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Soul Music: Works for the Cello Inspired by Hebraic Themes – Part 2

Looking for unaccompanied cello music inspired by Hebraic themes? In collaboration with the London Cello Society, Selma Gokcen, Chair, here is Part 2 of our two-part series on the topic.

A Note from Selma Gokcen, Chair of the London Cello Society

“The following database arose as a collaborative effort between the London Cello Society (Selma Gokcen, Chair) and the Cello Museum in North Carolina (Brenda Neece, Curator).

The database expands on the theme of the Society’s May 2022 event at the Royal Academy of Music, Soul Music: Works for the Cello Inspired by Hebraic Themes. Both organisations shared the fruits of their research, and the Cello Museum expanded on this research to include important and more detailed information on manuscripts, editions, and performance notes.

The two contributors are Dr. Yuriy Leonovich (Part 1) and Erica Lessie (Part 2).

The London Cello Society extends its deepest thanks to the Cello Museum for this valuable contribution to the listing of cello repertoire. We also invite notice of further works which may have escaped our attention on this occasion, establishing a sort of ‘living database’ which can be added to in future years.”

– Selma Gokcen

Introduction to Part 2

Welcome to this special series of postcards focusing on unaccompanied works inspired by Hebraic themes to accompany the London Cello Society’s program, Soul Music: Works for the Cello inspired by Hebraic Themes. I hope you enjoy exploring these pieces as much as I did selecting them.

Want to know more about my previous digital postcards featuring pieces for unaccompanied cello? See my first installment for more information, then browse the previous postcards to discover (or rediscover) some amazing music.

Postcard #1: Ayala Asherov – Yizkor (2001, 2009)

Yizkor. “May He [God] remember.” These opening words to the Jewish memorial prayer are intended to renew and strengthen the connections between the living and those who have passed on. The phrase is also a call to action – after the service, the faithful should privately perform a charitable deed in this world to elevate the souls of the departed.


  • Title: Yizkor
  • Composer: Ayala Asherov
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Composed: 2001, 2009
  • Movements: 3 – Andante, Allegro, Lento
  • Duration of Work:
    • Andante – 1:53
    • Allegro – 1:36
    • Lento – 2:31
  • Number of Measures: 35, 34, 37
  • Number of Pages: 5
  • Tempo:
    • Andante – quarter = 56
    • Allegro – dotted quarter = 80, 66, 70
    • Lento – quarter = 48
  • Difficulty Level:
    • Andante – advanced
    • Allegro – late beginner/intermediate
    • Lento – advanced
  • Highest Position Reached:
    • Andante – thumb
    • Allegro – 6th
    • Lento – thumb
  • Technique Employed:
    • Andante -3/8, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 time signatures; bass, tenor, treble clefs; slurs, one double stop, thumb position, several challenging shifts
    • Allegro – 9/8, 12/8,15/8 time signatures; bass and tenor clefs; accidentals, slurs, one grace note, one triplet
    • Lento – 3/4 and 4/4 time signatures, bass, tenor, and treble clefs; double stops, triplets, 32nd notes, triplets
  • Publisher: Mixed Meter Publishing
  • Where to Find Score: J. W. Pepper
  • Cost of Score: $4.95* (digital download)





“Yizkor means ‘remembrance’ in Hebrew. It is Judaism’s memorial prayer (the voice that cries, the voice that is heard no more). I had written the movement ‘Lento’ in 2001 after the horrific events of 9/11. Later, in 2009, I added the ‘Allegro’ and ‘Andante’ to reflect what happened before this movement. However, the performer can play the movements in the order of his/her choice.” – Composer’s website


Both the Andante and Lento require familiarity with high thumb position and would therefore be considered advanced-level pieces. On the other hand, despite numerous accidentals, the Allegro would be manageable for the intermediate player.

As the composer suggests, the movements can be played in any order. It would be interesting to have two advanced and one intermediate player each take a movement and perform the work in succession in a studio recital.

Postcard #2: Elaine Fine – Sephardic Suite

The “Sephardic Suite” by Elaine Fine can be performed in its entirety or as individual movements.


