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That’s What She Said – Postcards from Erica January 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.
Vintage color postcards

Photo by Becky Phan on Unsplash

Welcome to the first installment for 2021 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 in selecting them. Want to know more about my digital postcards? See my first installment for more information.

Letter slot in pink wall

Photo by ål nik on Unsplash

January Postcard #1: Novice Level

Looking for a fun beginner’s level solo piece? Check out Ilse de Ziah’s “Cello Boogie No. 1” inspired by old-style boogie-woogie piano playing and blues guitar riffs.

    • Title: Cello Boogie No. 1
    • Composer: Ilse de Ziah
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2020
    • Movements: 1
    • Duration of Work: 2:40
    • Number of Measures: 98
    • Number of Pages: 2
    • Tempo: quarter note = 160
    • Difficulty Level: beginner, comparable to Suzuki late Book 3/early Book 4
    • Highest Position Reached:4th, with one 6th position note
    • Technique Employed: double stops, a few triple stops, 1 quadruple stop, accidentals, tremolo, grace notes, left-hand pizzicato, glissandos, slurs, accents, triplets, bass clef, 4/4 time signature
    • Where to Purchase:
    • Cost of Sheet Music*: 6 euros (digital download)
    • Recording by the composer:

Performance Notes

From the composer’s Play Cello website:

“Cello Boogie No.1 is a fun piece for all you cellists longing to play some Boogie Woogie and Blues.

It’s inspired by old-style boogie-woogie piano players and blues guitar riffs, adapted to the cello. A great way to incorporate some blues-influenced sounds into your playing.

You can play this piece at any tempo, with a straight or swung feel. You can experiment with changing accents, and the cadenzas at the end can be played at any speed and can be expanded and improvised.”

Cellist’s Guide

Though this piece reaches neck position, the majority of notes can be played in 1st position.

Cello Boogie No. 1 is a good exercise in chromatic playing between 1/2 and extended 1st positions and may serve as an introduction to 1st position double stops.

Additionally, the frequent two and three-note slurs are good bow distribution practice for beginning-intermediate cellists.

January Postcard #2: Intermediate Level

“Varsha” (Rain) by Reena Esmail is a piece that intermediate, advanced and professional players alike will enjoy.

    • Title: Varsha (Rain)
    • Composer: Reena Esmail
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2019
    • Movements: 1
    • Duration of Work: 5′
    • Number of Measures: 57
    • Number of Pages: 2
    • Tempo: free and quarter note = 54
    • Difficulty Level: intermediate, comparable to Suzuki Book 6
    • Highest Position Reached: thumb position, but just for a few notes
    • Technique Employed: glissandos, grace notes, double & triple stops with only 1 fingered note, long slurs, bass and tenor clefs, 4/4 time signature
    • Where to
    • Cost of Sheet Music*: 18 USD (digital copy)
    • Recording by cellist Madeleine Bouïssou:

Performance Notes: 

From the composer’s website:

“Varsha was written for the Haydn Seven Last Words project, for Juilliard415. The project commissioned seven composers (including Nico Muhly, Paola Prestini, Jessica Meyer, Tania Leon, Caroline Shaw and Colin Jacobsen) to write interludes between each of the Haydn quartets.

This piece, Varsha, serves as an interlude between Sonata V (Sitio – “I Thirst”) and Sonata VI (Consummatum Est – “It is finished”) of Haydn’s Seven Last Words. The combination of Hindustani raags used in this piece are from the Malhaar family, which are sung to beckon rain.

I imagined an interlude between these two sonatas: Christ thirsts. Rain comes from the distance (Megh Malhaar). There is a downpour around him (Miyan ki Malhaar), but he grows slowly weaker. His next words make clear that even the rain is not enough: his thirst is of another sort, which cannot be quenched by water. And so, it is finished.”

Cellist’s Guide

This is a piece that intermediate, advanced and professional players alike will enjoy.

From a technical standpoint, I would place Varsha in the intermediate category, as it sits well on the cello, is rhythmically straightforward, and generally stays below thumb position.

As the tempo is marked molto rubato and recitativo, intermediate cellists can begin to work on highly expressive playing, which is the hallmark of advanced and professional players.

January Postcard #3: Professional Level

Looking for a new show piece to add to your repertoire? Check out Grażyna Bacewicz’s “Kaprys Polski.”

    • Title: Kaprys Polski
    • Composer: Grażyna Bacewicz (5 February 1909 – 17 January 1969)
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 1949, transcribed and edited for cello in 1995
    • Movements: 1
    • Duration of Work: 3′
    • Number of Measures: 124
    • Number of Pages: 2
    • Tempo: Andante, Allegro non troppo
    • Difficulty Level: Advanced, comparable to Suzuki Book 8
    • Highest Position Reached: thumb position
    • Technique Employed: bass, tenor and treble clefs; harmonics; double and triple stops; sautillé; 2/4 and 3/4 time signatures
    • Publisher: PWM
    • Where to Purchase: 

look inside
Polish Caprice Mw 30
Composed by Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969). PWM. Classical. Book [Softcover]. 2 pages. Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne #PWM9231010. Published by Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne (HL.132055).

Or Presto Sheet Music 

    • Cost of Sheet Music*: 6.75-7.99 USD
    • Recording by Marie Spaemann:

Program Notes:

“Polish Caprice was composed in 1949 and is one of Bacewicz’s most popular solo works for violin.

Inspired by traditional Polish folk music, Bacewicz experiments with modes throughout the piece. Starting with a slow E minor recitative-like introduction, the melody leads into a bright E major dance section. Throughout this two-minute piece, Bacewicz moves through a total of five keys.

The slow introduction and the fast middle and end section reflects the Kujawiak folk dance, which originates from Poland.

The Kujawiak dance starts very slowly, has a faster middle section and then accelerates at the end. Polish Caprice does exactly the same, and by the end the acceleration carries a lot of intensity.”  – Alex Burns

Cellist’s Guide

This is definitely a show piece, ideal for use as an encore by an advanced or professional player. Though I think the original violin version is more successful, as thin strings respond more quickly, this is still dazzling on the cello.

As a teacher, I can see the benefit of breaking Kaprys Polski into three sections: assigning the opening to beginners, the middle to intermediate students, and the finale to pre-professionals.

The opening is simple, slow, and mournful, ideal for vibrato practice. Though most notes could be played in first position, this would be an opportunity to gain familiarity with third and fourth positions on the lower strings.

The middle section includes mid-tempo extended first and third position, challenging first position triple stops, and 3rd and 4th position double stops, all in bass clef.

The finale is mostly sautillé and would be a great introduction for those about to embark on the Van Goens Scherzo.


Watch the composer playing another one of her show pieces on the violin:

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*Prices given are accurate at the date of the publication of this article. Please check the given links for the current price. The Cello Museum does not control these prices and cannot take responsibility for price changes.