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Nigerian Art Music

Bode Omojola

4. African Pianism

Texte intégral

  • 1 Euba, A. Traditional elements as the basis of new African art music. African Urban Notes 5(5) 1970, (...)

For those composers interested in cross-cultural musical synthesis (there is) a... line of evolution in the use of the Western pianoforte in combination with African drums and other instruments of percussion. The piano already displays certain affinities with African music, and by creating a type of African Pianism to blend with African instruments it should be possible to achieve a successful fusion.1

1The piano first appeared in Nigeria in the middle of the nineteenth century and since then has remained popular. Today, it is one of the most common musical instruments in schools, colleges, universities and in the homes of middle class families. The piano has important qualities similar to Nigerian instruments (such as ngedegwu — Igbo xylophone and dundun — Yoruba talking drum) in its melo-rhythmic and percussive character. This makes it particularly suitable for representing elements of Nigerian music. Of the selected composers in this book, three — Bankole, Euba and Uzoigwe — have made impressive experiments, using the piano to evoke the texture of African music. In this chapter, Euba’s Scenes from Traditional Life is analysed as an example of this approach.

2Scenes from Traditional Life consists of three pieces each of which presents slightly different organisational principles. Viewed collectively, the pieces outline a structural form in which the second piece represents the climactic, the third provides a resolution in its relatively stable and dance-like character. The work is characterised by the use of predetermined melo-rhythmic motives and atonality. The first piece is in three sections : (A) bars 1-16; (B) 17-44 and (C) 45-65. Each section is delineated through the use of pauses and rests (bars 16 and 44) and the use of a referential cadence pattern (bars 15 and 16, 43 and 44). In each of its cadential appearances, this pattern (Ex. 1) is marked by higher registers and dynamic articulation.

Ex. 1 Scenes from Traditional Life Akin Euba

Ex. 1 Scenes from Traditional Life Akin Euba

3As Ex. 2 shows, the main melo-rhythmic phrases of the piece are generally short and fragmentary. Ex. 2 also shows that these phrases are introduced in the first section while the second and third sections perform conventional roles of elaboration and recapitulation. In a conversation with Euba, he indicated that the rhythmic patterns which these phrases employ are predetermined and there is a general emphasis on inventing phrases which have different lengths and rhythmic figurations.

Ex. 2 Motivic development in Scenes from Traditional Life

Ex. 2 Motivic development in Scenes from Traditional Life

4Three main procedures can be discerned in the generation of pitch elements in the piece. These are :

  1. melodic derivation from a predetermined tone row (Ex. 2)

  2. melodic derivation through intervallic variation of phrases originally derived from the row

  3. the use of pitch elements not directly generated from the row

5The use of these procedures can be observed in Ex. 2. The twelve notes of a series do not generally appear intact; melodic phrases are short and therefore use only limited notes in the row; these phrases are often juxtaposed with notes whose pitches are not generated from the row. For instance, while motives bi and bii are derived from the row, as Ex. 2 shows, they often occur with motive cii (as in bars 13, 14 and 15) which is not directly generated from the row. Similar examples can be found in bars 17, 19 and 23. Thus the row only serves as an occasional point of reference rather than an absolute index of intervallic properties of the transformations which motivic elements undergo. The deviations from the row can be seen as a means of generating melodic variety to balance the limited pre- composed rhythmic phrases. Like The Wanderer, another work by Euba, the deployment of rhythmic phrases in the piece is characterised by contrapuntal texture and metric instability. The overriding importance of the elements of rhythm over pitch in this dance is emphasised by the general lack of a systematic approach to pitch derivation in contrast to pre-planned rhythmic vocabulary. This particular feature reveals light on the African heritage of the piece.

6The second piece is characterised by more complex and diversified rhythmic, melodic and metric elements, but paradoxically, its total form features a less dynamic character than the first. For example, in the first piece, three sections are articulated. Though motivic correspondences are maintained across the sections, each of the sections generates new distinctive features. Thus, sectional delineations are relatively clear and sectional functions are discernable despite the pervading element of consistent variation.

7In the second piece, the element of consistent variation still operates but with less dynamism. Sectional divisions still exist in Section A, bars 1-18; Section B, bars 19-44; Section C, bars 45-58 but, again, with less articulation. Four structural features support these conclusions :

  1. The different sections of the piece show that virtually the same set of melo-rhythmic phrases are used in them. In most of their appearances (in the different sections) they generally retain their original pitch elements. For example, except for the elements in bars 23 and 27, ail the motives of the second section have appeared in the first section at exactly the same pitch levels. In the third section the only new ideas are in the upper parts of bars 51, 53, 54 and 55.

