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Postcards from Erica – June 2024

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

Postcards from Erica June 2024

This month, I’m sending you the fourth 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: Sonata for Cello da Spalla by Yi Hsuan Lin

Yi Hsuan Lin was born in Taipei, Taiwan. He graduated from the Historical Performance Program at The Juilliard School in 2019 and holds a Doctor in Musical Arts from The University of Texas at Austin as well as a Master and Bachelors of Music degrees from San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His Sonata for Cello da Spalla, composed in 2021, serves as an engaging precursor to the iconic Bach suites. Its diverse movements include an arpeggiated prelude, a sarabande, and an energetic presto.

  • Title: Sonata for Cello da Spalla
  • Composer: Yi Hsuan Lin
  • Year Composed: 2021
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 5
  • Duration: 10′
  • Number of Pages: 5
  • Number of Measures: 260
  • Tempo: none given
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate
  • Highest Position Reached: depending how you finger it, 2nd or 3rd position
  • Technique Employed: bass clef,  9/8 & 3/4 time signatures, double, triple & quadruple stops; slurs, grace notes, trills, accidentals
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Obtain: IMSLP
  • Cost of Score*: free


Program Notes

Sonata for Cello da Spalla premiered on December 4, 2021, and is dedicated to violinist/violist Addi Liu. The cello da spalla is tuned like a traditional cello, but is much smaller and held on the shoulder.

Cellist’s Guide

This work consists of five movements: Prelude, Sarabande, Corrente, Giga, and Presto. It is technically easier than the Bach Suites and would make a nice precursor to learning the iconic works, as many of the skills needed to play Bach are incorporated in this Sonata. The Prelude is full of arpeggios and large string crossings; the Sarabande and Corrente utilize easy double and triple stops; the Giga employs the typical jaunty three eighth notes with first two slurred; the Presto incorporates rocking string crossings and scalar passages.

Postcard #2: Sparkler by Dai Fujikura

A long-time resident of London, the prolific Dai Fujikura was born in born in Osaka, Japan. He has composed for traditional Japanese, Korean, and Chinese instruments as well as European period instruments and collaborated across multiple genres with renowned artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian. Awards include the Ivor Novello Award and the Silver Lion from the Venice Biennale.

  • Title: Sparkler
  • Composer: Dai Fujikura
  • Year Composed: 2020
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration: 5:33
  • Number of Pages: 5
  • Number of Measures: 158
  • Tempo: quarter = 42, 66, 72, 86 
  • Difficulty Level: high advanced/professional
  • Highest Position Reached: high thumb position
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor and treble clefs; 5/16, 3/8, 5/8, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 time signatures; double and quadruple stops; pizzicato and left-hand pizzicato; hammer ons, false harmonics, accidentals, tremolo, col legno battuto, and sul ponticello
  • Publisher: Ricordi
  • Where to Purchase: Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of Score*: $14.95


Program Notes

Sparkler was commissioned by cellist Hitomi Niikura and premiered on January 23rd, 2021, in Hakuju Hall in Tokyo, Japan.

Cellist’s Guide

It is not until viewing the score that the structure of this piece becomes apparent. Sparkler consists of a series of cleverly connected vignettes.  The opening incorporates col legno battuto, pizzicato, left-hand pizzicato, and short arco notes in 3/4 time.  This gives way to a section in 2/4 time, which adds ponticello to the previous mix.  The following statement, in 4th position, shifts into 5/8 time, which is followed by a segment in 4/4 time where false harmonics are introduced. Finally, after much frenetic activity and frequent time signature changes, the piece settles into a lyrical arco section, ending with long, false harmonics.

Postcard #3: Rio del Tizon by Yu-Hui Chang [Updated from April 2021 Postcard #3]

from the composer’s bio: Award-winning composer Yu-Hui Chang has written a wide range of music that compels and resonates with professional musicians and audiences alike. Her music is characterized by energy, precision, ingenious effects, and vibrant colors – all in the pursuit of a deep connection with humanity. She strives to break through cultural and stylistic boundaries, and to take an inclusive view of musical diversity. This attitude is manifested in the multifaceted quality of her compositional output, and the stylistic fluidity in her writing.

  • Title: Rio del Tizon
  • Composer: Yu-Hui Chang
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 6:30
  • Number of Measures: 97
  • Number of Pages: 5
  • Tempo: quarter = 64, 72, 82
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, treble clefs; 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/4 time signatures; grace notes, glissandos; harmonics; double stops; jeté, sul ponticello, sul tasto, pizzicato; triplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, septuplets
  • Where to Purchase the Score: contact composer –
  • Cost of the Score*: $25

Recording by the Composer

Performance Notes: 

“How does one capture the grandeur of the Grand Canyon with one cello?” was the question in my mind when Rhonda (Rider) asked me to write a piece for her Grand Canyon National Park residency concert. Very soon I realized that what amazes me the most about this spectacular place is how the Colorado River achieves the improbable with its quiet power of perseverance. Thus I wish to use my piece as a way to experience the Colorado River’s journey in space, and in time. Rio del Tizon (Firebrand River) is an old Spanish name for the lower Colorado River, which differentiates it from the other rivers which are also named Colorado. I also love the image that this name invokes of Native Americans carrying firebrands for warmth, giving me a sense of how the river and the canyon existed long before they became tourist attractions. –Yu-Hui Chang (Brandeis University)

Cellist’s Guide

Though Rio del Tizon is not incredibly physically challenging, the rhythm is quite complex. The length of the measures varies quite a bit, which is confusing to the eye, and I found myself marking beats with slash marks through much of the score.

Additionally, half the work is written in treble and tenor clefs, so a good command of all three clefs is a must for anyone wanting to learn this piece. Do not let this deter you; Rio del Tizon is a wonderful piece, and well worth learning. Kudos to Rhonda Rider for commissioning this work.

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