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

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” about pieces of three different levels: novice, intermediate student, and seasoned player.
Red post box on stone wall in England.

Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay

Here is my August 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.

August Postcard #1: Novice Level

Although these are August postcards, September is just around the corner, bringing the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Thus, it is fitting that this first postcard highlights a piece with a decidedly Jewish musical influence. See the program notes, below, for additional background information about this composition, and be sure to listen to the recording.

Composition Details

  • Title: Nayn
  • Composer: Erica Lessie
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • 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)


Program Notes

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.

Cellist’s Guide

Nayn has something for players of all levels. When composing this piece, I had a late beginning/intermediate cellist in mind, 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.

August Postcard #2: Intermediate Level

Gwyneth Walker’s “The Green Mountains” takes its inspiration from the composer’s home of Vermont – the Green Mountain State. This piece opens with a lyrical reflection of the beauty of the natural landscape before delving deeper into a lively take on the unseen energies of the place and the spirit of the people who call it home. I’ve uploaded a recording of the first movement. I encourage ambitious intermediate cellists to have a listen before you give it a go and make it your own.

Composition details

  • Title: The Green Mountains
  • Composer: Gwyneth Walker
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 4
  • Duration of Work: Total 15:30
    • 1. The Land: 3:40
    • 2. The Life: 3:45
    • 3. The Spirit: 4:00
    • 4. Mountain Music: 4:00
  • Number of Measures:
    • 1st mvmt 113
    • 2nd mvmt 129
    • 3rd mvmt 82
    • 4th mvmt 185
  • Number of Pages: 9
  • Tempo: mostly quarter or half note over 100
  • Difficulty Level: mostly intermediate, with a few advanced passages
  • Highest Position Reached:
    • 1st mvmt – 5th
    • 2nd mvmt – thumb
    • 3rd mvmt – thumb
    • 4th mvmt – 6th
  • Techniques Employed:
    • 1st mvmt – bass clef, triplets, glissandos, double stops, left hand
      pizzicato, grace notes, harmonics
    • 2nd mvmt -bass & treble clefs, tremolo, triplets, pizzicato, tapping,
      ponticello, harmonics, double stops
    • 3rd mvmt – bass & treble clefs, double stops, triplets, pizzicato,
    • 4th mvmt – bass clef, tremolo, double stops, instrument tapping,
      pizzicato, strumming, finger flicks, foot tapping
  • Where to Find Score: Download it here.
  • Cost of Score: free

Recording of “The Land” (first movement):

Performance Notes

“The open countryside of a rural New England landscape presents imagery and feelings perhaps well-suited to musical expression by a solo cello. Qualities of solitude and introspection are shared elements. The wide range of the cello captures the breadth of panorama. And most importantly, there is a beautiful quality of peacefulness associated with solo cello music – the peace of an uncluttered environment.” – Gwyneth Walker

Cellist’s Guide

This suite is a lovely tribute to the composer’s home state of Vermont. The Green Mountains has a contemporary American feel that is completely tonal, yet employs several 21st-century techniques. The composition may be played as individual movements or as a suite and is suited to both intermediate and advanced players.

August Postcard #3: Advanced Level

Inspired by the tragedy of disadvantaged and mistreated children around the world, Scottish cellist Robert Irvine commissioned this piece from Australian-born/UK-based composer Jane Stanley as part of a collection of 18 new works for solo cello. Stanley’s most recent pieces feature delicate ornamental textures and agile, virtuosic writing to showcase the nuanced and distinct characteristics of each instrument. This work for solo cello is deceptively complex, requiring the high-intermediate or low-advanced performer to transcend the written notes and meter and transform them into musical art.

Composition details

  • Title: Winter Song
  • Composer: Jane Stanley
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 3:36
  • Number of Measures: 46
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: quarter note = 68
  • Difficulty level: low advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Techniques Employed: tenor and treble clef; 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 5/4 time signatures; pizzicato; harmonics; triplets; grace notes.
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Where to Find Score: Theodore Front Musical Literature
  • Cost of Score: $5.67* (download)

Recording featuring cellist Robert Irvine:  Click here and scroll down (5th on the list).

Performance Notes: 

“‘Winter Song’ is a short piece embracing the lyrical, expressive qualities of the cello. It unfolds as a sustained melody, mostly in the instrument’s high register. This is contrasted by intermittent pizzicato tones and presentation of somber low register sonorities at the end.” – Jane Stanley

Cellist’s Guide

Cellist’s Guide: Much of this spare and haunting piece would certainly be manageable for a high intermediate cellist, but a few bars are tricky to count and a couple of measures in thumb position. The main skills necessary to perform this piece successfully are a good vibrato and a well-developed sense of musicality, which tend to be developed after years of playing.

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