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Fünf Skizzen nach Kunstwerken von Willem Boshoff

for woodwind quartet and string quartet

Composition details


Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Violoncello


Dedicated to Willem Boshoff

Written in memory of Kobus Geldenhuys


c. 24′

Year of composition


  1. Introductionen (‘Introductions’)

  2. Permutationen (‘Permutations’)

  3. Paradigmationen (‘Paradigms’)

  4. Imitationen (‘Imitations’)

  5. Repetitionen (‘Repetitions’)

Other versions
Programme notes

Fünf Skizzen nach Kunstwerken von Willem Boshoff is a composition in five movements, each movement for a different ensemble and written after different artworks by the renowned South African artist Willem Boshoff (b. 1951). This composition was written as a token of appreciation for Willem Boshoff’s artwork and is dedicated to Willem Boshoff and written in memory of Kobus van Zyl Geldenhuys (1945-2009). I reinterpreted the conceptual aspects which I found present in the specific chosen works in order to make conceptual links between the artworks and the musical compositions. My aim was to ‘translate’ each artwork into music.

Composer's statement

Fünf Skizzen nach Kunstwerken von Willem Boshoff is a composition in five movements, each movement for a different ensemble and written after different artworks by the renowned South African artist Willem Boshoff (b. 1951). This composition was written as a token of appreciation for Willem Boshoff’s artwork and is dedicated to Willem Boshoff and written in memory of Kobus van Zyl Geldenhuys (1945-2009) who always enthusiastically supported my music, studies and concerts.

I chose Willem Boshoff’s artworks because his oeuvre explores the border line that ‘separates’ the conceptual from the perceptual. His artworks are conceptually driven but can also be understood only in terms of perception as aesthetic pieces. This opens up various possibilities for writing compositions after his artworks. I reinterpreted the conceptual aspects which I found present in the specific chosen works in order to make conceptual links between the artworks and the musical compositions. Boshoff’s artworks, which mostly consist of several moveable parts that can be put together or taken apart, led to the idea of musicians coming on stage between movements. Musicians come on stage to form part of the ensemble of that specific movement and eventually complete the full ensemble of a double quartet. The seating of the instrumentalists is as follows. The musicians face the audience in this specific order from left to right: violin I, flute, violin II, oboe, viola, clarinet, violoncello, and bassoon. At first only the string quartet is present with four empty chairs on the stage during the first movement. For the second movement, the flautist joins the ensemble, then the clarinet and bassoon for the third movement and then the oboe for the fourth and fifth movements. In the table below I name those artworks by Willem Boshoff that I chose as bases for my works and the titles as well as the instrumentations of the musical compositions.

Introductionen : Kasboek


Year: 1981

Collection: UNISA Art Gallery

Material: Splintered scrap wood, masonite, hinges

Size closed: 194 x 109 x 28 cm

Size open: 194 x 230 x 28 cm

Description: The title of this artwork can directly be translated as ‘cupboard-book’. The word kasboek in Afrikaans is ‘cash-register’ and gives the impression that the artwork deals with calculations and balance sheets, which it does indirectly. The artwork was inspired by a cupboard, which is also the form of Kasboek: a cupboard with doors and hinges. When the doors are opened it looks like a field of splinters. When the doors are closed, the sculpture is a wall cupboard. A façade of wooden blocks which are irregularly shaped fit together like a puzzle and form four outer cupboard doors which can be opened like a book (Boshoff, 2007:60).

Kasboek by Willem Boshoff closed                                                 Kasboek by Willem Boshoff partially opened


This first movement for string quartet introduces some of the unconventional performance techniques that will be heard again later in the composition. This movement is constituted by short motifs which resemble the wooden blocks or splinters which constitute Kasboek by Willem Boshoff. In these motifs, pizzicatos become more and more prominent until the middle section is reached where the whole section is played pizzicato. These short and sharp pizzicato tones can be considered similar on a conceptual level to Kasboek when opened. With the transformation into a pizzicato section this movement resembles Kasboek in terms of the same material which can be presented in contrasting ways.

