Although virtually unknown today, cellist-composer Victoria Yagling (14 May 1946 – 1 August 2011) was a major force in the Soviet musical world.
A Family of Artists
Yagling came from a family of award-winning artists and academics. Her father Boris was a Jewish prose writer, publicist, screenwriter (film Day of the New World, 1940), playwright, and war journalist, who died unexpectedly in active duty when Victoria was 2 years old. Her mother Emine-hanum was a hydrogeologist, painter, and sculptor (wooden sculptures).
Her stepfather Ilya Frenkel was Ukrainian-Jewish a poet, prose writer (the book of memoirs “River of Time,” 1984), a war journalist, author of the texts of famous songs “Factories, Stand Up!,” “In Defense of the Peace,” “Let’s Have a Smoke,” “Odessa Port” and others.
After her father’s untimely death, as her stepfather, Frenkel had a significant impact on the formation of her personality.
A Major Force in Soviet Music
Yagling grew up in a time when musicians were expected to both play an instrument and compose. She studied both the cello and composition at the Moscow Conservatory.
Her most notable teachers were cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (27 March 1927 – 27 April 2007), and composers Dmitry Kabalevsky (30 December [O.S. 17 December] 1904 – 14 February 1987) and Tikhon Khrennikov (10 June [O.S. 28 May] 1913 – 14 August 2007).
In 1969, she won the Gaspar Cassadó International Competition in Florence. The next year she won the second prize in the Tchaikovsky Competition. She later became a juror at competitions and a teacher and several institutions.
She was later prohibited from touring in capitalist countries – a ban that was not lifted until 1988. In 1990, she emigrated to Finland and taught cello at the Jean Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.
The First Suite for Solo Cello (1982)
Victoria Yagling has a substantial catalog of compositions, but one work that stands out among many is her First Suite for Solo Cello (1982). It was selected to be the compulsory piece for the 7th International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1982.
The Suite has four movements: a longer Prelude, and three shorter movements. The entire Suite stems from a 3-note motive, C-D-C. The slow-moving Prelude blossoms from the depths to the heights of the cello range, very much like the openings of Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No. 2 and Schnittke’s Cello Sonata No. 1.
I. Prelude and Fugue
In addition to the 3-note motive, there is a 5-chord motive that punctuates the music. The melodic outline of those chords is G-Bb-A-Eb-C#. The Prelude evaporates in the end. The Prelude and Fugue are to be played without pause.
II. Fughetta (Fugue in 2 Voices)
The second movement is a Fughetta, or a Fugue in 2 Voices, as Yagling calls it in the manuscript. This is a tribute to the greatest Fugue composer, J.S. Bach. The subject is based on the 3-note motive, now presented in fast, 2-note clips. The countersubject is based on the melody from the 5-chord motive. The Fugue begins quietly but grows steadily to the end.
The third movement is a gentle Intermezzo, perhaps inspired by the Intermezzo from Boris Tchaikovsky’s Solo Suite, which Yagling recorded. This gentle slow waltz has a Mixolydian flavor in the beginning. Yagling explores the beauty of harmony in this movement. The melody is always accompanied by double stops or chords. The last quarter of the movement is played pizzicato, finishing on a C-G-D-C chord, another moment reminiscent of Kabalesky’s Cello Concerto No. 2.
IV. The Finale
The Finale is a tour de force. The 16th-note figure, without a doubt, comes from the final part of Khachaturian’s Concerto-Rhapsody. Again, we see the 3-note motive from the Prelude accented among the perpetual motion of the 16th notes. The last few seconds of the Finale recap the Prelude and the Suite fades away on the C-G-E-C# chord.
There are currently no studio recordings of the Suite. A live recording of the finale was released on the Soviet Melodiya label from the 7th International Tchaikovsky Competition with Antonio Meneses playing.
I found a complete live recording from 20 May 1982 by Anthony Ross (principal cello, Minnesota Orchestra) in the Indiana University archives. This is a reel-to-reel tape, not available to the public.
In the fall of 2019, I had the opportunity of playing this Suite several times. Here is a live recording of the finale from the Martha Blakeney Hodges Archive located in the Jackson Library at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro:
Yagling’s Compositions for Cello
Here is a list I’ve compiled of her works for the cello, with a few recordings from YouTube.
- 1965 – Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 – in 2 movements
- 1967 – Larghetto and Siciliana (sometimes incorrectly listed as the 3rd and 4th movements of her second sonata)
- 1967 – Suite for Cello and String Orchestra
- 1974-75 – Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 (written as her graduate work in composition)
- 1980 – Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 3 – in 2 movements
- 1982 – Suite for Cello Solo No. 1 – Compulsory piece for the 7th Tchaikovsky Cello Competition (discussed in more detail above)
- 1983-84 – Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 2
- 1985 – Vocalise for Cello and Piano
- 1999 – Suite for Cello Solo No. 2
- 2001 – Symphony Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (Concerto No. 3 for Cello and Orchestra)
- 2002 – Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 4 – in 4 movements (a masterpiece!)