Five Pieces for Piccolo and Tuba (1971)

Unpublished
Duration: Variable

Première

First performance: Thursday 12 March 2015, 18h15; South Africa; Michael Blake Ensemble: Marietjie Pauw piccolo, Le-Nique Brand tubaperformance details. Thursday 30 April 2015, 17h00; South Africa; Michael Blake Ensemble: Marietjie Pauw piccolo, LeNique Brand tubaperformance details.

Programme note

Five Pieces for Piccolo and Tuba grew out of a whim: the perverse idea of the two extremes of the woodwind/brass sections of the orchestra duetting with a kind of noman’s land between them, and perhaps also something comical about these two quirky members of the orchestra. Questions I never asked were: would anyone ever play it? Or what would players make of it?

The decision to notate it as a graphic score came from an interest in working with Dada, and in Johannesburg in the 1970s Dada was one way of responding to the stiflingly conservative politics of the time. Unbeknown to me, Willem Boshoff was following a similar path, and although we were born in the same year, just a few weeks apart, our paths only crossed several decades later. Then we could both say “Snap!”

Being naturally both curious and subversive as a student (and eventually as a professional), I consciously resisted the received thinking about composition and performance of music, choosing not to compose sonatinas, rondos and suites but rather to set out on a more radical path, and thus to find an original voice (or not).

Five Pieces for Piccolo and Tuba came about largely by accident: having chosen the instrumentation, I sought out piccolo and tuba excerpts from various standard orchestral works – but also including the famous piccolo and tuba solos from Sousa’s Stars and Stripes – and then photocopied and cut them up, and made collages on A4 pages.

It was when photocopying them – on an early Rank Xerox machine at Wits University Johannesburg (for ZAR 0.5 cents a page) – that I accidentally removed a page too soon and discovered a photocopying equivalent to the canvasses of Jackson Pollock. The results were my first chance compositions - and I simultaneously made my debut as a visual artist.

I composed this graphic score in 1971 in the same year most white South African composers were responding to commissions in praise of the Second Republic – that of the apartheid regime – for performance at various 10th anniversary festivals for the white elite. My work most definitely did not commemorate this occasion. I never found piccolo and tuba players to interpret it, so it ended up in the bottom drawer for four decades, travelled around the world with me, at some point the original Xeroxes getting lost (but fortunately there were copies), and having found willing players in the 21st century, it was performed for the first time on 30 April 2015 at the Young Blood Gallery in Cape Town. The performers were Marietjie Pauw (piccolo) and Le-Nique Brand (tuba).