Permutationen : Verskeur


Year: 1979

Collection: Private Collection

Material: Used paper, wood, hardboard, glue

Size: 127 x 190 cm

Description: This artwork consists of many sheets of scrap paper which are carefully arranged in a framed base of hardboard. The pieces of paper are of a particular size and arranged so that the front is made up of a side of each paper. These crumpled and torn pieces of paper are packed so tightly that there is no space between them (Boshoff, 2007:48). Boshoff (2007:48) writes that in the present day consumer society all manufactured goods can be treated as disposable. He believes that general mass production made people careless and affected the book and paper industries. “Today stacks of the finest, most perfect, white and squarely aligned paper are manufactured, and most of it ends up on dump sites or in recycle bins or in paper shredders.” (Boshoff, 2007:48.) The fact that lots of paper is thrown away inspired Boshoff to gather discarded pieces of paper on the rubbish dump over a period of one year. He then emphasized the consumers’ carelessness and tore up items he found like checque books, notebooks, notes, envelopes, letters, brochures, drawings and advertisements. He then reversed the process and treated every piece of ‘rubbish’ as a precious piece of his artwork. The manufacturing process and illegibility of the pieces of paper is reflected in the title Verskeur (Boshoff, 2007:48).

Verskeur by Willem Boshoff


The title of this movement for flute and string quartet refers to the rhythmic opening motif which is divided into two smaller parts and of which ten permutations of the first part and nine permutations of the second part are heard in this movement.

Ten permutations of the first part of the rhythmic motif

Nine permutations of the second part of the rhythmic motif

Permutations and sections are so similar to one another that they can hardly be distinguished from one another. Therefore, this movement can be considered to be large texture of sounds which consists of two different timbres in each section. The first timbre is the rhythmic motifs which are played with alternative performance techniques; the focus here is on rhythm and rhythmic permutations. The second timbre is harmonics for strings which are heard in long and slow melodic lines; the focus here is on the intensification of dissonance between the harmonics. These two timbres can be compared to the different shadings of brown in Verskeur which can also be considered as an artwork that focuses on textures. The alternative performance techniques for the strings and flute can be considered similar to the alternative way – collecting material from a rubbish dump – in which Willem Boshoff collected the material for this artwork.

Open strings are exclusively used for the rhythmic motif and its different permutations which are played with alternative performance techniques. The alternative performance techniques for the strings with which the rhythmic opening motif and its permutations are played are as follows. The first violin plays the first beat of each motif punta d’arco and the rest of the motif pizzicato. The second violin plays the rhythmic motifs col legno throughout. The viola plays the first beat of each rhythmic motif pizzicato and the rest of the motif is also played pizzicato but behind the bridge on that same string. The violoncello plays the first beat of each motif pizzicato and the rest of the motif with nail buzzes on the vibrating string.

Section from Permutationen showing alternative techniques for strings

The flute switches between ordinary playing, key clicks and flute pizzicati. The melodic material of the flute is a semitone transposition of each open string that is present in this movement. This short melodic motif is also heard in different permutations for the flute.

First melodic motif in the flute


Although this movement is textural, there are many processes present that govern the structure. The first process is the permutations of the rhythmic opening motif. These motifs in different permutations transform into the harmonics while the rhythmic motifs are continued in the flute. The different permutations are placed in such a way that they continuously phase in and phase out before they are heard in unison at the end of the movement. The second process is the intensification of dissonance in the segments which consist of harmonics for all four string instruments. The lengths of these segments are also increasing and the different lengths were determined with the Fibonacci sequence, in this movement this sequence is 2+3=5+3=8+5=13+8=21.

The gradual movement between segments that are similar to one another and contrasting patterns which were derived from one another reminds of Verskeur because the different parts of the artwork are similar to one another and the contrasting shadings are created from the same material. The delicate texture of Verskeur is also reflected in the soft dynamic levels and delicate performance techniques which are required for the performance of this movement.

