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That’s What She Said – Postcards from Erica October 2020

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.
That's What She Said: Postcards from Erica

That’s What She Said: Postcards from Erica

Welcome to the second installment of “That’s What She Said . . . Unaccompanied Cello Works by Women Composers.” 

This month I found three wonderful pieces to share with you. Want to know more about my digital postcards? See my first installment for more information.

October Postcards from Erica Pieces

October Postcards from Erica: “Five States of Change,” “Then Again,” and “Yarilo”

October Postcard #1: Novice Level

This month’s novice-level postcard is about two of Wanda Sobieska’s “Five States of Change”: “Water” and “Fire.”

    • Title: Five States of Change (Wood, Metal, Fire, Water, Earth)
    • Composer: Wanda Sobieska
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2020
    • Movements: Though there are 5 movements, Water and Fire work best on the cello.
    • Duration of Work: Water (1’17”) Fire (1’10”)
    • Number of Measures: Water (16 bars, 32 with repeats) Fire (33)
    • Number of Pages: each movement is 1 page or less
    • Tempo: Water (quarter note = 54); Fire (Presto)
    • Difficulty Level:
      • Water in e minor is comparable to Suzuki Book 2
      • Water in c minor is comparable to Suzuki Book 3
      • Fire in c minor is comparable to late Suzuki Book 3
    • Highest Position Reached:
      • Water in E minor – 1st, 1/2
      • Water in C minor – 3rd
      • Fire in C minor – 6th
    • Technique Employed:
      • Water in E minor – 3/4 time, slurs, bass clef, extensions, 1/2 and 1st position
      • Water in C minor – 3/4 time, slurs, bass clef, extensions, 1/2, 1st, 2nd, 3rd positions
      • Fire in C minor – 2/4 time, 16th notes, extensions, 1/2, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th (3 notes), 1 run of the ascending 3-octave C major scale
    • Publisher: Free Gig Music
    • Where to Purchase:
    • Cost of Sheet Music*: Free, but you can make a donation.
    • Recording of Water:
    • Program Notes: Each of the 5 movements is available in treble, alto, and bass clef – and in 12 keys. According to the composer, “the movements may be played in any number, in any order, and in any key—feel free to mix & match as you see fit.”

Cellist’s Guide

Since these 5 movements were written to be played on any instrument, they do not all work equally well on all instruments. My feeling is that the Water and Fire movements lie nicely on the cello.

A beginner might be interested in learning Water in e minor, while players who are intermediate level and above could play the c minor versions of the Water and Fire movements back-to-back.

Stylistically, the Water and Fire movements are very similar to the Bach Suites and would make a nice alternative for someone seeking a movement or two of a Baroque-style piece in a minor key.

Water is a gentle Sarabande, while Fire is marked con fuoco and moves at a lively clip.


October Postcard #2: Intermediate Level

Love Shostakovich? You might enjoy “Then Again” by Rain Worthington.

    • Title: Then Again
    • Composer: Rain Worthington
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2016
    • Movements: 1
    • Duration of Work: 5:08
    • Number of Measures: 97
    • Number of Pages: 3
    • Tempo: quarter note = 100
    • Difficulty Level: comparable to Suzuki Book 5
    • Highest Position Reached: 6th
    • Technique Employed: bass clef, tremolo, glissando, slurs, double stops, 4/4 and 5/4 time signatures
    • Publisher: Sheet Music Plus
    • Where to Purchase: Sheet Music Plus
    • Cost of Sheet Music*: $3 USD
    • Recording:

    • Program Notes: As stated on the Sheet Music site: “Points of thought restated.”

Cellist’s Guide

I am not sure why, but “Then Again” feels vaguely reminiscent of a cello work by Dimitri Shostakovich. Perhaps it is Worthington’s use of chromatic fragments or the masterful way in which she plays with rhythm.

By employing 3/4, 4/4, and 5/4 time signatures along with shifting on and off beat figures, this piece is never predictable, despite the frequent reappearance of the 16th note followed by dotted 8th note pattern know as the Scotch snap (the inverse of the familiar hornpipe rhythm present in the Rondo from Goltermann’s Concerto No. 4 and the 1st movement of the Haydn C major concerto).

Though this piece is not technically demanding, it is a musically highly sophisticated composition. This is a work that intermediate, advanced and professional cellists alike would feel comfortable including on a recital.

October Postcard #3: Advanced Level

This idiomatic piece was clearly written by a cellist; enjoy “Yarilo” by Elizabeth Knudson.

    • Title: Yarilo
    • Composer: Elizabeth Knudson
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2007
    • Movements: 1
    • Duration of Work: 14’
    • Number of Measures: 192
    • Number of Pages: 7
    • Tempo: quarter note = 60-144
    • Difficulty Level: comparable to Suzuki Book 7 and above
    • Highest Position Reached: thumb position
    • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, and treble clef; harmonics; double stops; left-hand pizzicato; 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 8/4 time signatures
    • Publisher: Canadian Music Centre
    • Where to Purchase:
    • Cost of Sheet Music*: $8.99 download or $10.99 hard copy
    • Recording of 3rd Movement: 

    • Program Notes: “This piece is named after the Slavonic sun deity. According to legend, Yarilo returns from the otherworld each year after Shrovetide to usher in springtime and provide a bountiful harvest. He is celebrated in the springtime through the midsummer, but as his life is connected to the agricultural cycle, he is “killed at the end of summer, along with the harvest crops. This piece takes its source material from four traditional Russian folksongs. Beginning with darkness/winter, the piece moves progressively through the yearly agricultural cycle.”  – from Elizabeth Knudson’s website

Cellist’s Guide

Clearly composed by a cellist, this piece lies well in the hand and is not technically overdemanding. Advanced students may need assistance in finding harmonics and determining a fingering for some double stops.

Though fourteen minutes in length, this one-movement piece is captivating from start to finish. Yarilo manages to feel both spacious and rhythmic, somber yet joyful.

Knudson masterfully combines diverse elements to produce a seamless and polished composition.

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