French Suite (1994)

for solo piano

  1. First Dance (Non rubato; crotchet = 120)
  2. Second Dance (crotchet = 152)

African Journal No 20a

Publisher: Bardic Edition

BDE 776

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.

Further performances:
24.05.1995; Brighton Festival, UK; Sally Rose
14.06.1995; Evenings of New Music, Bratislava, Slovakia; Michael Blake (Slovakian premiere)
7.11.1995; africa95, St John's Smith Square, London; Sally Rose (London premiere)
8.08.1997; Fismer Hall, Stellenbosch University, South Africa; Michael Blake (South African premiere)
13.08.1997; Beethoven Room, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa; Michael Blake
15.08.1997; University of Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Michael Blake
18.08.1997; Howard College Theatre, University of Natal, Durban, South Africa; Michael Blake
22.08.1997; Musaion, University of Pretoria, South Africa; Michael Blake
25.08.1997; Atrium, Wits University, Johanneburg, South Africa; Michael Blake
1.04.1998; Osterfestival '98, Austria; John Tilbury (Austrian premiere)
8.07.1998; National Arts Festival, Grahamstown; Michael Blake
24.10.1999; Atrium, Wits University, Johanneburg, South Africa; Jill Richards
17.04.2000; Jeffery Hall, Institute of Education, London; Jill Richards
26.09.2000; South Africa House, London; Christopher Duigan
8.10.2000; Gencor Gallery, Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg; Christopher Duigan

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.

27.04.2001; Freedom Day Concert, Durban, South Africa; Christopher Duigan
9.09 2001; Festival International Encuentros, Buenos Aires; Michael Blake (South American premiere)
27.02.2002: Ensemble Noir Series, Toronto; Jill Richards (North American premiere)
12.03.2003; University of Natal, Durban, South Africa; Jill Richards
18-22.08.2003; Edinburgh Festival, Scotland; Christopher Duigan (Scottish premiere)
28.04.2007; Lubbock Room, Peterhouse, Cambridge, UK; Jill Richards
30.04.2007; Holywell Music Room, Oxford, UK; Jill Richards
1.05.2007; The Warehouse, London; Jill Richards
3.05.2007; Concert Hall, University of Durham, UK; Jill Richards
16.05. 2007; Ohren auf Europa, Düsseldorf, Germany; Yukiko Fujieda (German premiere)
27.06.2008; National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa; Jill Richards
25.11.2009; College of Arts, Windhoek, Namibia; Jill Richards (Namibian premiere)
27.11.2013; Hofstelle Flammer, Küsten, Germany; Silvia Belfiore
19.03.2014; Festival Giornato, Milan; Silvia Belfiore (Italian premiere)
7.04.2014; Les Rencontres Contemporaines, France; Ancuza Aprodu (French premiere)
6.052014; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Silvia Belfiore (Ethiopian premiere)
8.05.2014; Nairobi, Kenya; Silvia Belfiore (Kenyan premiere)
17.10. 2014; Freies MusikZentrum, Stuttgart, Germany; Silvia Belfiore
3.11.2014; ICPNA, Lima, Peru; Silvia Belfiore (Peruvian premiere)
1.02.2015; Lagos, Nigeria; Silvia Belfiore (Nigerian premiere)
2-16.02.2015; Nigerian Tour; Silvia Belfiore
11.05.2015; Italian Embassy, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania; Silvia Belfiore (Tanzanian premiere)
14.05.2015; Alliance Française, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania; Silvia Belfiore
15.05.2015; Casalini Residence, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania; Silvia Belfiore
4.12.2015; Treviso, Italy; Silvia Belfiore
21.07.2017; Le Genesteix Concerts, Azat-le-Ris, France; Coila-Leah Enderstein
18.11.2018; Festival Nuovo Consonanza, Italy; Silvia Belfiore
9.04.2019; Fismer Hall, Stellenbosch University, South Africa; Michael Blake


“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


Piano music