Works for Solo Cello: Album Program Notes

Works for Solo Cello 

J.S. Bach Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello, BWV 1007

Suite no. 1 in G Major is the first of six suites written for unaccompanied cello by J.S. Bach. The work is comprised of six movements; five movements of baroque dances, and a Prelude. The six unaccompanied suites of Bach were made popular by Pablo Casals in the early 20th century and have been performed and recorded by many cellists since then. Some might say that the Prelude of this first suite is perhaps the most famous string piece of our time.  I have included this composition on this album for a few reasons. One being, that I feel that it goes very well with the Britten Suite, which was written as a response to a performance of the Bach suites by the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.  There are techniques used by Bach in this suite, such as, bariolage  -  "the alternation of notes on adjacent strings, one of which is usually open", which is also used by Benjamin Britten and György Ligeti in the works on this CD. 

Benjamin Britten Suite for Cello, Op. 72

Cello Suite No. 1, Op. 72 by Benjamin Britten was composed in 1964 and dedicated to cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. It was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival, of which Britten was an Artistic Director, on June 27, 1965. There are nine total movements, though only six are numbered. The suite’s unnumbered movements are in the form of Canto, translated from the Latin cantus song. There are 4 Canto movements. The first movement, Canto primo is a slow, chordal movement acting as a kind of prelude to the whole work and to I. Fuga. Canto secondo in the same style as the first, is a shorter connecting movement between II. Lamento, and III. Serenata. Canto terzo, again in the same style, separates  IV. Marcia from V. Bordone. Finally, Canto quarto, is not found on its own but composed into the final sixth movement, Moto perpetuo E. Canto quarto.  The use of the Canto movements throughout the piece merges Britten’s interest in composing works for voice and choirs and his friendship with cellist, Rostropovich. This first suite was composed as a gift in response to the cellist’s performances of the solo suites of J.S. Bach. 

György Ligeti Sonate for solo cello (1948/53)

Sonata for Solo Cello by György Ligeti is an early work of the Hungarian-Austrian contemporary classical composer. Ligeti lived from 1923-2006 and this work was written in 1948 and 1953. The first movement, Dialogo was written in 1948 at 25 years old, and the second, Capriccio was composed in 1953 and completed this two movement Sonata. The first movement closer represents the style of the popular composers of the time, Bartók and Kodály, one of his teachers, than to the avant-garde style of which Ligeti is more widely known today.  The work opens with glissando pizzicato chords before we hear the first thematic motive, a dialogue, according to the composer, between a man and a woman.  It was a gift to a cello student whom Ligeti was “secretly in love” with, but it was never performed.  The work’s second movement, Capriccio was written five years later for another cellist, Vera Dénes , and was combined with the previously written first movement and called Sonate.  

Isang Yun Glissées for Violoncello Solo (1970)

Glissées by Isang Yun was composed in 1970 for German cellist, Siegfried Palm. Yun was born in South Korea (1917) and studied cello and composition in Korea and Japan.  He was an activist opposed to the Japanese occupation and was imprisoned until the end of the war (WWII).  Following his release he continued his studies in Germany and France before being abducted and returned to Korea. In 1969, the composer returned to Germany after his abduction and internment by the Korean regime from 1967-1969, and was teaching at the Hannover State College of Music, and then at the State College of Arts in Berlin.  The work is in four unnamed movements of which there are no bar lines. Yun uses a variety of techniques such as the Bartok-Pizzicato, a strong pizzicato in which the string slaps back on the fingerboard to create a harsh effect, and the use of approximate and quarter tone pitches. As the title of the work suggests, there are varying degrees of glissandi which make the technique a central idea throughout. The third movement is written (durchgehend pizzicato) pizzicato throughout and (mit Plektrum gezupft) with a plectrum or guitar pick. The final movement culminates in a vortex of glissandi and pizzicati as well as the scraping of the wood of the bow (col legno) and the batting of the wood of the bow on the string.