African Journal No 20a
Publisher: Bardic Edition
Duration: 9 minutes
Recorded by Jill Richards on ‘Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004’ (MBED001).
First performance: Saturday 26 November 1994; St Luke’s Concerts, Brighton, United Kingdom; Sally Rose piano.
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