Solo piano

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; 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; 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; 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; 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?

Two Studies for Prepared Piano: 1. Gang o' notes

Recording: SABC, Johannesburg
Bardic Edition Facsimile Score BD 0548
Duration: 4'00"

Première

First performance: Thursday 7 July 1983; South Africa; Shirley Hoffmann prepared pianoperformance details.

Programme note

The first of Two Studies for Prepared Piano, Gang 'o Notes pays homage to a great jazz piano master of the twentieth century. Art Tatum, whose piano improvisation fits into a keyboard tradition that spans the 17th thru 20th centuries, regularly transcended the medium of his instrument, so the prepared piano is perhaps a fitting medium for this study. I have divided the instrument into registers that are 'prepared' and those that are completely 'unprepared'. Gang 'o Notes was requested by Shirley Hoffmann to whom it is dedicated. She gave the first performance on 7 July 1983 at the First SABC Contemporary Music Festival in Johannesburg.

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