song without words (1975)

for cello and piano

Dedicated to Kálmán Richter
Duration: 6'00"

Première

First performance: Sunday 25 September 1977; South Africa; Kálmán Richter cello, Michael Blake pianoperformance details.

Programme note

song without words for cello and piano was one of several pieces I wrote in 1975, imagined as a response of sorts to Mauricio Kagel’s “Programm: Gespräche mit Kammermusik”. “Programm” consisted of eleven short compositions for an unusual variety of instrumental and vocal combinations, each of which could also be performed independently. At Kagel’s premiere the audience sat on the stage and the performers played in the auditorium, and between each piece there was a discussion. Notable about the pieces was a deliberate absence of musical substance, the use of collage technique, a return to tonality, and so on.

song without words takes piano pieces by Mendelssohn, and recycles the material without one essential element – the melody. They become songs not only without words, but without melodies too, in this case Mendelssohn’s sentimental tunes. The remaining accompaniments are deconstructed and recycled into frequently changing harmonic and rhythmic patterns, with fragmentary quotations – diary-like - from the contemporary cello and piano repertoire which I was often performing myself at the time.

The same year I wrote warhorses for guitar and tape, but further pieces in my possible cycle of “Conversations with Chamber Music” were never developed.

The first performance of song without words was given on 25 September 1977 at the Market Theatre Johannesburg, by its dedicatee, the cellist Kálmán Richter, with the composer playing the piano.