  • Title: Sephardic Suite
  • Composer: Elaine Fine (1959- ), USA
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Composed: 2003
  • Movements: Introduction; Endecha: O Madre mia; Veil Dance
  • Duration of Work:
    • Introduction – 2’
    • Endecha: O Madre mia – 2:45
    • Veil Dance – 2:07)
  • Number of Measures: 44, 63, 68
  • Number of Pages: 5
  • Tempo:
    • Introduction – quarter note = 100
    • Endecha: O Madre mia – quarter note = 52
    • Veil Dance – quarter note = 112-120
  • Difficulty Level: comparable to Suzuki Book 9 and up
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb position
  • Technique Employed: bass and tenor clefs; left-hand pizzicato; double stops; 6/8, 7/8, 8/8, 9/8 time signatures
  • Publisher: Subito Music
  • Where to Purchase: Subito Music & Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of Sheet Music: $8.95*

RECORDING of 3rd Movement


A Sephardic dirge serves as the opening melody of the second movement.


I love this work. It is so well-written that, like the Bach Suites, it can be revisited time and again. This is a piece for the advanced player, both technically and musically. Double stops, thumb position, and rubato are employed in all movements, left-hand pizzicato appears in the Introduction, and frequent meter changes occur in the Veil Dance.

The Suite can be performed in its entirety or as individual movements. The Introduction and Endecha are somber and work nicely in place of Kol Nidrei for Yom Kippur, while Veil Dance is almost frenetic and suitable as an encore.

Postcard #3: Gabriella Lena Frank – Khazn’s Recitative: Elu D’vorim (2003)


  • Title: Khazn’s Recitative: Elu D’vorim
  • Composer: Gabriella Lena Frank
  • Instrumentation: originally for unaccompanied violin – transcription for unaccompanied cello
  • Year Composed: 2003
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 4’
  • Number of Measures: unmeasured
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: quarter note = 60
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: treble clef (transcription is in bass and tenor clefs); no meter; triplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, septuplets; grace notes; glissandos
  • Publisher: Schirmer
  • Where to Purchase: Wise Music Classical
  • Cost of Score: $9*

RECORDING (violin)


“As a little girl, I was enamored with the stories of an exotic Perú told by my mother and father — exotic, dangerous, appalling, funny… The music that my mother brought with her to the States upon leaving Perú and marrying Dad only enhanced my attraction to her culture.

But, I’m not Peruvian. Or, I should say — I’m not a pure-blooded Peruvian, born in the mother country. And while I represented the exotic gringo wing of the family to my maternal relatives, I was equally exotic to — and loved by — my paternal relatives. They still claimed, with great pride, their Jewish-Lithuanian heritage and I would see the musical evidence of such at weddings when Eastern European-derived klezmer songs would be performed.

The idea to write music that drew on both of my heritages came to me a few years ago one Christmas morning in the family home. The idea to write a piece of music painting scenes from the experiences of the Jewish-American closest to me, my father, in Perú. The result is Khazn’s Recitative: Elu D’vorim.

Contrary to my expectations, perhaps formed over the years from my exposure to the aforementioned family weddings I had attended, klezmer music did not loom large in my father’s heart. Rather, he spoke of being moved by the many renowned Jewish cantors (“khazn”) that would sing in New York synagogues at the time.

I played historic recordings of different cantors for Dad, and those that my father identified as sounding “right” to him belonged to Moshe Koussevitzky (1899-1966), a cantor who came from the same country as my father’s ancestors, Lithuania, and who sang in temples in the Bronx and Brooklyn during my father’s boyhood. Perceiving this to be no accident, this piece is in the style of Koussevitzky’s singing and utilizes Elu D’vorim (which he was famous for), sung on Shabbat. It is for solo violin only, as traditional cantor singing is done without accompaniment.” — Gabriela Lena Frank


The original violin score works quite well on the cello. Out of curiosity, I transcribed Khazn’s Recitative down a fifth, but I am not sure if I have a preference for either version. One of the reasons I transcribed the score was because the original version was unmetered. I feel that I was able to assign meters and measures to this recitative, but you may be the judge.

If you email me with a receipt of your score purchase, I will happily provide you with metered copies of Khazn’s Recitative at the original pitch and down a fifth.

