Trying to find unaccompanied cello music by Black composers? Look no further.
This is the sixth installment in my series of digital postcards about unaccompanied works by Black composers.
In selecting the music every month, I keep in mind orchestra directors and students in search of contest pieces, teachers seeking supplemental literature, and professionals hankering for new repertoire.
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.
July Postcard #1
Born in Nigeria, Dr. Godwin Sadoh is a well-regarded ethnomusicologist, composer, musician, organist, pianist, conductor, and scholar. He is the first Nigerian and first African ever to receive a doctoral degree in organ performance. His compositions span many genres, including organ, piano, solo instrument, vocal solo, vocal duet, SATB choral, electronic, chamber, and orchestra.
- Title: A Suite of Nigerian Folk Songs for Cello Solo and Duet
- Composer: Godwin Sadoh (b. 1965)
- Instrumentation: version for solo cello and cello duo
- Year Published: 2021
- Movements: 4
- Duration of Work: 1:33; 1:18; 2:20; 2:08
- Number of Measures: 63, 50, 60, 58
- Number of Pages: 34
- Tempo: dotted quarter = 80, dotted quarter = 70, dotted quarter = 60, dotted quarter = 80
- Difficulty Level: late beginner and intermediate mix
- Highest Position Reached: 5th, thumb, 4th, 5th
- Technique Employed: bass & treble clef, 6/8 time signature, slurs, staccato
- Publisher: Lulu Press
- Where to Purchase: Lulu Press
- Cost of Sheet Music*: $25.09
Recordings of “Ise Oluwa” and “Gbo Ohun Awon Angeli”
“This is a collection of five cello solos and four cello duos based on Nigerian folksongs and indigenous hymn tunes. In this collection, there is something interesting for every level of cello performer. The cello solos are easy, while the intermediate and advanced performers would enjoy playing both the solos and duets at concerts and divine services. The theme of the first piece, Ise Oluwa (The Work of the Lord), is derived from a popular Christian hymn tune ascribed to the father of Nigerian church music, Thomas Ekundayo Phillips (1884-1969). It is herein arranged for cello solo, cello and piano, and two cellos. The second piece, Gbo Ohun Awon Angeli (Hear the Voices of Angels), is based on another Nigerian hymn tune. It is arranged for cello solo and cello duet. Honor Your Mother is a derivation of a didactic song extracted from a folktale, in which children are admonished to honor and respect their mothers, and vehemently discouraged from being rude to their mothers. The principal theme, “Omo to mo iya re l’oju o, osi ni o t’omo na pa” (The child that looks disrespectfully at her/his mother, will indeed live a miserable life), is arranged for a solo cello and cello duo. The final piece, The Village Dance, is an exciting, lively, and captivating work based on a Yoruba folksong, “Owo o, Omo o, ma m’omo se ire” (Money and children are both desired; I will embrace and revere them). The thematic material is arranged for cello solo and cello duet. It is the most advance and complex of the nine pieces infused with intricate rhythmic patterns, contrapuntal techniques, canonic imitations, and brief transition of tonal centers from the home key of F major at the beginning to D-flat major, B-flat major, and finally finds repose in the home key of F major in measure 89 through the end.” – Godwin Sadoh
What is unusual about this collection, is that the pieces are offered in both solo and accompanied versions. “Ise Oluwa” has both piano accompaniment and accompanied cello versions, while the remaining three are written as cello duets. The difficulty of the accompaniment cello part varies from piece to piece.
Interestingly, all four songs are written in 6/8 time. As the 6/8 time signature is less frequently used than 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 time signatures, we cellists are less practiced with the bow distribution properties created by this meter. These short pieces provide an opportunity to brush up on the long-short, long-short bow stroke.
Here is a brief technical layout of the four songs:
- “Ise Oluwa” reaches 5th position and has seven bars written in low treble clef.
- “Gbo Ohun Won Angeli” goes into thumb position. So that it sits more comfortably in thumb position, I have transposed this piece down a 4th. I will gladly send you a pdf should you decide to purchase the suite.
