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Postcards from Erica – April 2024

Trying to find unaccompanied cello music by  Asian composers? Look no further. 

April 2024 Postcards from Erica

This month, I’m sending you the second installment in my new series of postcards on unaccompanied works for cello by Asian composers. You can find my previous postcards in the series here.

I created my online “just-the-facts-ma’am”-style digital postcards to introduce listeners to new-to-you cello music and to help cellists, orchestra directors, cello teachers, and students seeking new repertoire, contest pieces, and supplemental literature.

These monthly postcards give you the information you need to help you choose a piece that’s right for you. I also include links to make it easy for you to locate and purchase the sheet music you want. I hope you enjoy exploring these pieces as much as I did selecting them.

You can also read a quick round-up of my postcards featuring works by Black composers, my series featuring women composers, the series I just completed on Hispanic and Latino/Latina composers, or revisit all of my postcards.

Postcard #1: Jingu Suite by Chen Yi

Chen Yi’s Jingu Suite draws its inspiration from the vibrant scenes and culture of Tianjin, China. It is an ode to friendship and the enduring beauty of the Ning Garden and the Haihe River. The suite features four movements, each offering its own unique challenge and character. Ideal for advanced players, it weaves complex rhythms and techniques into a rich tapestry of sound.

  • Title: Jingu Suite
  • Composer: Chen Yi
  • Year Composed: 2020
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 4
  • Duration: 12:00
  • Number of Pages: 8
  • Number of Measures: 63, 124, 83, 94
  • Tempo: quarter = 72, 76, 88, 92, 96
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: high thumb position
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, and treble clefs; 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4 time signatures; glissandos, trills, grace notes, false harmonics, tremolo, pizzicato, and Bartok pizzicato; double and quadruple stops
  • Publisher: Presser
  • Where to Purchase: Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of Score*: $14.99

Recording

Program Notes

“JINGU SUITE was commissioned by and written for my cellist friend, Prof. Siwen Wang of the Tianjin Conservatory, where I have been a visiting professor since 2012. The beautiful scenes in the Ning Garden and the Haihe River, as well as the lively and colorful folk culture in Tianjin, have made such a significant impression on me that I wanted to express deep appreciation to my friends in Tianjin through this work. Our friendship will be in my heart forever.

There are four movements: 1. The Ning Garden; 2. The Stilt-walking; 3. Dance with Flying Cymbals; 4. The Haihe River.” – Chen Yi

Cellist’s Guide

This lovely piece is such an interesting technical mix. Portions of  Jingu Suite are intermediate level,  while other sections are written in high thumb position.

In general, the rhythm is fairly straightforward, though heavily embellished with grace notes.

Each movement stands on its own, so the player may choose to perform one or two movements, or the entire work.

Postcard #2: Bunraku by Toshiro Mayuzumi

Toshiro Mayuzumi’s Bunraku draws on the theatrical tradition of Japanese puppetry, reflecting its unique narrative style through the cello. Composed in 1964, it requires a virtuosic touch, combining challenging rhythms and advanced techniques to evoke the haunting beauty and complexity of the Bunraku theater. Perfect for professional recitals, this piece stands as a profound expression of Japanese musical and cultural tradition, challenging the performer to master its intricate demands.

  • Title: Bunraku
  • Composer: Toshiro Mayuzumi (1929-1997)
  • Year Composed: 1964
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration: 9:00
  • Number of Pages: 6
  • Number of Measures: 151
  • Tempo: quarter = 56
  • Difficulty Level: advanced/professional
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor and treble clefs; 13/32, 17/32, 1/8, 3/8, 4/8, 5/8, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, and 7/4 time signatures; pizzicato, left-hand pizzicato, and Bartok pizzicato; glissandos, grace notes, false harmonics, ponticello, sul tasto, double, triple and quadruple stops
  • Publisher: Edition Peters
  • Where to Purchase: Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of Score: $15.95

Recording

Program Notes

“Mayuzumi’s Bunraku (1960) references the Japanese puppet theater tradition of the same name, in which the puppets’ voices and other narration are chanted and sung by the tayū (narrator and vocalist) and accompanied by the shamisen, a three-stringed plucked lute. As a leading postwar Japanese composer with a foot in both the world of traditional Japanese music and avant-garde Western styles, Mayuzumi defies easy classification. The picture is complicated further when his right-wing political affiliations are considered in conjunction with his music. What does one make of a composer who embraces avant-garde styles, writes almost exclusively for Western instruments, and yet who publicly aligned himself with nationalists seeking to reinstall the emperor, rid Japan of Western military occupation, and regain its national sovereignty? … Mayuzumi was acutely aware of his own status as an individual with the power to affect Japan’s musical future. He actively sought to contribute to that history by writing music for a modern Japanese repertory, thus participating in a long Japanese tradition of transculturation … The process of assimilating and adapting musical styles to produce a uniquely Japanese music is a transcultural tradition that has continued throughout the centuries. Nearly a thousand years later, Mayuzumi’s Bunraku for cello represents, in part, a modern continuation of that tradition.” – from “Venerable Traditions, Modern Manifestations: Understanding Mayuzumi’s Bunraku for Cello” by Lisa M. Cook

Cellist’s Guide

Bunraku is not a piece to be taken lightly. The rhythm is treacherous, even for a professional. There are 4ths and Major 7ths and spots in high thumb position. Additionally, there is left-hand pizzicato on fingered notes.

All of that being said, this is a fun piece to play. If you are looking for a dramatic work for a recital, Bunraku may be the piece for you.

Postcard #3: Cajón by Nina Shekhar [Updated from May 2021 Postcard #3]

Cajón almost missed this curated selection’s “unaccompanied cello music” requirement. Indian-American composer Nina Shekhar first conceived of a piece where a cellist would be supported by a percussionist playing the titular Peruvian instrument. Taking the phrase “knock on wood” to a whole new level, Shekhar then reimagined the composition, with the cello pulling double-duty as both a string and percussion instrument. The result is an innovative take on a number of advanced techniques, making it a truly unique addition to the experienced cellist’s musical portfolio.

  • Title: Cajón
  • Composer: Nina Shekhar
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 6:30
  • Number of Measures: 155
  • Number of Pages: 6
  • Tempo: quarter = 120
  • Difficulty level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Techniques Employed: 3/8, 5/8, 7/8, 8/8, 9/8, 10/8, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 time signatures; bass and treble clefs; double stops; glissandos; sul ponticello; false harmonics; pizzicato; left-hand pizzicato; grace notes; tapping side and body of the cello; slapping strings; hitting dampened strings with the thumb; stomping; chopping
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Purchase: ninashekhar.com
  • Cost of Score: $35.00 (for a downloadable .pdf)

RECORDING

PERFORMANCE NOTES

“A cajón is a box-shaped Peruvian instrument that is played by tapping its sides to make percussive sounds. My original idea for this piece was for a cello to play along with a cajón, but then I wondered what if the cello were the cajón itself. The piece places the instrument in a new context by exploring modes and rhythms common to Indian and Arabic Music.” –from the score

CELLIST’S GUIDE

This creative piece is a wonderful contribution to the solo cello repertoire. Though the techniques used are not new, they are incorporated in a fresh way. By having the cello operate, in effect, as both a cello and cajón, Shekhar has created something completely original.

The high thumb position, frequently changing meter, accidentals, double stops, and extended techniques employed in this piece are considered to be advanced skills. I recommend this piece to any experienced or professional cellist looking for a unique solo.



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