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Postcards from Erica – May 2024

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

May 2024 Postcards from Erica

This month, I’m sending you the third 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: Wild Rice by Elena Kats-Chernin

Elena Kats-Chernin was born in the city of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, a central Asian nation (formerly a Soviet republic) that is home to many sites along the Silk Road, an ancient trading route that connected Mediterranean countries to China. Her musical style is an amalgam of her Jewish heritage as well as her experience living in many different places, including Germany, Austria, and Australia. She has composed for nearly every theatrical outlet, including ballet, theater, opera, orchestra, film, and also works for vocal and instrumental soloists and ensembles.

  • Title: Wild Rice
  • Composer: Elena Kats-Chernin
  • Year Composed: 1996
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration: 7:30
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Number of Measures: 144
  • Tempo: not indicated
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: high thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass and treble clefs, 4/4 time signature, harmonics, grace notes, pizzicato, tremolo, glissandos, double stops, octaves, trills, ricochet, col legno battuto, sul ponticello
  • Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
  • Where to Purchase: Boosey & Hawkes
  • Cost of Score*: 4.49 GBP

Recording

Program Notes

Dedicated to and first performed by David Pereira.  Written during the composer’s time at Peggy Glanville-Hicks House, Paddington, NSW.

Cellist’s Guide

This haunting piece is based on a delightful earworm, which appears in various permutations. Kats-Chernin uses a variety of false harmonics, trills, and modern bow techniques to provide texture throughout the work.

Wild Rice is cleverly composed. There are multi-octave leaps in pitch, which are really executed within one position, due to the use of harmonics. This piece was obviously written with a good understanding of the fingerboard and with the cellist’s technical comfort in mind. Brava!

Postcard #2: Mongolian Suite by Lei Liang

American composer Lei Liang was born in China and currently serves as the Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego. A reviewer in the New York Times described his compositions as “hauntingly beautiful and sonically colorful.” Since 2018, he has also been the Artistic Director of the Chou Wen-chung Music Research Center in China. Several of his compositions are musical reflections of social issues, including trafficking, violence, and environmental awareness. In 2023, together with the Qualcomm Institute, he launched the “Lei Lab” to collaborate with engineers, geologists, oceanographers and software developers, to explore what Liang calls “the unique potential for learning offered by creative listening.”

  • Title: Mongolian Suite
  • Composer: Lei Liang
  • Year Composed: 2022
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 6
  • Duration: 16:00
  • Number of Pages: 9
  • Number of Measures: 26, 30, 21, 57, 50, 47
  • Tempo: quarter = 60, 40, 46, 54, 56, 52
  • Difficulty Level: varying by movement,  from late beginner to advanced
  • Highest Position Reached:
    • I. Tongliano Mountain – 4th
    • II. Where Is Home? – 6th
    • III. Chifeng Mountain – 6th
    • IV. Mother and Daughter – 6th
    • V. Yin Shan Dance – 6th
    • VI. Feng – thumb position
  • Technique Employed: 
    • I. Tongliano Mountain – bass clef, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 time signatures, glissandos
    • II. Where Is Home? bass clef, 5/8, 9/8, 2/4, 3/4 time signatures
    • III. Chifeng Mountain – bass and tenor clefs, 3/4, time signature, glissandoes, sul tasto
    • IV. Mother and Daughter – bass and tenor clefs, 7/8. 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4 time signatures; grace noters, glissandos, false harmonics
    • V. Yin Shan Dance – bass clef, 7/16, 3/8, 5/8, 2/4, 3/4 time signatures; glissandos, double stops, pizzicato, Bartok pizzicato, left hand string slapping, staccato
    • VI. Feng – bass, tenor, and treble clefs; 7/16, 9/16, 13/16, 15/16, 17/16, 3/8, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4 time signatures glissandos, grace notes, double stops, pizzicato
  • Publisher: Schott
  • Where to Purchase: Theodore Front Musical Literature, Inc.
  • Cost of Score*: $20.20

Recording

I. Tongliano Mountain

II. Where Is Home?

III. Chifeng Mountain

IV. Mother and Daughter

V. Yi Shan Dance

VI. Feng

Program Notes

“Mongolian Suite is a collection of Inner Mongolian songs, both arranged and imagined.  Having studied with the renowned scholar Wulalji since my childhood, I learned songs that sing of mother’s love, friendship, courage, skies, stars, horses, mountains, and grassland; I learned about home and what it means to be away from home – something we can all relate to.  These songs have a special place in my heart.” – Lei Liang

Cellist’s Guide

As the composer indicates on the front page of the score, the Mongolian Suite can be performed as a suite or as individual pieces. The advanced player may choose to play several movements or the complete suite on a recital, while beginning and intermediate cellists may choose one of the movements that fit their levels.

