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That’s What She Said – Postcards from Erica September 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.
Enjoy these Postcards from Erica in her series called: That’s What She Said . . . Unaccompanied Cello Works by Women Composers.  – Dr. Brenda Neece, Curator
Vintage Postcard - Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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

I’m Erica Lessie, and for years I’ve been on a quest to find unaccompanied music for the cello written by women composers.

Each month, I’ll share information on three pieces with you – one for novice cellists, one for intermediate players, and one for advanced performers. Think of each summary as a short postcard with: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Please let me know if you have any questions or if you have suggestions for pieces you’d like to see included in future postcards.

In selecting the music every month, I keep in mind orchestra directors and students in search of contest pieces, teachers seeking supplemental literature, and professionals hankering for new repertoire.

These monthly postcards give you the information you need to help you choose a piece that’s right for you. I also include links to make it easy for you to locate and purchase the sheet music you want.

That's What She Said Pieces September 2020

September Postcard #1: Novice Level

In the northern hemisphere, autumn is upon us, so here’s a piece to prepare for the season: “November” by Liz Davis Maxfield.

    • Title: November
    • Composer: Liz Davis Maxfield, USA
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2010
    • Movements: 1
    • Duration of Work: 2:30
    • Number of Measures: 33
    • Number of Pages: 1
    • Tempo: quarter note = 84
    • Difficulty Level: comparable to Suzuki Book 2 or 3
    • Highest Position Reached: 1st
    • Technique Employed: bass clef, slurs, grace notes, dotted rhythms, two easy double stops, 6/4 time
    • Publisher: Liz Davis Maxfield
    • Where to Purchase:
    • Cost of Sheet Music*: $8
    • Recording:


    • Program Notes: Inspired by a poem, “November in Chile,” written in 1851 by the composer’s great-great-grandfather, Parley Pratt. Here’s an excerpt. The entire poem is included with the sheet music.

I sigh for the storms of November to come,
The frost, and the snow-drifted plain I would see;
The bleak, wintry blasts of my own mountain home,
And the storm-beaten glacier are dearer to me.
– Parley Pratt, 16 November 1851

    • Cellist’s Guide: “November” is a simple and lovely folk-inspired song that is fitting for both professional and amateur cellists. The piece, which is in C Major, makes equal use of all four strings. The hand remains in closed 1st position throughout, so it is a nice choice for those who can comfortably play a two-octave C Major scale.


September Postcard #2: Intermediate Level

Miss traveling? Let the sound of your cello take you to Spain with this piece inspired by the Red City of Alhambra: “Ensueños del agua” by Leticia Armijo.

    • Title: Ensueños del agua
    • Composer: Leticia Armijo (1961-), Mexico
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2019
    • Movements: Agua, Brisa
    • Duration of Work: (3:08), (2:30)
    • Number of Measures: (73), (37)
    • Number of Pages: 5
    • Tempo: (dotted quarter note = 120), (quarter note = 60)
    • Difficulty Level: comparable to late Book 3 Suzuki or beyond
    • Highest Position Reached: 4th
    • Technique Employed: glissandi, sextuplets, rubato
    • Publisher: El Colectivo Mujeres en la Música A.C.
    • Where to Purchase: Send an email requesting the work to lety[at] along with the receipt of payment from the link:
    • Cost of Sheet Music*: $30 USD
    • Recording of excerpt:

    • Program Notes: These “aquatic invocations” were inspired by the Red City of Alhambra in Granada, Spain, where water plays a fundamental role in the architectural ensemble. The Moorish style of Alhambra shines through in this work.
    • Cellist’s Guide: I love the mood this piece evokes, and am reminded of the Janos Starker recording, The Romantic Cello of Spain, with works by Falla, Granados, Albeniz, Cassado, and Torroba.  I listened to this record endlessly as a kid, and I still have it in my collection.

From a technical standpoint, I would place this work in the intermediate category. Neither movement is fast and the hand never leaves a closed position or goes above the 4th position.

This is an ideal vehicle for developing artistry for a mid-level player.  Moorish flourishes feature prominently throughout both movements, so playing with rubato is essential.

While this piece lies within the capabilities of intermediate-level cellists, seasoned players will find that “Ensueños del agua” affords them many opportunities for nuanced expression.

September Postcard #3: Advanced Level

I love the work on the final postcard for this month: “Sephardic Suite” by Elaine Fine. It can be performed in its entirety or as individual movements.

    • Title: Sephardic Suite
    • Composer: Elaine Fine (1959- ), USA
    • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
    • Year Composed: 2003
    • Movements: Introduction; Endecha: O Madre mia; Veil Dance
    • Duration of Work: (2’), (2:45), (2:07)
    • Number of Measures: (44), (63), (68)
    • Number of Pages: 5
    • Tempo: (quarter note = 100), (quarter note = 52), (quarter note = 112-120)
    • Difficulty Level: comparable to Suzuki Book 9 and up
    • Highest Position Reached: thumb position
    • Technique Employed: bass and tenor clefs; left-hand pizzicato; double stops; 6/8, 7/8, 8/8, 9/8 time signatures
    • Publisher: Subito Music
    • Where to Purchase: Subito Music & Sheet Music Plus
    • Cost of Sheet Music*: $8.95
    • Recording of 3rd Movement:
    • Sheet Music for 1st Movement:
    • Program Notes: A Sephardic dirge serves at the opening melody of the second movement.
    • Cellist’s Guide: I love this work. It is so well-written that, like the Bach Suites, it can be revisited time and again. This is definitely a piece for the advanced player, both technically and musically. Double stops, thumb position, and rubato are employed in all movements, left-hand pizzicato appears in the Introduction and frequent meter changes occur in the Veil Dance.

The Suite can be performed in its entirety or as individual movements. The Introduction and Endecha are somber and work nicely in place of Kol Nidrei for Yom Kippur, while Veil Dance is almost frenetic and suitable for an encore.

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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.



  1. Reply
    Daniel says:

    This is such a great idea and you’ve done such a thorough job presenting them. I’m going to pick up the sheet music for November and give it a go! Its a challenge to write nice pieces for novices, but I think it sounds lovely.

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