Paradigmationen : Tafelboek


Year: 1975 – 1979

Collection: Gordon Schachat

Material: Discarded rectangular wood offcuts

Size closed: 57 x 187 x 71 cm

Size open: 57 x 276 x 165 cm

Description: The theme of this sculpture was inspired by a book’s content: books are closed most of the time and one can only know the content if you open and read the book from the beginning to the end in that specific order. Tafelboek is very similar to an ordinary book: the detailed content is unlocked when the sculpture is opened and it can only be understood if it is ‘read’ in the correct order to make a good ‘conclusion’. If you open or close the sculpture in the wrong way or order, the sculpture will collapse (Boshoff, 2007:34). Boshoff (2007:34) writes that he started to work on this sculpture when he lived in a cramped subterranean flat in Hillbrow which was too small to house a large sculpture. He foresaw that this sculpture might be used as a communion-table at a church when it is closed. It would then be a coffin which represents the death of Christ. When the ‘coffin’ is opened, it becomes like a New Jerusalem which metaphorically represents a new life that begins through the death of Christ. Like Christ’s father, Willem Boshoff’s father was a carpenter; he took a great pride on this fact.

Tafelboek by Willem Boshoff closed                                                       Tafelboek by Willem Boshoff partially opened


This movement for clarinet in Bb, bassoon, violin and viola starts with a three-bar pattern. This pattern is altered and extended in the restatements that follow. Contrasting material is heard in section B and C but this material is in fact derived from its contrasting material. When fine distinctions are made between the patterns in this movement, these patterns can be classified into different paradigms. However, it will also be possible to classify these patterns into two or even one paradigm. These different possibilities of the classification of patterns in terms of their similarity with regard to elements of music are on a conceptual level similar to Tafelboek by Willem Boshoff. When Tafelboek is opened, one is overwhelmed by many rectangular pieces of wood; similarly, Paradigmationen can be understood as many patterns with little similarity between them. Only certain parts of Tafelboek can also be opened and closed in order to get a flat surface on the one side and an uneven surface on the other side. Similarly, Paradigmationen can be understood as a composition of which certain sections contrast with the recurring opening material.

Imitationen : Kubus


Year: 1976 – 1982

Collection: Private Collection

Material: Aluminium, cotton linen, contact adhesive

Size closed: 5 x 5 x 5 cm

Description: This folded-up cube of aluminium “represents the world of existence in the form of an abstracted city” which is contained in the cube and can be revealed when the cube is unfolded (Boshoff, 2007:42). When this cube is unfolded, a shape of steps is revealed which “suggest a stepladder between the spiritual and the habitable worlds.” (Boshoff, 2007:42.)

The sequence in which this cube unfolds functions like a combination lock, and Boshoff (2007:42) says that “[t]he opening and closing of books is part of the process of unlocking knowledge. On a conceptual and personal level, the opening and closing of Kubus functions in a similar fashion.”

The original prototype was stolen when it was exhibited at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 1981. In 1982 Boshoff started to create a multiple of Kubus in 50 copies (Boshoff, 2007:42).

Kubus by Willem Boshoff closed                                                                   Kubus by Willem Boshoff opened


This movement is based upon three themes which are heard in imitative counterpoint.

Three themes from Imitationen

The first two themes were composed in such a way that one theme fills the gaps in the other theme in order to become one single theme. The third theme contrasts the first two themes mainly in terms of rhythm, register and timbre. Although this composition does not follow the rules or style of the twelve tone system, every theme contains all twelve tones of the chromatic scale. Some tones are repeated in the themes and these repetitive tones serve the function of either establishing a tonal centre or preparing the listener for the dominant tonal levels that are about to follow. These chromatic tones which are randomly organized function like a puzzle which can be compared with Boshoff’s Kubus on a conceptual level: each of the chromatic tones is a part with a different quality than the part next to it – just like Kubus when opened. These different parts can be put together to form a whole of which this whole can be considered to be a cube when Kubus is closed or as the chromatic scale in terms of music.

The movement opens with the first theme in the oboe and bassoon. The counter theme overlaps with the first theme and the two themes combine from mm. 7 onwards. The third theme enters in mm. 15 in the oboe while the first theme is simultaneously heard in the dominant of the dominant and the second theme in the dominant. These transpositions were prepared in the first statement of the first theme when the tonal centres of these tonal levels were heard as tones which repeated in the first theme.