Postcard #4: Erica Lessie – Nayn (2021)


  • Title: Nayn
  • Composer: Erica Lessie
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Composed: 2021
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 3:20
  • Number of Measures: 91
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: quarter = 120, 96
  • Difficulty Level: high beginner, comparable to late Suzuki Book 3
  • Highest Position Reached: 6th
  • Techniques Employed: bass clef; 4/4 time; trills; grace notes; triplets; 1st position double stops, pizzicato; left-hand pizzicato.
  • Where to Find Score: Email Erica
  • Cost of Score: $5.00* (download)



I have always been drawn to Jewish music, so it is not surprising that I frequently have Jewish-influenced melodies floating in my head. As I was writing this piece, the phrases or elements seemed to fall naturally into nine-bar segments. “Nayn” is the Yiddish word for nine and seemed an appropriate title for this work.


Nayn has something for players of all levels. I had a late beginning/intermediate cellist in mind when composing this piece, but advanced and professional players will find that Nayn will showcase their musicality. This work would be a nice recital piece for a beginning or intermediate player and a crowd-pleasing encore for an advanced or professional cellist.

Postcard #5: Ilya Levinson – Prayer (2006)


  • Title: Prayer
  • Composer: Ilya Levinson
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Composed: 2006
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 4:50
  • Number of Measures: 78
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: quarter note = 80
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate
  • Highest Position Reached: 6th
  • Technique Employed: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 time signatures; bass and tenor clefs; triplets and quintuplets; pizzicato, false harmonics, grace notes, glissandos, sul tasto, double stops, con sordino
  • Publisher: Ilya Levinson Music
  • Where to Purchase: Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of Score: $5.99*



“The principal motive of the Prayer is tonal in nature. In the course of the piece, it loses its tonal qualities and becomes more and more dissonant but ultimately returns to its tonal origins the same way as one’s mind would wander and eventually find stable ground in the process of spiritual enlightenment.” -Ilya Levinson


Prayer is appropriate for the advanced or professional cellist, as it leaves much room for showcasing one’s artistry. As it is neither showy nor lengthy, Prayer would make a lovely interlude on a program.

An intermediate player would have the technical ability to play this piece, and only five bars are in tenor clef, thus easing the cellist into an unfamiliar clef. The frequent meter changes and rhapsodic nature of Prayer might prove a bit challenging for a student but worth the effort.

A nice bonus is that the score is spaciously written with generously-sized notes, making it easier for middle-aged eyes to decipher.

Postcard #6: Aaron Minsky – Judaic Concert Suite


  • Title: Judaic Concert Suite
  • Composer: Aaron Minsky
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Published: 2004
  • Movements: Entrance of the Bride and Groom, Variations on “Adom Olam,” Sound the Shofar
  • Duration of Work: 4’, 4:50, 2:28
  • Number of Measures: 129, 74, 86
  • Number of Pages: 7
  • Tempo: half note = 50-58; quarter note = 84-96; half note = 88-96
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: 4/4, cut time; bass and treble clefs; double, triple, and quadruple stops; triplets and sextuplets; harmonics. tremolo, trills, glissandos
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Where to Purchase: Boosey & Hawkes
  • Cost of Score: $18.98*





“The Judaic Concert Suite combines two elements from the traditional cello repertoire. One element harks back to Ernest Bloch, well known for his short works for cello and piano based on Jewish themes. This suite, however, is for solo cello, and with its robust sound and use of counterpoint and chords, it is also in the tradition of the Bach Cello Suites. What is new is the use of modern melodies and rhythms and the way the three movements form a unified whole, musically and spiritually: musically, because they flow one into the other; spiritually, because they each portray a different aspect of a singular mystical view.

“Entrance of the Bride and Groom” portrays a traditional Jewish wedding. After the ceremony, the bride and groom go into seclusion while the guests mingle quietly. When the couple finally emerges and enters the reception hall, the guests break into wild song and dance, as if a king and queen had entered the room. Spiritually, the bridge and groom, united, are symbolic of the unification of God and mankind, so the dancing is also a form of prayer, demonstrating the hope that one day God and man will be one.

“Variations on Adon Olam” is a set of variations on one of the most famous melodies of the traditional Jewish liturgy. The words of the prayer speak of God as the “Lord of the universe, who reigned before anything was created,” and of a time when “after all things shall cease to be, the Awesome One will reign alone.” This mood of awe and timelessness is reflected in the musical variations.

