Two or more pianos

Symphony ("From the Third World")

Transcription of 'Symphony ("From the Third World") for orchestra'
Unpublished

Postcolonial Song

dished up for two pianos
Date arranged: 2013
Duration: 5'15"

Programme note

A personal favourite, Percy Grainger is certainly one of the most colourful figures in early 20th century music. He comments on Colonial Song, one of his most beautiful pieces, thus: "No traditional tunes of any kind are made use of in this piece, in which I have wished to express my personal feelings about my own country (Australia) and people, and also to voice a certain kind of emotion that seems to me not untypical of native-born Colonials in general." 1 When Darragh Morgan asked to write an 'African' piece for CoMA, I reflected on the many individual compositions that made up African Journal (1976-2002) and distilled my ideas in Postcolonial Song, appropriate perhaps to the postcolony in which South Africans now live. I have not quoted any specific traditional African musics, though I have drawn on some of my own earlier 'African' pieces which reimagine a number of Sub-Saharan musical traditions. Grainger of course reinvented the notion of 'elastic' or 'flexible' scoring in the 20th century, which is central to this and the many other pieces written for CoMA, and his biographer John Bird's vivid description of his adventures in South Africa on a concert tour in the early years of the 20th century 2 provides another serendipitous link in this chain of happy compositional inspirations. Postcolonial Song was commissioned by CoMA (Contemporary Music for Amateurs) with funds from the Performing Rights Society Foundation, the Arts Council of England London and subscribers to CoMA's Commissioning Scheme. It is dedicated to Barry Peter Ould -- friend, Graingerphile and dedicated music publisher. It lasts just over 5 minutes.

  • 1 Grainger, Percy. 1913. Sentimentals Nr 1. Colonial Song. London: Schott & Co, 3.
  • 2 Bird, John. 1976[1982]. Percy Grainger. London: Faber & Faber, 88

O, I can’t sit down (from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, 1935)

Originally ‘dished-up’ for 3 pianists at 1 piano by Percy Aldridge Grainger (1950); version for piano two-some by Michael Blake & Sally Rose
Bardic Edition Score BD 0922
Duration: 3'00"

Première

First performance: 1994; United Kingdom; Sally Rose and Michael Blake piano, 4 handsperformance details.

Olive Schreiner

Dedicated to Michael Finnissy
Unpublished
Duration: 4'15"

Première

First performance: March 1995; United Kingdom; Sally Rose and Michael Blake piano, 4 handsperformance details.

Programme note

Olive Schreiner uses material from my first piano duet Let us run out of the rain and recasts it in new ways, making reference perhaps to the absence of narrative in Schreiner's novel "Story of an African Farm". It was composed for the radical festival "Music Breaks Free: Issues in Gender and Sexuality", fearlessly curated by Michael Finnissy - the work's dedicatee - at the University of Sussex in 1995. I gave the first performance with Sally Rose in March 1995 at the Gardner Centre, Brighton.

From the Stoep

Requested by Antony Gray for his 'Il Maestro e lo Scolare' piano duet project
Recorded by Antony Gray (secondo) and Jackson Caines (primo) on 'Il Maestro e lo Scolare: Duets for Teacher and Student' (Classical Media CM2501/1)

Programme note

Taking the ‘classic’ duets by Stravinsky as its jumping-off point, here with an easier ‘primo’ part, these vignettes reimagine specifically Southern African (including Madagascan) musics through the lens of the twentieth century piano landscape. They were a response to a request by Antony Gray for his “Il maestro e lo scolare” project, a double CD recorded with some 50 of his students. From the Stoep is dedicated to Stephanus and Elmi Muller and lasts about 8 minutes.

Sonata for Two Pianos (Homage to Schumann)

Arrangement of "Quintet for Piano and Strings" (2006)
Bardic Edition Score BD in preparation
Duration: 21'00"

Première

First performance: Tuesday 25 September 2007; South Africa; Jill Richards piano, Michael Blake pianoperformance details.

Programme note

The idea of writing a piano quintet was proposed by the Fitzwilliam's violist Alan George a few years ago. After the initial performances of my First String Quartet (In memory of William Burton) — in South Africa, Europe and the USA in 2001/2 — I mentioned that I had an idea for a second quartet. But Alan thought I should do as Shostakovich had done before and write a piano quintet next — and also as the Russian composer had done, I should play the piano in it myself. I warned Alan of the dangers of closely following the Shostakovich model: there could be not one more, but maybe another 14 string quartets!

While the piano quintet tradition does not go back as far as the 18th century, it includes at least half a dozen landmarks, the first of course being the Schumann with which the composer single-handedly "invented" this medium. So in my piece I chose to pay homage to Schumann and his Piano Quintet in E flat Op 44 of 1842 in particular. While his piece does not challenge the conventions of the form too much, he creates moments — for example harmonic passages and textures — that are outside the conventions of the time. In a sense, therefore, I am paying homage to the creative impulse to break away from tradition.

My Piano Quintet, completed in the first six weeks of 2006, is in only three movements — a substantial first movement based on the rhythmic proportion of 4:3 — a particularly African one, a gentle restless Adagissimo and a very short crazy Scherzo — with a total playing time of about 21 minutes. As Shostakovich did before when he worked with the Beethoven Quartet of Moscow, I wrote the string music with the individual members of the Fitzwilliam Quartet very much in mind. And as Schumann did to Clara before, I have dedicated the piece to my wife, Christine Lucia, whose research interests serendipitously include the chamber music of Robert Schumann.

I gave the first performance with the Fitzwilliam Quartet in the concert hall of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge on 30 April 2006. A year later I decided to follow Brahms' model, but in reverse, and transcribe the piece for two pianos.

The score is prefaced with a poem by W G Sebald:

Feelings
my friend
wrote Schumann
are stars
which guide us
only under
a dark sky




 

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Simultaneous Improvisation

Co-composed with Nishlyn Ramanna
Unpublished
Duration: Variable

Première

First performance: Monday 3 July 2006; South Africa; AmaDuo: Nishlyn Ramanna piano, Michael Blake pianoperformance details.

Reverie

African Journal No 23a
DVD: "Reverie", directed by Aryan Kaganof, played by Jill Richards (piano 1 and 2)
Bardic Edition Published by Bardic Edition BD 0691 (two copies)
Duration: c. 12'30"

Première

First performance: Sunday 31 March 1996; United Kingdom; Sally Rose piano, Antony Gray pianoperformance details.

Programme note

The score is prefaced with lines from Olive Schreiner's novel 'Story of an African Farm': … "of the joy of the dreamer no man knoweth but he who dreameth … without phantoms and dreams man cannot exist." The musical material is derived from two vocal sources, one Shona and one San (Bushman), and is transformed by repetition and extension, superimposition and distortion. I suppose this is the stuff of dreams.

Meanwhile, having revised the work early in 1999, I subsequently noticed many fascinating parallels with the techniques of San rock painting during a visit to the remarkable paintings at Tandjesberg, near Ladybrand in the Free State. The coda was inspired by listening to a whole weekend of concerts of Charles Ives in London.

Rule, Britannia!

Arrangement of Thomas Arne
Unpublished

Première

First performance: 1996; United Kingdom; "Forty Fingers" Piano Quartetperformance details.

Explorations

Unpublished

Première

First performance: 1971; South Africa; Shirley Hoffmann piano, Michael Blake pianoperformance details.
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