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That’s What She Said – Postcards from Erica July 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.

It’s great to be back for the July 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.

July Postcard #1: Novice Level

Many people are familiar with the Chinese zodiac’s twelve-year cycle of animals. However, there is a parallel cycle of five elements: wood, earth, water, fire, and metal. Each year in the calendar thus has both a ruling animal and a governing element. Fortunately for beginning cellists, Fire Horse has a steady 4/4 time signature (instead of 5/12 or 12/5!), though there is room for creativity and interpretation via grace notes and triplets.

Composition Details

  • Title: Fire Horse
  • Composer: Erica Lessie
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 1:47
  • Number of Measures: 80
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: half note = 84-92
  • Difficulty Level: late novice, comparable to Suzuki Book 3
  • Highest Position Reached: 4th
  • Techniques Employed: bass clef; 4/4 time (really a cut time feel); grace notes; triplets; 1st, 3rd, and 4th positions
  • Where to Find Score: Please email Erica
  • Cost of Score: $5.00* (download)

Recording

Performance Notes

When I sat down to write this piece, I had no particular style in mind. When I  finished, I thought that it had an undeniably Chinese flavor. In the Chinese zodiac, I am represented by the Fire Horse and I like the sound and imagery of that title.

Cellist’s Guide

From a technical standpoint, Fire Horse would make a nice precursor to La Cinquantaine as it shares some of the same bowing patterns and rhythmic elements. The second section provides the opportunity to work on third position across the A, D, and G strings, while the final section offers practice shifting from 4th to 3rd position.

Postscript

I composed this piece in an effort to augment the number of unaccompanied cello pieces available for beginners. If you have written any beginning-level solo works for cello that you would like to share, please contact me, as I would like to see the repertoire grow.

July Postcard #2: Intermediate Level

From the dynamic composer of The Irish Cello Book comes a solo work that is almost as much fun to say as to play. A self-described “restless creative with a passion for good design, sound logic, and twisty tunes,” composer Liz Davis Maxfield wrote Ike & Icky primarily to explore the extended pizzicato technique – almost like an etude – with a decidedly Celtic flavor. The accompanying periodic vocals in the recording are a bonus option for ambitious cellists seeking an extra performance twist.

Composition details

  • Title: Ike & Icky
  • Composer: Liz Davis Maxfield
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 3:45
  • Number of Measures: 99
  • Number of Pages: 3
  • Tempo: dotted quarter = 92
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate
  • Highest Position Reached: 5th
  • Techniques Employed: bass clef; 6/8 and 12/8 time signatures; left-hand pizzicato, hammer-ons; pull-offs; grace notes; turns; 1st position double and triple stops
  • Where to Find Score: Liz Davis Maxfield (website)
  • Cost of Score: $8.00*

Recording:

Performance Notes

I wrote this tune to explore extended pizzicato technique in a solo cello piece. Enjoy!” – Liz Davis Maxfield

Cellist’s Guide

To get the real Irish flavor of this piece, listen to Liz’s recording, as she adds a bit of ornamentation that is not in the score. If, however, you are somebody who likes to adhere to the written page, you needn’t make any alterations.

Suitable for intermediate, advanced, and professional players, this fun piece may introduce you to new left-hand techniques, such as hammer-ons and pull-offs. Hammer-ons are two or more notes played under one pizzicato and pull-offs are achieved by plucking fingered notes with the left hand.

Bonus Cellist’s Tip

Though not notated as such, I found that plucking the open A and D with the left hand in bars 42-57 was more manageable than plucking with the right hand.

July Postcard #3: Advanced Level

Welsh-born composer Hilary Tann finds her creative inspiration in the natural world. She is also a published haiku poet, proving that art knows no boundaries. The Cresset Stone was first performed September 2, 1994, by Krzysztof Smietana at the 1994 Presteigne Festival. Alternate versions are available for solo violin, or solo viola. Its meditative nature ironically requires the advanced performer to have a keen sense of timing (and time signatures) as well as the ebb and flow of rhythm and notes.

Composition details

  • Title: The Cresset Stone
  • Composer: Hilary Tann
  • Year Composed: 1993
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 9:10
  • Number of Measures: 122
  • Number of Pages: 6
  • Tempo: quarter note = 58, 64, 80
  • Difficulty level: advanced/professional
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Techniques Employed: triplets; quintuplets; grace notes; harmonics; false harmonics; double stops; bass, tenor, and treble clefs; 3/8, 5/8, 7/8, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, 8/4, and 9/4 time signatures
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Where to Find Score: email the composer
  • Cost of Score: free

Recording featuring Joshua DeVries:

Performance Notes: 

A cresset stone is a medieval method of lighting – a hollowed-out stone, filled with oil, with a lighted wick. Near the composer’s home in Ferndale, Wales, the ancient cathedral at Brecon contains a remarkable example of such a stone. It was this stone, in its stone cathedral context, which directly inspired the composition. The Cresset Stone is a meditation on stone and light which begins and ends in stillness. The inner sections contain references to the final Kyrie of an eleventh-century Gregorian chant.” – Hilary Tann

Cellist’s Guide

For other wonderful solo cello works by Hilary Tann, please visit her website.  I am a big fan of this composer and her unique style. I enjoy all of her cello pieces and will review others in the future.

Much of this work is written in bass clef and would be manageable for an intermediate player. I have rated this as an advanced piece because of the sometimes complex rhythm, double stops, and occasional treble clef passages.


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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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