VIRTUOSO 1 for piano

This work was commissioned by the University of South Africa as the compulsory South African piano piece for the 4th International Piano Competition held in Pretoria. In this context, the work not only had to be of a challenging and high standard but also accessible to both the performer and the listener. The work was eventually performed by 35 contestants and the composer heard most of the interpretations. The contestant who won the overall 1st prize as well as the prize for the finest interpretation of this South African work, was the German pianist Marcus Thomas. The piece has since become a prescribed work for the UNISA Piano exam Grade 8 syllabus.

Virtuoso 1 marks a return for the composer to an idiomatic virtuosic style for the instrument. The point of departure is the piano itself with all its technical and musical possibilities. Although I have not conscientiously used indigenous African material as in the works preceding this, the spirit of Africa is nonetheless reflected in the driving rhythms and variable changing meters as well as in the accumulative melodic material which extends a given motif.

The first 26 bars form the Introduction with an expectant mysterious build-up. The rising superimposed tritone figures in the right hand are accompanied by an oscillating triplet figure in the left hand. The melodic material then emphasises the interval of a minor 3rd with another superimposed minor 3rd - a 5th higher that forms an ambiguous sense of duality – since the 3rd of the chord is at once major and minor!

The main motif of the piece is a syncopated rising minor 3rd followed by a falling minor 3rd in a jazzy rhythm. Heavy chordal textures are contrasted with light flowing patterns of a watery nature that begin at bar 34 – water being the source of all life which ‘sustains’ the changing thematic material. Some of this material reflects the influence of the composer’s teacher and mentor, Gyorgy Ligeti, particularly the tone colours and textures of the sound world. There are constant rhythmic manipulations of the same material creating different phrase and bar lengths.

Bars 49 to 54 form a transition into the main theme of the work at bar 55, which heralds the central jubilant material – it uses the melodic outline of a “victory song” called “Didon Netzach” which symbolises the victory of good over evil – a possible injustice was rectified and celebrated. The CODA which descends and implies a “winding-down” of material actually winds up the ‘furioso’ mood and ends suddenly as though it were ‘cut off’.