Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
JORDAAN, Gerrit. Stefans Grové's Afrika Hymni as evocative sound depiction. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.2, pp. 170-186. ISSN 2224-7912.
Stefans Grové is one of the greatest composers that South Africa has ever produced. His three Afrika Hymni for concert organ, paints innovative sound pictures of Africa. His integration of African components in his works (from 1984 onwards) is perceived very differently - ranging from harshly critical to extremely positive. Rörich is of the opinion that Grové reached a pivotal point in his development with the writing of Afrika Hymnus II. Main influences in his mature style could be traced back to the colouristic sound/harmonies of Debussy, the rhythmic drive of Bartók and the neo-Baroque counterpoint of Hindemith. Musicologists agree that visual imagery is an integral part of Grové's African musical idiom. The music often is an auditory translation of visual images. Grové 's published short stories could be seen as depiction of similar images, using another language. The Africa that Grové uses as reference is a very personal, imagined Africa and conventional elements such as descending pentatonic melodies or textures that have been inspired by the sound of traditional African instruments are utilised to suggest African culture. Descriptive titles of separate movements, programme notes and stories are some of the means that are employed to stimulate the audience in joining the composer on a journey of the imagination. This can be illustrated with reference to evocative titles from the Afrika Hymni: Hail Africa, mysterious continent, Night ritual, Afrika Madonna (the tranquillity that is emanated by a wooden sculpture of Ernest Mancoba has inspired this movement), The singer of Praise, Voices from the darkness and Liberation. The sound of African instruments (such as xylophones, music bows or drums) and natural sounds like thunder, rain or the songs of insects and birds are sources of inspiration. Images from African nature (such as a dry desert or mysterious African starry night) and culture (like rituals or comical gestures) are relied upon for the creation of innovative textures. The organ sound is traditionally perceived as static and inexpressive. As organist and gifted improvisator, Grové relies on his knowledge of the organ to manipulate the organ sound sensitively. Grové pays attention to detailed articulation and tone colour. The use of the swell box, interaction between the manuals, innovative articulation and registration are some of the techniques he uses to manipulate the organ sound. The extended use of simultaneous sounding melodic material, one played legato and the other staccato, could be seen as a trademark of Grove's African style. An innovative variation of this texture is a legatissimo texture that is inspired by the effect of the sustaining pedal of the piano. The composer indicates precisely when the sustaining should end. The sound of the xylophone or handclapping, thunder or rain are all depicted sonically by implementing the legato-staccato-texture with different registration, embedded in a different sound scape. The assistant to the organist (registrant) has an important role to play in Grové's organ music. For example, in some sections of the middle movement of the Third Hymnus, the assistant has to change the registration (combination of organ stops) on each note. The composer gives special attention to articulation in transparent sections that contain only two or three voices. Because of the extraordinary detail, organists think twice before they attempt to study his work. Still, the Afrika Hymnus I is one of his most frequently performed and recorded works. The First Hymnus is a hymn to African nature; the Second Hymnus is a hymn to African culture (drawing from some events in the aftermath of the destruction of apartheid in South Africa); and the Third Hymnus is a more personal, introverted hymn that investigates the anxieties and hopes of the continent. The three Afrika Hymni could be seen as a highlight in the South African repertoire.
Keywords : Stefans Grové; organ; organ music; South Africa; music from Africa; Afrika Hymnus; evocation; sound depiction; texture; articulation; timbre/sound colour..