“Sound the Shofar” begins with the call of the ram’s horn, known in Hebrew as the shofar. The shofar is blown during the Jewish High Holidays. Its soulful cry is believed to bring the listener closer to an experience of the divine. After dancing at the unification of God and man, and praying to the Lord of the Universe who exists beyond time, it is time for us to open our ears to the shofar and find our own path to the King who reigns over all humanity.”  — Aaron Minsky


Judaic Concert Suite lies really well in the hand and is instantly both rhythmically and melodically accessible. The work functions nicely as a cohesive unit but can also be played as individual movements.

“Entrance of the Bride and Groom” would be a good introduction to double stops and solidifying trills and triplets for intermediate players. This would make a good encore or recessional for a Jewish wedding for advanced and professional players.

The second movement is a bit more technically demanding, with many double stops, rapid string crossings, and 32nd note runs. These variations would be appropriate for high intermediate and advanced level players.

The final movement, “Sound of the Shofar,” would be good practice for anyone learning the Prelude to the 1st Bach Suite. The first and last sections have bariolage and rocking arpeggios, while the middle section consists purely of low position double stops.

Postcard #7: Serban Nichifor – Sephardic Prayer (2016)


  • Title: Sephardic Suite
  • Composer: Șerban Nichifor
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Composed: 2016
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 4:30
  • Number of Measures: 82
  • Number of Pages: 3
  • Tempo: quarter note = 60
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: 3/4 time signature; bass and treble clefs; harmonics; trills; triplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, and septuplets
  • Publisher: Serban Nichifor
  • Where to Purchase: Scribd
  • Cost of Score: free



This piece was composed for saxophonist David Hernando Vitores for the Haria Project, a 2018 album of new works for saxophone.

“HARIA is a project for revisiting & reinterpreting the Spanish tradition from a contemporary perspective.” — Haria Project website

As Nichifor is a cellist, he also created a version of the piece for solo cello.


When I come across the title of a piece unfamiliar to me, my first rule of thumb is to listen to a recording. A quick listen can root out many unfortunate compositions whose scores need not litter our shelves.

Because Sephardic Prayer is rhapsodic, I thought the score might be filled with challenging rhythms. I am happy to report that this is not the case. Advanced players will easily read the score, while intermediate cellists may need assistance counting and finding harmonics.

All of us will benefit from the many trills involving the fourth finger.

Postcard #8: George Perle – Hebrew Melodies (1945)


  • Title: Hebrew Melodies
  • Composer: George Perle
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Composed: 1945
  • Movements: Psalm 93, Cantillation
  • Duration of Work: 2:35, 3:14
  • Number of Measures: written without measure demarcation
  • Number of pages: 2
  • Tempo: Moderato
  • Difficulty level: advanced/professional
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: no time or key signatures; bass, tenor, and treble clefs; triple stops; grace notes; trills; triplets and quintuplets; many accidentals
  • Publisher: Theodore Presser
  • Where to Purchase: Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of Score: $6.99*




This piece was first performed on 24 January 1947 in New York by Seymour Barab.


The first thing to note is that Hebrew Melodies is written without measures or time signature. I considered rewriting the score in meter but quickly discovered that there was no clear way to do so, which is probably why he wrote free meter in the first place.

While Hebrew Melodies is technically not terribly demanding, I would consider it to be an advanced level piece do to the complex rhythm, multiple accidentals, and treble clef reaching the F# 1.5 octaves above middle C.

Postcard #9: Dan Reiter – Kaddish (1993)


  • Title: Kaddish
  • Composer: Dan Reiter
  • Year Composed: 1993
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 5:27
  • Number of Measures: 74
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: Moderato Rubato
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, treble clefs; no time signature, harmonics, left-hand pizzicato, double stops, glissandos
  • Publisher: Sheet Music Plus
  • Where to Purchase: Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of Score: $19.99 digital download*


Product Cover
look inside
Kaddish ( Prayer )
Composed by Daniel S. Reiter. 20th Century, Jewish, Sacred. Sheet Music Single. 4 pages. Dan Reiter #1. Published by Dan Reiter (S0.25952).


