Suite for Solo Cello (2007-08)
I. Prelude: Molto Appassionato
II. Fuga: Allegretto
III. Scherzo: Espressivo, rubato
IV. Caprice: Lively
V. Muted: Fantasia
VI. Dance: Energetic
When one thinks about composing a cello suite, inevitably, he/she has to look at J. S. Bach’s set of six cello suites. With them, the master defined the genre. After Bach, there comes one of the most successful collaboration of music history – Benjamin Britten and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. It is in Britten’s scores that I found my direct model or guide. Written for and dedicated to cellist Cole Tutino, the Suite for Solo Cello explores the possibility of cello as a solo instrument, and challenges the player’s abilities on different aspects of cello techniques including double and triple-stops, harmonics and more.
The Prelude attempts to set the ground for the following movements, it is a rather rhapsodic piece. I have made used of mostly the lower and more resonant registers of the cello. With double and triple-stops on that register, the listeners immediately notice the richness of the cello, and are amazed by the strong overtones it can produce. This invites the listeners to hear a cello ensemble instead of a soloist. Besides, the piece is very chromatic; one should focus on the return of gestures or rhythmic pulses instead of melodies in order to follow with the imagination of the cellist.
The Fuga contains three major fugal sections. The most challenging task here is the voice independence. With only one bow and four-strings and the many possibilities of double and triple-stops, the cello is limited to produce only two-part counterpoint most of the time. The even harder part is that fugues work most efficiently with different rhythms in different voices. How do we distinguish the voices? My solution for the player and listeners is to always listen to the dotted quarter notes that are slurred to eighth notes.
Marked “Expressivo, rubato” as tempo markings, the Scherzo is much like an improvisation. Several fragmented materials from the first two movements are presented here - noticeably the dotted rhythm. This movement challenges the performer’s imagination. It also foresees and prepares for what comes next.
The music continues and leads into the Caprice without a break. The pentatonic and open-strings pizzicati really explore and showcase the fullness of the sound of a cello. On the other hand, the successive wide-leaps, rapid and articulated passages display the agility of a cello. The full resonant sound near the end reminds us the second movement, and this movement ends on E-A-D (from low to high). Maybe after all, it sounds like string bass?
Muted is a movement of breath-taking intensity. Much like the Scherzo, this movement contains a melody of improvisatory nature with a different timbre due to the mute. The snap pizzicato at the end prepares for the energy to come.
The previous movements mostly showcase the agility, fullness, color and timbre of a cello. To balance and sum up the Suite for Solo Cello, the Dance is a movement that displays fully the rhythmic and percussive ability of a cello. The entire movement is based on a variation of a 3+3+2 rhythm. With occasional additions or omissions of eighth or quarter notes, this movement always provides energy and moves forwards. The work ends with a series of open-strings left-hand pizzicati followed by a few double, triple and quadruple-stops, just like how it begins.
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