Museum open online 24/7. 365 (or 366) days/year

NYWC Spotlight: Frances White

Featured Artist: Frances White

We are excited to continue our collaboration with the New York Women Composers. This month, we spotlight Frances White.

Frances White

Frances White

Excerpt from her bio:

“Frances White is a composer of instrumental, vocal, and electronic music. Her work has been called ‘stunning’ (American Record Guide) ‘moving’ (Fanfare), ‘spectacularly beautiful,’ and ‘so atmospheric and sensuous it is almost fragrant’ (Musicworks). She is particularly known for her works combining live performers and electronic sound spaces. Her music conveys intimacy and immediacy; her tactile and deeply expressive approach derives from a sincere belief in the transformative nature of sound. White studies the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute), and finds that its unique spiritual and sonic voice informs her work as a composer.” – Composer’s website

Featured Work: “Like the lily”


  • Title: “Like the lily”
  • Composer: Frances White
  • Year of Composition:1999, 2001
  • Instrumentation: viola, cello, and electronic sound
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 14’20”
  • Number of Measures: This work is mostly not metered, therefore, it has no measure numbers. (In the few sections where meter is used, measures are not numbered). Instead, time is indicated in 20” increments.
  • Number of pages: 11
  • Tempo: Does not have a tempo marking. The musicians align with the timing of the electronic part. In a few places where meter is used, tempo ranges from dotted quarter = 60 to quarter = 69
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced/Professional
  • Techniques Employed: ponticello, pizzicato, glissandos, flautando, harmonics, tremolo; 4/8, 6/8, 9/8, 4/4, and unmetered time signatures; reading from a full score; counting 20 seconds per system
    • Notes from the Composer: “Bow changes should be as imperceptible as possible during long sustained notes. Where vibrato is used, it should be, in general, slight. Sustained notes should emerge and recede gradually, except where otherwise notated.
  • Special techniques: Tracks demonstrating both of the sounds described below are included on the CDs (for performers) that contain the tape part.
    1. In the cello part, there are two instances (on page 5 and during the chant, on pages 10 and 11) where it is indicated to play close to the bridge while sustaining a long note. Here, the intent is to allow as many harmonics as possible to emerge and recede, although the fundamental is retained. The sound should be allowed to evolve freely over time. It should have a feeling of gentleness, even though rich in harmonics.
    2. Both strings use the flautando technique. This technique involves a combination of varying bow pressure and placement so that multiple harmonics emerge. The fundamental will sometimes disappear, leaving only the harmonics to be heard. This technique is used on double stops as well as single notes. It generally works better on stopped rather than open strings.
  • Publisher: Self-published
  • Where to Purchase the Score:
  • Cost of Score*: $45 if physical score and CD (plus $5.00 S&H); $20 if download


Program Notes

“’Like the lily’ was inspired by the chant Alleluia: Justus germinabit, which appears in the Liber Usualis for the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19. The text for the chant (derived from the Book of Hosea) is:

Justus germinabit sicut lilium: et florebit in aeternum ante Dominum. Alleluia.
(The just shall spring like the lily: and shall flourish forever before the Lord. Alleluia).

I heard this chant and fell in love with it – it was just so beautiful! And because I loved it so much, I wanted to write a piece ‘about’ it. I had already written a couple of pieces for instruments and electronic sound that use, in the electronic part, the kind of gentle, irregularly pulsing chords that you’ll hear in this piece, and I immediately began to imagine bits of the chant emerging from and then disappearing into this texture.

I thought a lot about the story, told by the Catholic Church (I was brought up Catholic) that the Gregorian chants that we find in the Liber Usualis were dictated directly by God to Pope Gregory the Great. I thought about the beautiful ancient paintings that show the dove whispering into Gregory’s ear.

For me, there is something very mysterious and magical in the idea that these melodies are of divine, not human origin: in the piece, I imagined that the instruments are ‘searching’ for the chant, for this divine thing.

‘Like the lily’ was commissioned by the Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges. Its original instrumentation was viola and double bass; I subsequently arranged it for viola and cello.” – Frances White

Performance Notes from Frances White

On tape playback: “The cello and viola should always be louder than the electronic sounds, even when very quiet (the strings’ mezzo forte is somewhat louder than the tape’s mezzo forte, for example).

Therefore, the level of the tape should be set rather low — at its quietest parts, it should be almost inaudible — and the performers should adjust their dynamics so that their sound is generally in the foreground. In concert, the performers should have stage monitors to help them hear the electronic part.

The instruments should be very slightly amplified and mixed with the tape playback. This is purely for the purpose of blending the instrumental and tape sounds: the instruments should never sound ‘amplified.’” – Frances White

In addition, she provides extensive notes before the score, explaining the notation, techniques, and interaction with the electronic sounds.

Frances White’s Other Works with a Prominent Cello Part

  • “The ocean inside” (Pierrot plus percussion with electronic sound)


  • “Centre Bridge (dark river)” (string quintet with electronic sound)

  •  “Winter aconites” (mixed ensemble with electronic sound)

  •  “And so the heavens turned” (string quartet and narrator)

How to Contact Frances White

A Collaboration with the New York Women Composers (NYWC)

The NYWC series at the Cello Museum was created to showcase its members who have composed various pieces for cello, informing cellists seeking new music to add to their repertoire, and helping listeners find new favorites, too. Many thanks to the NYWC for this wonderful collaboration.

Read other installments in the series here.

Enjoying The Cello Museum?

Don’t miss an article, announcement, or exhibition. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

*Prices are accurate at the time of article publication, but the Cello Museum cannot take responsibility for subsequent price changes.