- “Honor Your Mother” is written entirely in bass clef and does not go beyond 4th position.
- “The Village Dance” is written in bass clef and reaches the fifth position.
This collection may be particularly valuable for cello teachers and orchestra directors with late beginner and intermediate students seeking solos and duos for contests.
July Postcard #2
Known to the world by her nom de plume, Montague Ring, British composer (and opera singer) Amanda Aldridge studied voice under Jenny Lind and George Henschel at the Royal College of Music in London. As Montague Ring, she became famous for her compositions across a range of popular and classical music styles, including love songs, suites, sambas, and light orchestral pieces.
- Title: “By the Fountain” from Three Arabian Dances
- Composer: Amanda Aldridge (10 March 1866 – 9 March 1956)
- Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
- Year Composed: 1919
- Movements: 1
- Duration of Work: 1:47
- Number of Measures: 64
- Number of Pages: 2
- Tempo: Moderato
- Difficulty Level: low intermediate
- Highest Position Reached: 5th
- Technique Employed: bass clef, 3/4 time signature, key changes, grace notes, triplets, dotted notes
- Publisher: Erica Lessie
- Where to Purchase: By the Fountain-solo cello – A. Aldridge
- Cost of Sheet Music*: free
This work, originally for piano, was composed in 1919 by British composer Amanda Aldridge, under the pseudonym Montague Ring. The piece is written in three movements, of which By the Fountain is the second. I have transposed and lightly arranged the melody of the second movement for the cello.
The fun and flirty melody is full of dotted eighth and 16th notes figures, as well as triplets. Unlike pieces such as “Witches’ Dance” and “The Two Grenadiers,” the bowing for the dotted notes is slurred, not hooked.
There is ample opportunity to practice shifting back and forth from first to fourth position, tempo changes, and dynamic variation. Though ideally suited for cellists in Suzuki Book 4 or 5, advanced cellists would have fun with this piece as well.
July Postcard #3
Influenced by European music and American genres such as jazz, blues, spirituals, and ragtime, although he specializes in composing works for large ensembles, Professor Gary Nash’s Blues Impromptu for unaccompanied cello work is a gem.
- Title: Blues Impromptu
- Composer: Gary Powell Nash (b. 2 August 1964)
- Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
- Year Published: 1995
- Movements: 1
- Duration of Work: 10’
- Number of Measures: 194
- Number of Pages: 11
- Tempo: quarter = 60, 132
- Difficulty Level: advanced/professional
- Highest Position Reached: high thumb position
- Technique Employed: bass, tenor & trebles clefs; 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 time signatures; grace notes, trills, glissandos, harmonics, double stops, tremolo, sul ponticello; triplets, sextuplets, and septuplets
- Publisher: MusicaNeo
- Where to Purchase: musicaneo.com
- Cost of Sheet Music*: $10
Click here for a recording and to purchase the score.
“Blues Impromptu is a cello solo work in the Western classical tradition that reflects American music. It displays a rounded progressive form. The musical events stem from extended playing techniques such as extreme high registers, extensive use of natural harmonics, and multi-layering effects with sul ponticello on fast note ostinato passages playing in the high register on top of the tail motive of the opening melody performed with double stops in the lower register. The closing section features the melody played with a left-hand pizzicato over a sustained pedal.” – Gary Powell Nash
In researching unaccompanied works for cello I have been fortunate to stumble upon a number of contemporary gems. Blues Impromptu is one of them. First, the opening melody drew me in and became an earworm. I downloaded the score and was happy to discover that it felt technically easier than it sounds.
If you don’t know the instrument really well, this piece will help you get there. There are many “noodly” passages that require clever fingers, trills (who among us doesn’t need more trill practice), 6ths galore, sul ponticello, and natural harmonics in upper thumb position or mirror image in the lower positions. I can’t wait to learn this piece and hope that it becomes part of the standard repertoire.
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*Prices given are accurate at the date of the publication of this article. Please check the given links for the current price. The Cello Museum does not control these prices and cannot take responsibility for price changes.