Remembering Steve Biko
First performance: Sunday 7 December 1980; Market Theatre, Johannesburg, South Africa; Moonchild, Michael Blake conductor.
Ode-Cantata (1980), Chorales for bells (and/or ‘found’ pitched metal objects) and chamber ensemble with optional speaker (or speaker on tape), was written in London during the summer of 1980 for an upcoming concert tour in South Africa, which kicked off at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg in November 1980.
It remembers Steve Biko who was murdered by the apartheid authorities three years earlier in 1977. The music consists of five variants of the basic chorale material, the last heard as a disembodied coda partly played (by the winds and strings) in the space outside the auditorium and heard distantly by the audience.
A text (poetry or prose) should punctuate the chorales, and each could be spoken from a different position in the auditorium. As an alternative, the poems could also be pre-recorded and played back, or existing recordings by the poets themselves could also be utilized.
The title Ode-Cantata was extracted from Bach’s title ‘Trauer Ode - Cantata No 198’, with the musical material – partly drawn from the Bach - presented as independent or uncoordinated parts, with most choices of parameter left to the individual players. The players can make their own realizations from the material, or perform the composer’s arrangement, or a combination of these. Players can experiment with different antiphonal configurations such as wind and bells vs strings and harmonium or bells vs the rest of the ensemble or harmonium vs the rest of the ensemble etc.
The original design for the percussion part was a series of ‘found’ metal objects (e.g. scaffolding, metal sheets, car parts, plumbing pipes, etc) - with the requisite pitch capabilities – strung out across the stage and suspended by ropes or cables to represent a kind of surrealist sculpture (tubular bells provide a more practical solution).
The first performance took place at the Market Theatre in December 1980, given by Moonchild directed by Michael Blake with J Manuel Correia reading his own poems.