Organ and other keyboard works

Symphony No 2 ("Tshikona")

Dedicated to Christina Viola Oorebeek
Duration: c. 9'00"


First performance: Sunday 13 May 2018, 11h00; Stichting Huygens-Fokker, Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Piet Heinkade 5, NL-1019 BR Amsterdam, Stichting Huygens-Fokker, Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam; Michael Blake Fokker organ controlled by MIDIperformance details.

Programme note

The Venda reedpipe dance (from Limpopo, the most northerly province of South Africa), can involve over 100 players each blowing a single reed pipe. With dancing and drumming, a performance may last anything up to an hour or longer. Symphony No 2 (“Tshikona”) is a portrait of the Venda reedpipe dance, translated through the model of the French organ symphony – a short, one-movement symphony in this case, and simulated using a hypothetical African-tuned heptatonic scale, made possible by the microtonal Huygens-Fokker organ. (My First Symphony “From the Third World” is for orchestra.) There is also reference to mechanical fairground organs, and the drums are simulated by microtonal clusters for the pedals, a notion borrowed from Charles Ives.

Gary and Elbé's Love Song

Dedicated to Gary and Elbé Roberts on their wedding day
Bardic Edition Score BDE 953


First performance: Saturday 24 November 2007; Chapel of St John’s College, Johannesburg, South Africa; Cameron Upchurch organperformance details.

Programme note

I wrote this short organ solo for the wedding of my good friends Gary and Elbé Roberts on 27 November 2007 in the Chapel of St John’s College, Johannesburg. It is perhaps a microcosm of some of my compositional concerns: Xhosa harmony, asymmetrical rhythmic patterning, falling melodic figuration – but unusually a heptatonic scale. The suggested registration of reeds and strings takes note of Gary and Elbé’s own instruments: oboe and violin respectively. Two tiny quotes from my ‘Piano Concerto No 1 (Rain Dancing)’ towards the end recognise Gary’s instrumental role, so to speak, in mounting its world premiere with the Johannesburg Philharmonic earlier in 2007 when he was artistic director. 


Date transcribed: 2013
Bardic Edition Score BDE 1025
Duration: 3'30"

Programme note

The material for Nightsongs, a short piano piece composed between 1997 and 1999, was drawn from some of the songs of Cole Porter, in particular those with ‘night’ in the title.

I arranged it for organ many years later as a homage to the lost tradition of the theatre organ and especially fond childhood memories of the Alhambra Theatre in Cape Town where you could gaze for hours at the simulated twinkling stars on the vast hemispherical ceiling. This wonderful monument to escapism was tragically lost to the desire for new grim apartheid architecture in the early 1970s.

San Polyphony

African Journal No 24
Dedicated to Gerrit Jordaan
Commissioned by the National Arts Council of South Africa
Bardic Edition Score BDE 802
Duration: 20'00"


First performance: Sunday 27 September 1998; Commemoration Church, Grahamstown, South Africa; Gerrit Jordaan organperformance details.

Programme note

The organ piece requested in 1997 by Gerrit Jordaan started taking shape soon after I returned to South Africa to live early in 1998, and represents my first work begun and completed on home soil in more than twenty years. It received its first performance on 27 September 1998 in Commemoration Church, Grahamstown by Gerrit Jordaan. I began work on it around the time that I acquired some new recordings of San music and I was reading an article entitled Bushman Counterpoint written in 1967 by the ethnomusicologist Nicholas M. England which describes the often quite elaborate counterpoint that is present in San vocal music. But apart from the title, San Polyphony was not really influenced in any way by this music; rather it owes a debt to the music of the 'mbira dza vadzimu', though it does not refer to the music of any one mbira piece in particular.

San Polyphony was commissioned by the National Arts Council of South Africa for Gerrit Jordaan to whom it is dedicated. It lasts about 20 minutes.

BWV Fragments

Bardic Edition Score BD in preparation

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.

Ground Weave

African Notebook No 3a

Hommage à MDCLXXXV

Requested by and dedicated to Paul Simmonds
Bardic Edition Score BD 0551
Duration: 7'00"


First performance: Wednesday 11 May 1994; Brighton Festival, Chapel Royal, Brighton, United Kingdom; Paul Simmonds harpsichordperformance details.

Programme note

This piece was written in response to a long-standing request from Paul Simmonds for a new piece especially composed for an old instrument, in this case a modern copy of a classical harpsichord. I departed from the kind of African-European syntheses that I was composing at the time, and decided instead — as it was 1985 — to write an occasional piece marking the tercentenary of the births of three of the greatest composers for the instrument (Bach, Handel and Scarlatti).

I did however adopt two rather African characteristics (though both are not uncommon in European music either). Firstly I chose a different tuning system — meantone temperament, in which the thirds are pure — and secondly I used a cyclic form, in this case a fairly free kind of passacaglia. The theme of this passacaglia is built on the pitch equivalents of B-A-C-H (B = B flat and H = B natural in German) together with the purely constructed thirds of the meantone tuning. The work opens with a short 'prèlude non measurè' (unmeasured prelude), giving some French perspective to the piece.

Although I first sketched the work in 1985 — with the Bach tercentenary in mind — it was put aside for a number of years before I finally completed it early in 1994. The first performance of Hommage à MDCLXXXV was given by Paul Simmonds on 11 May, 1994 in the Chapel Royal Brighton during the 1994 Brighton Festival.


A short piece with aspirations of epic, it starts out as an engaging pastiche-cum-homage to the giants born in 1685 but then develops into less tonally certain areas.
Guy Rickards, Tempo, September 1994
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