  2. Unlike the first piece, where the use of dynamics helps to accentuate sectional differences by articulating different levels of dramatic content in each of the sections, its use in the second only emphasises local moments : a generally undulating line of progression is maintained in each of the three sections with almost uniform interest.

  3. Across the three sections of the work, the main variation procedure is a constant reshuffling of pre-determined fixed motives to produce new relationships. Internal variations are limited and, more importantly, both the vertical and horizontal occurrences of motives feature no systematic approach other than a principle of free association.

  4. Finally, the more dominant role of the row in the generation of pitch elements of the piece (Ex. 3) distinguishes it from both the first and the third.

8The stronger influence of the row and the continuous repetition of phrases emphasize the importance attached to pre-compositional elements in the piece. More importantly, because of the freedom with which these elements are continuously stated, the piece captures a quasi-improvisational style in which the improviser constantly varies and reviews the nature of relationships between a fixed stock of melo-rhythmic phrases. The work is also characterised by a highly contrapuntal rhythmic character and irregular pulse (see Ex. 4). In addition, a look at some of the motives such as I, J, O, P (see Ex 3) shows that they each consist of components of a different character.

Ex.4 Scenes from Traditional Life Akin Euba, p. 4



Scenes from Traditional Life

9These components are contrasted through differences in accentuation and registral position. This feature tends to result in a multi-textural organisation — the piano functioning like a surrogate orchestra of contrasting rhythmic patterns (Ex. 5).

10As a closing cadential procedure, Euba reduces the tempo of rhythmic activity in bars 57 ff through a three-fold repetition of the material in both the right and left hands with diminishing dynamic level (Ex. 5). The importance of motif n which ends the piece is foreshadowed in the octave-hammering of its augmented version in bars 40, 42 and 51 (Ex. 6).

Ex. 7a Scenes from Traditional Life Akin Euba, p.7 III

Ex. 7a Scenes from Traditional Life Akin Euba, p.7 III

Scenes from Traditional Life

11In its structure, the third piece differs from both the first and second. Its two most distinguishing features are its highly improvisational character and its consistent use of ostinati, formed by phrases x and y of Ex. 7a. It is from these ostinati phrases that the piece derives a very strong element of dance.

12As a corollary to its quasi-improvisational character, sectional divisions are absent. Rather, it realises its form in different cycles of time through frequent use of a referential phrase (Ex. 7c) around which other phrases revolve. In addition, the staggered entries of phrases within the bar and the use of rests (Ex. 7) help to evoke the short moments of contemplation during which the improviser deliberates on his next line. The dynamism of the piece derives from the continuous invention of new motivic material while at the same time, through continuous references to such elements as Ex. 7 (x and y), it maintains a link with the preceding bars. The expressive coherence of the piece also derives from the fact that the intervallic properties of phrases present a remarkable unity through which they reveal their relationship with the row. The unity often relies on the regular use of the tritone and the ‘dominant 7th chord’ segment of the row (Ex. 8) in the piece as illustrated in Ex. 7 (a-c). The prevalent use of an invariant chord colour as a unifying element in the piece in the midst of a relatively diversified melo-rhythmic phrase is a reversal of the procedures of the first piece where diversified intervallic elements are used to vary relatively fixed rhythmic phrases.

13The conception of melo-rhythmic textures and their formal deployment show great Nigerian influence, thereby providing the structural and stylistic framework through which the compositional concept of African pianism is realised in the piece.


1 Euba, A. Traditional elements as the basis of new African art music. African Urban Notes 5(5) 1970, P 55.

Table des illustrations

Titre Ex. 1 Scenes from Traditional Life Akin Euba
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
Titre Ex. 2 Motivic development in Scenes from Traditional Life
Fichier image/jpeg, 200k
Titre Ex. 2 cont’d
Fichier image/jpeg, 312k
Titre Ex.3
Fichier image/jpeg, 288k
Titre II
Légende Scenes from Traditional Life
Fichier image/jpeg, 532k
Titre (Ex. 5)
Fichier image/jpeg, 136k
Titre Ex. 6
Fichier image/jpeg, 136k
Titre Ex. 7a Scenes from Traditional Life Akin Euba, p.7 III
Légende Scenes from Traditional Life
Fichier image/jpeg, 404k
Titre Ex.7b
Fichier image/jpeg, 104k
Titre Ex. 7c
Fichier image/jpeg, 60k
Titre Ex. 8
Fichier image/jpeg, 45k

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1995

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