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

Trying to find unaccompanied cello music by women composers? Look no further.
Each month, cellist and women’s music specialist, Erica Lessie, sends us three short “postcards” about pieces of three different levels: novice, intermediate student, and seasoned player.
Blank postcard and stamps of varying amounts

Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay

Here is the April 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.

Pink rose in full bloom atop a handwritten postcard

Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

April Postcard #1: Novice Level

Originally dedicated to cellist Carmine Miranda, this meditative new composition is appropriate for students at a high beginner level (comparable to the latter part of Suzuki Book 3).

  • Title: Resolves
  • Composer: Rain Worthington
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: about 5:30
  • Number of Measures: 72
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: Andante
  • Difficulty Level: high beginner, comparable to late Suzuki Book 3
  • Highest Position Reached: 6th
  • Technique Employed: bass clef; 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 time signatures; double stops; grace notes; tremolo; glissando; accidentals
  • Where to Find Score: Sheet Music Plus 
  • Cost of Score: $4.50 digital download*

Recording: World premiere of “Resolves” performed by cellist, Roger Morelló Ros

Cellist’s Guide

Though Resolves is not technically demanding (except for two double stops), it is musically sophisticated. For that reason, I think that cellists of all levels will find something of value in this piece.

Experienced beginners will gain new skills from practicing double stops, frequent time signature changes, and abundant accidentals, while advanced players can showcase their ability to play fluidly and expressively.

April Postcard #2: Intermediate Level

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and cello music have a new champion in Caitlin Foster. Arising out of the composer’s own journey from creative wilderness to a triumphant return of the muse, “Usinien I Mornië” allows the performer to explore a diverse emotional landscape, ranging from heavy darkness to hopeful light.

  • Title: Usunien I Mornië – Escaping The Darkness
  • Composer: Caitlin Foster
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 6:40
  • Number of Measures: 138
  • Number of Pages: 5
  • Tempo: quarter = 63-132
  • Difficulty Level: late intermediate, comparable to Suzuki Book 5
  • Highest Position Reached: 6th, with 1bar of thumb position
  • Technique Employed: bass & tenor clef; 3/8, 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4 time signatures; grace notes; double, triple, and quadruple stops; harmonics; pizzicato; left-hand pizzicato; glissandos; triplets, sextuplets, nonuplets
  • Where to Purchase the Score: Sheet Music Plus
  • Cost of the Score: $4.99*

Recording feat. Nathan Cottrell:

Performance Notes

“Usinien I Mornië is translated “Escaping The Darkness” from J.R.R. Tolkien’s elvish language, Quenya. Some backstory is  necessary to explain the inspirations behind the piece and the origin of the title. At the end of my junior year in college, I found myself in a creative wilderness. The stress of academia and a dark season of emotional turmoil slowly began to take their toll on my musical creativity. I dreaded sitting at the piano to compose because every note I penned seemed to die from lack of inspiration. The first week of my senior year I stepped into a practice room to begin a cello piece – semi-optimistic but also terrified that I would find myself yet again in a place where it seemed I could no longer write music. The opening line popped into my mind almost immediately and I excitedly transcribed what I could “hear” onto paper. As I continued writing and the nature of the work began to unveil itself, I slowly realized that it was a musical reflection of my journey out of the creative and emotional darkness I had experienced at the start of the year. The versatility of the cello and flexibility of an unaccompanied piece was the perfect means to express what I had been feeling. The dramatic, heavy chords and double stops provide an audible source of emotional weight. Yet hope, though faint and allusive, can be glimpsed in the brief lyrical section. The motif of the fast, rhythmic sections strain to break free from the drone-like, open string double stops. To close, Usinien I Mornië is a personal narrative of my escape from the grip of creative necrosis.” – Caitlin Foster

Cellist’s Guide

This lively and passionate piece would be ideal for the late intermediate player. The majority of this five-page work is written in bass clef, with only ten bars in tenor clef.

There are double stops throughout, but none are terribly challenging and most occur in the lower positions. Single-note and chordal pizzicato, as well as Bartok pizzicato and left-hand pizzicato, are introduced in the middle section. Finally, staccato playing in alternating 7/8 and 5/8 bars is presented in the outer sections of the piece.

April Postcard #3: Advanced Level

The vast, challenging expanse of the Grand Canyon calls for a solo cello piece that covers the full range of musical notation and performance techniques.

This contemporary work by Yu-Hui Chang, commissioned for Rhonda Rider’s Grand Canyon National Park residency concert, evokes the natural wonder of the canyon from the river’s perspective, anchoring the listener in the timeless perseverance flowing through the water and the music.

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