“Kaddish is a conversation between the Player and God. Questioning passages go unanswered. Anger, pleading and sadness also have no response. A feeling of resignation emerges. Perhaps the answers were always there hidden in the emotions. The final cadence leaves a reminder that we live with the questions forever.

Kaddish is a mourner’s prayer in the Jewish tradition. When played at Temple or as a memorial service, I use “Prayer” as the title, especially if the service is non-Jewish. Kaddish was first performed October 16th, 1993, on the day my father, Samuel Reiter, passed away. The piece is dedicated in loving memory to him.” — Dan Reiter


What makes this an advanced level piece is not the use of treble clef or thumb position per se, but the frequent appearance of double stops, particularly fourths and fifths, as well as left-hand pizzicato.

If you have read to this point, you will have noticed that this piece is written without a time signature. Do not panic, as Dan Reiter has solved this in a brilliant manner. There are indeed bar lines, but the measures vary in the number of beats ranging from 1/4 to 10/4 per measure, with the quarter note getting the beat throughout. The constantly changing meter would have been more of a distraction than not having a meter at all, and the score is relatively easy to read as it is written. Bravo!

Postcard #10: David Sanford – Seventh Avenue Kaddish (2001)


  • Title: Seventh Avenue Kaddish
  • Composer: David Sanford
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Composed: 2001
  • Movements: I, II, III, IV
  • Duration of Work: 7’
  • Number of Measures: unmeasured, 32, 84, 28
  • Number of Pages: 9
  • Tempo: quarter note = 80, quarter note = 140, quarter note = 140, quarter note = 68
  • Difficulty Level: professional
  • Highest Position Reached: high thumb position
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, and treble clefs; no time signature as well as 12/8, 4/4 times signatures; sul tasto, sul ponticello, and col legno battuto; pizzicato; grace notes, trills, double stops, tremolo
  • Publisher: Oxingale Music
  • Where to Purchase: Oxingale Music
  • Cost of Score: $20 pdf, $25 hard copy*



Program Notes:

Written for cellist Matt Haimovitz after the tragedies of 9/11, David Sanford’s Seventh Avenue Kaddish places the cellist near ground zero, playing on the streets of New York as buildings collapse, debris blinds, dust suffocates. Yet the street musician continues to wail because that is all he can do. The form of the piece is inspired by the four parts of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” – “Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and “Psalm.”

In Sanford’s words:

“Seventh Avenue Kaddish was written to express simultaneously the point of view of a cantor, a jazz visionary, a street musician, and/or a concert cellist. They share the perhaps incorrect sense that their only tenable position in the face of catastrophic events is to soldier on as entertainers and/or professional mourners.” — Program notes in the score


Upon listening, I found this piece intriguing and original, but I couldn’t make sense of its form or rhythm. A cursory glance at the score led me to temporarily walk away from the music stand (the manuscript is handwritten with some complex rhythms), but while following the score AND listening to the music, the piece came alive for me.

The work is written in four short movements, which are played attacca. The beginning is written without a time signature (which I always find disconcerting) but the remainder is written in 12/8 and 4/4 time. With the exception of the first movement, which is a bit thorny to read, the initially scary-looking passages are just quintuplet and sextuplet sixteenth-note passages.

This definitely is a piece for an experienced player, and I am itching to get some good fingerings in the score and give it some serious attention. I have the sneaking suspicion that this piece will get under my skin.

Soul Music Event in London

Soul Music - London Cello Soceity Event May 2022

Works for the Cello inspired by Hebraic Themes
with cellists Robert Max and Raphael Wallfisch

Sunday, 8 May 2022 | 11.00 AM – 6.00 PM

Royal Academy of Music

Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

Thank You

We are thrilled to work on this project with the London Cello Society. It has been a great pleasure to work with Selma Gokcen. Enormous thanks to her for making this happen and for all of her guidance and hard work.

Thank you, Stacey Krim at the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro (UNCG), for your patience, thoroughness, and speed in providing us with materials for this article. Learn more about the archives here.

Your Turn

What are your favorite cello works inspired by Hebraic themes? What would you add to the list? Please let us know in the comments.

Looking for cello and piano or cello and orchestra works inspired by Hebraic themes? Be sure to check out Part 1 by Dr. Yuriy Leonovich.

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