Solo piano

Nightsongs

Recorded by Jill Richards on ‘Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004’ (MBED001)
Published in: 
Duration: 4'00"

Première

First performance: Thursday 5 August 1999; Beethoven Room, Grahamstown, South Africa; Michael Blake pianoperformance details.

Programme note

Nightsongs takes apart, and then puts together differently, all the Cole Porter songs I know with "night" in the title as well as the very chromatic I Concentrate on You. The music inhabits a strange, almost expressionist world, unlike anything I'd written in more than twenty years, with fragments of Porter sometimes fleetingly remembered. I started it in London in March 1997 to play on a concert tour, but only managed to reach the double barline two years later in Grahamstown.

38a Hill Street Blues

Requested by Marcel Worms for his ‘New Blues for Piano’ project
Recorded by Jill Richards on ‘Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004’ (MBED001)
Published in: 
Duration: 3'45"

Première

First performance: Saturday 25 March 2000; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Marcel Worms pianoperformance details.

Press

Die program is geopen met “38A Hill Street Blues” met Max (Magda) de Vries (marimba) en Frank Mallows (vibrafoon). Die werk is oorspronklik vir klavier geskryf, maar in 2003 getranskribeer vir marimba en vibrafoon. Die kleur wat dié twee instrumente verleen, en die twee spelers se uitstekende spel, het die werk laat leef.
The programme opened with “38A Hill Street Blues” with Max (Magda) de Vries (marimba) and Frank Mallows (vibraphone). The work was originally written for piano, but transcribed for marimba and vibraphone in 2003. The colour that these two instruments contribute, and the two players outstanding performance, gave the work life.
Piet Kooij, Die Burger, September 2007
Translation: Giel Swart

Remembering Stravinsky…Morges, Autumn 2001

Dedicated to Paulette Robert
Recorded by Jill Richards on "Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004" (MBED001)
Bardic Edition Published by Bardic Edition in "Complete Shorter Pieces for Solo Piano" - BD 0954
Duration: 4'15"

Première

First performance: Thursday 16 May 2002; Beethoven Room, Grahamstown, South Africa; Jill Richards pianoperformance details.

Programme note

Remembering Stravinsky…Morges, Autumn 2001 was composed in Switzerland while I was staying outside Lausanne in the town of Morges, where Stravinsky had lived from 1914 to1920, and composed L'Histoire du Soldat and Les Noces. Visiting his house (now the head office of Swatch), and looking out the windows at views he might have enjoyed, inspired me to write a memorial piece to that most resourceful of 20th century composers. I worked every morning in the tranquillity of Paulette Robert's beautiful garden and dedicated my piece to her. By a remarkable coincidence she had spent some of her childhood years in an apartment in the “Stravinsky house”.

Ruri

Unpublished
Duration: 3'30"

Première

First performance: Monday 10 September 2001; Festival Encuentros, Conservatorio Nacional de Musica, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Michael Blake pianoperformance details.

Umantindane

Unpublished
Duration: 3'00"

Première

First performance: Monday 10 September 2001; Festival Encuentros, Conservatorio Nacional de Musica, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Michael Blake pianoperformance details.

Ways to put in the salt

Requested by and dedicated to John Tilbury
Recorded by Jill Richards on ‘Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004’ (MBED001)
Duration: 13'30"

Première

First performance: Sunday 30 June 2002; New Music Indaba 2002, Grahamstown, South Africa; John Tilbury pianoperformance details.

Programme note

Ways to Put in the Salt was written at the request of John Tilbury to be played in a concert with Morton Feldman's Palais de Mari. In the course of researching Xhosa music (in the Eastern Cape, South Africa), one of Prof David Dargie's informants, Mrs Amelia No-Silence Matiso, told him how the Xhosa people like "to put salt into their songs" to bring the performance to life. Salt may be added rhythmically, melodically and harmonically through the use of cross-rhythms, clap-delay techniques, altered scale tones, parallel melodic and harmonic parts, non-harmonic tones, dissonance, pattern-singing, and a variety of vocal techniques. The now legendary Nofinishi Dywili, whose live and recorded performances are among my most memorable musical experiences, was probably the greatest exponent of uhadi bow music. The day after I had completed the piece I heard from Andrew Tracey that she had died.