The polished surface of Kubus reminds me of the ‘smooth’ impression one experiences with tonal music and therefore I composed this movement with an underlying tonality. Although this composition has a very strong sense of tonality, several of the techniques which were used in twelve tone compositions are also employed here in sections B and E. These techniques include inversions and retrograded themes. Section C focuses on the first theme which starts together in all four instruments but with a different rhythm of the theme for each instrument. Figures of the first theme are used for the bridge passage to the next section. In section D all three themes are heard simultaneously and these themes break up into two-note figures which go in and out of phase. The motifs in all four instruments are in phase at the end of mm. 87. The last section (F) is a statement of the first theme which transforms into chromatic scales which go up and down. The function of the chromatic figures is to create a contrast with the more stable segments and to deliberately confuse listeners, almost like when one looks at the opened Kubus and wonders how the different shapes fit together to form a cube. The way in which the different parts fit together can be considered similar to the way tonality is construed. Similar to that person opening and closing the cube, the listener of Imitationen will experience contrasting moments of clear understanding versus confusion.

Repetitionen : Psephos


Year: 1994 – 1995

Collection: BHP Billiton Art Collection

Material: Pebbles, wood, glass

Size: 200 x 300 cm

Description: The artwork Psephos consists of nine panels of pebbles and derived its name from the Greek word psephon which refers to an ancient Greek style of voting where they casted small round stones into a ceramic jar in order to cast their votes. Stones also became a symbol of power and knowledge: one reads in the Bible of David who conquered Goliath and it is also widely known that small pebbles were used by the Greeks to do calculations. They also call a pebble a calculus. The pebbles in Psephos were selected as a metaphor for two things: “[o]n the one hand, it stands for BHP Billiton’s mandate as one of the custodians of Southern African mineral wealth. On the other, it represents the democratic process by means of which all the people in the country realise their dependency on, and control of, that wealth. The project affirms the necessity of cultivating a healthy respect for what is indigenous in the children of the South African soil.” (Boshoff, 2007:70.) Each panel of Psephos represents one of the nine provinces of South Africa as a democratic land. In order to celebrate this democracy and the first democratic election on the 27th of April 1994, Willem Boshoff collected two bags of pebbles of different colours from each of the provinces. These pebbles were then mounted behind glass boxes which resemble a ballot box and the shape in which the pebbles are arranged resembles the voters’ crosses (Boshoff, 2007:70).

Psephos by Willem Boshoff


The different sections of Repetitionen can easily be explained in terms of Psephos by Willem Boshoff: there are nine boxes and nine sections of music. This movement is composed in rondo form where the refrain can represent the cross in each box of Psephos and the contrasting episodes can resemble the pebbles of contrasting colours in each box. Each episode is a development and variation of a specific motif which occurs in the refrain. Techniques which were used in the previous movements are used in the episodes to create coherence between the different movements of this composition. The last section of this movement resembles what I think will happen when the glasses which hold Psephos together are smashed and all the pebbles fall out: a coda that recalls material from the first and third movement is heard before it builds up to a rhythmic-driven climax which ends this composition. Visions of an unravelling democracy since 1994 ensure that this coda makes a conceptual statement on par, I believe, with the statements in Boshoff’s works.


Boshoff, WHA. 2007. Willem Boshoff: Word forms and language shapes 1975-2007. Curated by Warren Siebrits. Johannesburg: Standard Bank Gallery. [Catalogue].

Funf Skizzen Table.png
Kasboek 2.jpg
Kasboek 1.jpg
Verskeur 2.png
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Verskeur 5.png
Tafelboek 2.jpg
Tafelboek 1.jpg
Kubus 2.jpg
Kubus 1.jpg
Kubus 3.png
Psephos 1.jpg
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Jaco Meyer and Willem Boshoff at a guest lecture on their collaboration at the North-West University (Photo: Dineke van der Walt)

Music score

The music score of this composition can be ordered from the composer through the contact page. Please ensure that you provide the correct title and version/instrumentation of the composition that you would like to order.

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