  • I. Tongliao Mountain would be appropriate for the late beginner. The majority of the piece can be played in third and fourth position, and because it is in the key of f minor, the player will gain experience playing extensions with flats. The rhythm is tricky, so beginning cellists should seek help from a teacher. This would be a good choice for those who have played Minuet No. 3 from Suzuki Book 3.
  • II. Where Is Home? can be played almost entirely in third and fourth position, with a few notes in sixth position. The rhythm shifts among a variety of time signatures and would be good practice for the late intermediate/advanced player.
  • III. Chifeng Mountain is written in bass and tenor clef and introduces complex triplets.
  • IV. Mother and Daughter is for the late intermediate/early advanced player who is ready to learn false harmonics in tenor clef. There are definitely some advanced rhythms in this one.
  • V. Yin Shan Dance, while written in bass clef, is an advanced-level piece. There are sixteenth-note triplets and thirty-second notes, which require a quick left hand.  Additionally, there is ricochet bowing, and the time signature alternates among 2/4 and 5/5, 2/4 and 7/16, and 2/4 and 3/8 time signatures.
  • VI. Feng is for the advanced cellist. The rhythm is challenging, and the player must be able to play in thumb position on the D string and high A string. Additionally, the piece is written mostly in tenor and treble clefs.

Postcard #3: Suite for Solo Cello by Thomas Oboe Lee

Thomas Oboe Lee was born in China and came to the United States by way of Brazil where his musical education began during a resurgence of popular interest in Bossa Nova music, leading him to an early career as a jazz flutist. He has been a member of the music faculty at Boston University since 1990. His more than 200 compositions include nine symphonies, fifteen concertos for solo instruments, eighteen string quartets, a two-act chamber opera, over sixty choral works and song cycles, and numerous solo and chamber works.

  • Title: Suite for Solo Cello
  • Composer: Thomas Oboe Lee
  • Year Composed: 2014, revised 2015
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 7
  • Duration: 16:50
  • Number of Pages: 19
  • Number of Measures: 584
  • Tempo: half = 54; quarter = 100; dotted quarter = 60; quarter = 52; quarter = 168; half = 52; dotted quarter = 138
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, and treble clef; 3/8, 6/8, 9/8, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 2/2, and 3/2 time signatures; double stops, thirty-second notes, numerous accidentals
  • Publisher: Departed Feathers Music
  • Where to Purchase: Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of Score*: $8.99

Recording

Program Notes

“I met Jan Müller-Szeraws through Andrés Díaz back in the ’90s… Since then, Jan has participated in a number of performances of my work, including my String Quartet No. 12 … The Seasons (2010). Most recently, he premiered with colleagues in the Boston area my piano quintet, Pq2 … (2014). Suite for Solo Cello (2014) is dedicated to him. My work is modeled after J. S. Bach’s Six Suites for unaccompanied cello. The sequence of movements in my Suite is similar to that inBach’s …

  1. Fantasia … Moderato
  2. Allemande … Allegro
  3. Courante … Allegretto
  4. Sarabande … Adagio
  5. Minuet … Allegretto
  6. Arioso … Adagio
  7. Gigue … Presto

Enjoy!!!”  – Thomas Oboe Lee

Cellist’s Guide

The opening movement of the Suite has a contemporary feel, which gives way to traditional dances with a modern harmonic bent.  The slow movements are interspersed with and contrast nicely with an Allemande, a Courante, a Minuet, and a Gigue. These faster dances are marked with rapid tempos, which I feel could be relaxed a bit.

Because there are so many accidentals in this piece, even the professional player will find this Suite to be a good technical workout. This is really a blast to play.

If, like I do, you enjoy mid-century harmony mixed with Baroque dances, this may be the piece for you.



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