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That’s What She Said – October 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.


Blue Mailbox on Brick Wall

Image by Stefan Hoffmann from Pixabay

Here is my October 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.

October Postcard #1:

This first postcard takes a deep historical turn (highlighting the fact that women composers are not a recent phenomenon). Hildegard von Bingen, considered a patron saint of musicians and writers, is perhaps best known in the music world for her monophonic chant works (the dominant style of liturgical music in the Middle Ages), many of which were recorded in the Symphonia Armonie Celestium Revelationum. Although von Bingen intended these pieces to be sung, they are equally remarkable when given voice by the cello.

Composition Details

  • Title: Responsory fol. 476 1a-4a
  • Composer: Hildegard von Bingen (c. 1098 – 17 September 1179)
  • Transcriber:  Erica Lessie
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 4
  • Duration of Work: short, but will vary depending on the tempo you choose
  • Number of Measures: 20, 15, 15, 26
  • Number of Pages: 4
  • Tempo: whatever speed you choose
  • Difficulty Level: beginner or advanced, depending on the version
  • Highest Position Reached: 4th position without the open C drone, thumb position with the C drone
  • Techniques Employed: bass clef, grace notes, accidentals, double stops (when playing with the drone)
  • Publisher: Erica Lessie
  • Where to Find Score: Email Erica
  • Cost of Score: free PDF


Program Notes

I happened to hear a Templar “Salve Regina” with a low bass drone. I loved the sound of the drone, which inspired me to look for a medieval piece that could be set to the drone of the cello C string. I chose this collection of works and changed the key and range of the pieces so that they could be played in a double-stop fashion with the bottom open string of the cello.

Cellist’s Guide

When played with the C drone, the “melody” must be played in neck and thumb position on the G string, making this an advanced piece. High beginners can play the piece in the lower positions by leaving out the drone or having a friend play the open C string or a C on the piano throughout.

October Postcard #2:

Born in the Soviet Union (Tashkent, in modern-day Uzbekistan), trained in Germany, and now one of Australia’s preeminent composers, Elena Kats-Chernin’s unique sound is a reflection of the many places she has called home. Or, as she put it, “Basically it’s like cooking – you put all the Russian composers into one pot, and they’re all in there in my music somewhere. I can’t pick up who exactly – it could be Mussorgsky too, it could be Maszcovski, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov. It’s very subconscious; I prefer it to be subconscious. I don’t want to know until once the piece is finished; then I can say ‘mm, that influence came in,’ but I try not to think about these things analytically when I’m writing. like it to be streaming through the body, through the mind, into the paper.”

Composition details

  • Title: Patina
  • Composer: Elena Kats-Chernin
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 7′
  • Number of Measures: 154
  • Number of Pages: 4
  • Tempo: quarter = 108-116
  • Difficulty Level: High Intermediate/Advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Techniques Employed: 4/4 time; bass clef and 1 note in tenor clef and 1 note in treble clef; pizzicato; left-hand pizzicato; double stops; harmonics; ricochet; glissandos; sul ponticello; tremolo
  • Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
  • Cost of Score: $9.52*


Program Notes

Patina was commissioned by Jane Peters for solo violin in 2001 with the assistance of the Australia Council and was revised by Molly Kadarauch for solo cello in 2017.

Cellist’s Guide

I would consider most of this piece to be manageable for the intermediate player, however, there are a number of double stops and a couple of high notes that are definitely advanced level. I think a more advanced player could help an intermediate cellist with creative fingering to make the double stops playable. This is such a pretty piece that I wouldn’t let a few technical challenges get in the way of learning Patina.

October Postcard #3:

French composer Monique Gabus was a prolific creator of symphonies, chorales, and chamber music. She studied at the Paris Conservatory, but fragile health caused her to shift her emphasis from performance to composition. “Déploration pour une amie défunte” (“Lamentation for a deceased friend”) may not be widely known or performed, but the lyrical turns of this hauntingly melancholy melody make this piece an excellent addition for any advanced cellist (or cello music enthusiast of any level) seeking to expand their repertoire.

Composition details

  • Title: Déploration pour une amie défunte
  • Composer: Monique Gabus (15 March 1924 – 11 July 2011)
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Duration of Work: 5′
  • Number of Measures: 57
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: quarter note = 42, dotted quarter note = 56
  • Difficulty level: low advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: high thumb position
  • Techniques Employed:6/8, 9/8, 12/8, 15/8, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 time signatures; bass, tenor, and treble clefs; triplets; E#s and A#s
  • Where to Find Score: J.W. Pepper
  • Cost of Score: $10.05*


Program Notes: 

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Anne-Marie Azambre.

Cellist’s Guide

This piece is rhythmically straightforward, despite the frequent changes in time signature. What makes the work challenging, is the passages in high thumb position, as there is nowhere to hide from a bad shift. Additionally, a mature sense of artistry is needed to execute “Déploration pour une amie défunte” convincingly.

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