Press

And it also included a new Michael Blake piece based on the music of Xhosa composer and master bow player Mrs Nofinishi Dywili, who died recently. Michael Blake’s Ways to Put in the Salt was almost a Well-Tempered Klavier for the uhadi. It explored the forms of improvisation and ornament that traditional Xhosa players use to spice up their themes, but applied to a theme that was brutally modern in its simplicity. Tilbury — and the audience — had fun with its wit and engagement. But there was fragility and dignity in the interpretation too, instantly recognisable to anyone who had heard Dywili perform.
Gwen Ansell, Cue, Grahamstown, June 2002
Ways to put in the salt (2002) van Michael Blake is ‘n klavierwerk waarvan die titel ontleen is aan ‘n anecdote wat lui “Xhosa-sangers hou daarvan om sout in hul liedere te sit om die uitvoerings daarvan lewendig te maak”. ‘n Onderliggende beginsel in Blake se estetiese beskouing lyk na die konsep van onderbreking. Maar dit is nie so eenvoudig soos wat dit klink nie. Musikale gedagtes word meestal deurgevoer, maar nie as “ontwikkeling” nie. Gedurende die werk is daar skadu’s van reeds verskene oomblikke, eggo’s van reeds gehoorde klanke. Die punt van belang is egter dat “ontwikkeling” in die sin van die ontgin van die musicale moontlikhede van material, nie hier plaasvind nie. In hierdie opsig is daar ‘n verwantskap te hoor tussen hierdie musiek en dié van die uhadi-boogmusiek van die lengedariese Nofinishi Dywili, wie se sang en spel hierdie musiek geïnspireer het. Die musiek bestaan as ‘n sikliese uitbreiding binne ‘n afgepende ruimte, ‘n uitspel van los idees wat nie verstaan wil word as formele “uitwerk” of “deurwerking” nie.
Ways to put in the salt (2002) by Michael Blake is a piano work of which the title is borrowed from an anecdote which reads “Xhosa singers like to put salt into their songs to make the performances lively”. An underlying principle in Blake’s aesthetic view looks at the concept of interruption. But it is not as simple as it sounds. Musical thought are mostly implemented, but not as “development”. During the work there are shadows of previously presented moments, echoes of previously heard sounds. The point of interest is however that “development” in the sense of mining of musical possibilities of material, does not take place here. In this way there is a relationship to be heard between this music and that of the uhadi bow music of the legendary Nofinishi Dywili, whose singing and playing inspired this music. The music exists as a cyclic extension within a defined space, a spinning out of loosely related ideas which cannot be understood as formal “elaboration” or “development”.
Stephanus Muller, Die Burger, Cape Town, Friday 5 July 2002
Translation: Giel Swart

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Audio excerpt

Oh Clare

Requested by Tony Gray for his Bach project on ABC Records (forthcoming 2009)
Recorded by Jill Richards on ‘Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004’ (MBED001); and by Antony Gray on ‘Bach Piano Transcriptions’ (ABC Records PLU 347534)
Published in: 
Duration: 3'30"

Première

First performance: Thursday 17 July 2003; Chiswick Music Society, London, United Kingdom; Antony Gray pianoperformance details.

Programme note

Oh Clare uses material from the Bach chorale Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, specifically in the piano arrangement by Myra Hess, and follows the 'floor plan' of that model virtually bar for bar. Composed at the request of Australian pianist Antony Gray for his Bach project for ABC Records, it treats both Bach and Hess rather irreverently, with a touch of Australia's greatest composer Percy Grainger for added irreverence. Who is Clare? A beautiful girl I once knew who had a passion for Bach.

She was the joy of my desiring, and somewhere out there she is probably still pursuing her passion.

iKostina

Commissioned by Associated Board for ‘Spectrum 4’
Recorded by Thalia Myers on ‘Spectrum 4’ (USK1227CDD)
Published in: 
Duration: 1'00"

Première

First performance: Sunday 19 February 2006; Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom; Thalia Myers pianoperformance details.

Programme note

"iKostina" was a request from Thalia Myers for Spectrum 4, commissioned by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. The Spectrum series is devoted to miniatures which are technically approachable while remaining musically engaging. In the fourth book Thalia Myers focused on music for beginners, and distilling the essence of my musical language in this way was an enormous challenge. "iKostina" ('concertina' in Xhosa, an indigenous South African language) is one of the many instruments imported and adapted for local use, often played by rural musicians walking along the roadside, or in bands together with guitars and other instruments. The great uhadi bow player Nofinishi Dywili undoubtedly inspired this music. It was first published by the Associated Board in 2005.

Their souls go waltzing on

Requested by Daniel Matej for the ‘Tone Roads’ project
Recorded by Jill Richards on ‘Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004’ (MBED001)
Published in: 
Duration: 2'15"

Première

First performance: Friday 26 November 2004; Evenings of New Music, Bratislava, Slovakia; Daan Vandewalle pianoperformance details.

Programme note

Their Souls Go Waltzing On was another request from Daniel Matej, this time for the Tone Roads Project, commemorating the 130th anniversary of the births of Charles Ives and Arnold Schoenberg. In the spirit of the request I appropriated some fragments of material from Ives's Three-Page Sonata and Schoenberg's Five Piano Pieces Op 23. I remembered that the Ives work opens with the timeless B-A-C-H motif and on reading through the Schoenberg I found it hidden away in various guises. What a perfect opportunity to include JS Bach in the manipulation of these daylight-robbed materials! Taking a cue from Schoenberg's Op 23: No 5 (the Waltz) and the March sections in the Ives, I came up with a kind of march-waltz ... or a waltz-march?

PNFT

Requested by Daan Vandewalle
Bardic Edition Score BD in preparation
Published in: 
Duration: 4'00"

Première

First performance: Friday 7 July 2006; New Music Indaba 2006, Grahamstown, South Africa; Daan Vandewalle pianoperformance details.

Programme note

PNFT is a very short realisation of Mozart's Musikalisches Würfelspiel for Daan Vandewalle, who wanted "just a little piece". It also provided a musical link to Mozart's Fantaisie K475 which followed it in concert. The first performance was given during the 2006 New Music Indaba which had the theme 'Reimagining Mozart'.

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