Solo piano

French Suite

  1. First Dance (Non rubato; crotchet = 120)
  2. Second Dance (crotchet = 152)
African Journal No 20a
Recorded by Jill Richards on ‘Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004’ (MBED001)
Duration: 9'00"


First performance: Saturday 26 November 1994; St Luke’s Concerts, Brighton, United Kingdom; Sally Rose pianoperformance details.

Programme note

The form of 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.


One would have loved to know what inspired him to call it French. There was certainly enough clarity in the writing to suggest Bach, who wrote half a dozen French Suites for the harpsichord. But Blake’s work also let one’s thoughts go out to West Africa… In it one finds a lot of rhythmic patterns which are developed all the time. This initially gives the work a more playful character before an aggressiveness sets in… Nearer to the end, it developed a dance-like character.
Paul Boekkooi, Cue, Grahamstown, Thursday 9 July 1998
Michael Blakes “French Suite”, zwei erstmals in Deutschland aufgeführte Tänze des in England lebenden Südafrikaners, setzt griffige afrikanische Rhythmusstrukturen und unstete Melodien zu einr leisen, wie meditativen Musik zusammen.
Armin Kaumanns, Rheinische Post, Düsseldorf, Saturday 19 May 2007

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Audio excerpt: first dance

Three Toys No 1

Requested by Daniel Matej for the 'morceaux en forme de poire' project
Originally titled ‘A Toy’
Recorded by Jill Richards on ‘Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004’ (MBED001)
Published in: 
Duration: 3'00"


First performance: Sunday 11 June 1995; Evenings of New Music, Moyzes Hall, Bratislava, Slovakia; John Tilbury pianoperformance details.

Programme note

Three Toys No 1, which is based on a group of pitches from the opening of Satie's Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire, was a request from Daniel Matej for the "morceaux en forme de poire" project premiered during the sixth edition of Evenings of New Music. The title refers to short pieces commonly found in collections of Elizabethan virginal music, but it could also refer to a spinning top which might have been the "pear shaped object" Satie had in mind...

Three Toys Nos 2 and 3

Originally titled ‘More Toys’
Recorded by Jill Richards on ‘Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004’ (MBED001)
Published in: 
Duration: 6'00"


First performance: Wednesday 29 September 2004; Howard College Theatre, Durban, South Africa; Mary Dullea pianoperformance details.

Programme note

Three Toys No 2 and No 3 came about because I wanted to compose different views of the "object" I had called A Toy (Three Toys No 1), and so the complete set might be an aural equivalent of viewing a piece of sculpture from three different perspectives. The changes that occur between pieces are related to pitch and mode; in every sense they could be read as a response to Satie's Trois Gymnopedies.

BWV Fragments

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: 1'00"


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

Programme note

BWV Fragments was written on the occasion of Ishbel Sholto-Douglas' retirement from the Rhodes University Music Department. Her life-long passion for Bach's Cello Suites, which she first introduced me to when I was an undergraduate at Wits University close to three decades before, led me to use them as the source material for this little tribute. I cut and pasted, transposed and superimposed fragments, and deliberately misread clefs, but every single note came from Bach.

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

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


First performance: Thursday 7 July 1983; First SABC Contemporary Music Festival, South African Broadcasting Corporation, Johannesburg, 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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