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That’s What She Said – November 2021 Postcards from Erica

Trying to find unaccompanied cello music by women composers? Look no further.
Cellist and women’s music specialist, Erica Lessie, is back this month with three short “postcards.” These are curated pieces for three different levels: novice, intermediate student, and seasoned player.

Here is my November 2021 installment of “That’s What She Said . . . Unaccompanied Cello Works by Women Composers.” 

I hope you enjoy exploring this month’s pieces as much as I did selecting them. Want to know more about my digital postcards? See my first installment for more information, then browse the series archive to discover (or rediscover) some amazing music.

November Postcard #1:

Multi-talented violinist, violist, arranger, and computer programmer Wanda Sobieska wrote this piece for violin in 2012. Originally hailing from Warsaw, Poland, Sobieska is part of the fifth generation of a family of musicians (and musicologists). She clearly drew on her deep roots as well as her own years of classical education and training to produce this delightful composition that I recently transcribed for solo cello.

Composition Details

  • Title: Andantino
  • Composer: Wanda Sobieska
  • Transcriber: Erica Lessie
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: ~1:47
  • Number of Measures: 39
  • Number of Pages: 1
  • Tempo: not specified
  • Difficulty Level: late beginner/early intermediate
  • Highest Position Reached: 5th
  • Techniques Employed: bass clef; 6/8 time signature; accidentals; pizzicato; one triple stop, two quadruple stops; slurs
  • Publisher: Wanda Sobieska
  • Where to Find Score: Email Erica; for other works by Sobieska, go to freegigmusic.com
  • Cost of Score: free PDF

Recording:

Program Notes

This was originally written for violin in 2012 and transcribed for cello by Erica Lessie in 2021 with the permission of Wanda Sobieska. Find her other works and arrangements here.

Cellist’s Guide

Though recently composed, this delightful piece is written in the classical style. It is rare to find a solo cello work in this genre, so definitely add it to your repertoire list.

Students can use this piece to perfect playing four 16ths to a bow, double up bows at the balance point, and shifting into neck position.

Though technically accessible for the late beginner/early intermediate player, this would be a nice piece for professionals to add to solo cello gigs as well.

November Postcard #2:

This second selection is a hidden gem that is rarely performed and would make a fantastic addition to any cellist’s repertoire. German pianist and composer Ilse Fromm-Michaels launched her career as a concert pianist around age 20 (though she had been composing since age 8). According to her son, clarinettist Jost Michaels, she first showed a preference for playing pieces by contemporary musicians, such as Pfitzner, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Bartók and Kodály; some of this influence is reflected in her Suite. After suffering great hardship before and during WWII, she mainly shifted her focus to teaching piano starting in the late 1940s. In 1959, she was the first woman elected to the ‘Freie Akademie der Künste’ (Free Academy of the Arts) in Hamburg.

Composition details

  • Title: Suite for Violoncello Solo, Op. 15 (1931)
  • Composer: Ilse Fromm-Michaels (30 December 1888 – 22 January 1986)
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: Prelude, Boureé, Gavotte, Aria, Gigue
  • Duration of Work: (Prelude 5’), (Boureé 2:30), (Gavotte 2:50), (Aria 4:35), (Gigue 2:50)
  • Number of Measures: 37, 40, 64, 26, 44
  • Number of Pages: 9
  • Tempo: quarter = 108-116
  • Difficulty Level: see techniques employed for each movement (below)
  • Highest Position Reached: see techniques employed for each movement (below)
  • Techniques Employed: 
    • Prelude – 6/4 time signature; bass, tenor & treble clefs; accidentals; a few notes in thumb position – high intermediate level / low advanced
    • Boureé – 4/4 time signature; bass clef,; triplets; one quintuplet; accidentals; 1st-6th positions – intermediate level
    • Gavotte – 4/4 time signature; bass and treble clefs; triplets; quadruple stops; pizzicato; accidentals; 1st-5th positions – intermediate level
    • Aria – 3/2 time signature; bass and treble clefs; triplets; grace notes; accidentals – low advanced level
    • Gigue – 6/8 time signature, bass, tenor, and treble clefs; accidentals – advanced level
  • Publisher: Sikorski
  • Where to Purchase Score: all-sheetmusic.com
  • Cost of Score: 8,50 Euros*

Recording of three of the movements:

Program Notes

“Ilse Fromm-Michaels was born in Hamburg and showed musical talent at an early age. She studied music in Berlin, first at the Hochschule für Musik with Heinrich van Eyken for composition and with Marie Bender for piano. In 1905 she began study at the Sternsche Conservatory of Hans Pfitzner and James Kwast and completed her studies in 1913 with conductor and composer Fritz Steinbach and pianist Carl Friedberg in Cologne.

In 1908 Fromm-Michaels began a career as a concert pianist, often playing her own works. She married Hamburg judge Dr. Walter Michaels, and after the Nuremberg Race Laws were instituted by the Nazis was banned from performing or publishing her compositions. She continued teaching music, and after World War II established the Hamburg First School of Music and Drama.” – Wikipedia

Cellist’s Guide

Unfortunately, this marvelous work is little known. Like the six Bach Suites, the five movements of the Suite for Violoncello Solo op.15 are baroque dance forms. Three of the movements, Bourreé, Gavotte, and Gigue, have slightly dissonant but tonal harmonies and lively rhythm, while the Prelude and Aria are atonal and expansive.

The technical difficulty of the dances ranges from intermediate to advanced level and can be played individually or as a whole.

November Postcard #3:

American composer Lauren Bernofsky has a wide-ranging portfolio that includes solo, chamber, and choral music as well as larger-scale works for orchestra, film, musical, opera, and ballet. This particular piece for solo cello is reminiscent of the strumming techniques and rhythmic patterns associated with flamenco dance, beautifully showcasing the lush, sensual lyricism of this Spanish folk musical idiom.

Composition details

  • Title: Fandango
  • Composer: Lauren Bernofsky
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 5:32
  • Number of Measures: 78
  • Number of Pages: 5
  • Tempo: not indicated
  • Difficulty level: advanced/ professional
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb position
  • Techniques Employed: 5/8, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8 times signatures; bass, tenor, and treble clefs; pizzicato; left-hand pizzicato; ricochet; duplets, triplets, and quintuplets; grace notes; trills; double stops
  • Publisher: Theodore Presser
  • Where to Find Score: Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of Score: $8.99*

Recording:

Cellist’s Guide

Fandango opens with a Lento cadenza, which gradually leads to the dominant Animato section, and ends with a brief secondary Lento and a tempo. In addition to tempo changes, Bernofsky uses double stops, left-hand pizzicato, frequent time signature changes, and shifting rhythms to full effect.

Due to the fast flourishes and frequent use of double stops, sometimes while simultaneously plucking with the left hand, this is definitely an advanced/professional level piece.


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*Prices are accurate at the time of article publication, but The Cello Museum cannot take responsibility for subsequent price changes.

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