real African feel, conjuring up the jungle sounds of insects and birds on the flute with a tropical hum from the violin, viola and cello. It required from flautist Helen Vosloo an intentionally breathy tone in the lower register using lots of vibrato - resembling the sound produced by an African wooden pipe - with occasional leaps into the brighter, purer top register. I also enjoyed watching the composer (seated immediately in front of me) watching his work being brought to life.
Jilly Gooud, Despatch Online, South Africa, Monday 5 July 2004
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