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Cello, Celli: Twenty Cellos Play Bach and Brubeck
Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 3 and 6 Elegy RegretJohann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Within a twelve month period during 1721-22, two greatmasters, one Italian and the other German, composedmusic that stands at the pinnacle of orchestral music ofthe eighteenth century. During that period AntonioVivaldi composed his Opus 8, Le quattro stagioni (TheFour Seasons) and Johann Sebastian Bach created hisremarkable six concerti grossi known as theBrandenburg Concertos, his earliest essays in absoluteinstrumental music on the grand scale.
In his dedicatory letter to Christian Ludwig, datedCothen, 24th March 1721, Bach described these worksas Concerts accommodes ?á plusieurs Instruments and, infact, each employs a different combination ofinstruments. Concerto No. 3 is scored in nine solo parts,three violins, three violas, and three cellos withcontinuo. The work is unusual in that it lacks a slowmovement, save for two chords marked Adagio thatseparate the two Allegros. Concerto No. 6, like No. 3,exhibits an unusual sonority, the violins being absent. Itis scored for two violas, two viole da gamba, andvioloncello, with a continuo.Dave Brubeck (b. 6th December 1920)
Born in Concord, California, jazz legend Dave Brubeckis equally distinguished as composer and pianist. Studiesat the College of the Pacific and with Darius Milhaud atMills College led to the founding, with fellow students,of the experimental Jazz Workshop Ensemble, whichrecorded in 1949 as the Dave Brubeck Octet. Later, in1958, the combination of Brubeck with drummer JoeMorello, double bassist Eugene Wright, and altosaxophonist Paul Desmond quickly achieved anoverwhelming popular success as the Dave BrubeckQuartet. The Quartet's experimentation with timesignatures unusual to jazz produced works such as BlueRondo a la Turk and Take Five, introducing millions ofenthusiastic young listeners to unexplored regions ofjazz. The group recorded and performed togethercontinuously through 1967.
As a composer Brubeck has written and, in somecases, recorded several large-scale works including twoballets, a musical, an oratorio, four cantatas, a Mass,works for jazz combo and orchestra, and many solopiano pieces. In the last twenty years, he has organizedseveral new quartets and continued to appear at theNewport, Monterey, Concord, and Kool Jazz Festivals.
Brubeck performed at the White House in 1964 and1981 and at the 1988 Moscow summit honouring theGorbachevs. He is the recipient of a LifetimeAchievement Award from NARAS, and honourarydegrees from universities in the United States, Canada,Germany, England and Switzerland. He was awardedthe National Medal of the Arts by President Clinton,named a Jazz Master by the National endowment for theArts, and designated a 'Living Legend' by the Library ofCongress.The following notes are provided by Dave Brubeck:
Elegy was composed as a dedication to the lateNorwegian artist, journalist and critic, Randi Hultin, andwas originally titled Blues for Randi. She was anunusual woman, who welcomed into her home travellingmusicians, and counted among her friends everyonefrom ragtime piano player Eubie Blake, bebop pianistBud Powell, to those in the more modern school. WhenI telephoned her to let her know that we soon would becoming to Oslo and would play her piece for her, shedeclared \I'll be there, if they have to carry me". Sadly,she died of cancer before we arrived, so she never heardit, although she had seen the notes on paper. In memoryof Randi the Dave Brubeck Quartet performed Elegy forthe first time in Oslo before an audience of jazzenthusiasts who knew and loved her, and her twodaughters, who had flown in from Morocco andEngland. The occasion was documented by Norwegiantelevision. The piece has since become part of theQuartet's repertoire. Again, Derek Snyder, in arrangingfor cello ensemble, has added some new material to myoriginal composition with additional places for optionalimprovisation.
God's Love Made Visible is adapted from the finalchoral section of a Christmas cantata, La Fiesta de laPosada, that I composed in 1975 and that was premieredthe same year by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.
This choral pageant is based on the Mexican and LatinAmerican custom of las posadas. Traditionally, aprocession is formed in the streets with people singinglitanies and knocking at various doors seeking shelter, asdid Joseph and Mary long ago. They are turned awaywith the cruel words, "There is no room", until theprocession eventually arrives at the appointed home.
Doors are flung wide and they are greeted with the song,"Won't you enter, holy pilgrims. Come into my humblehome". Neighbours, families and children all join ingames, dances, songs of celebration and worship. In theclosing bars of God's Love Made Visible a children'schoir sings:
Each happy family
Shares in the mystery
Of the Nativity
On Christmas Day.
followed by the full chorus singing "God's love madevisible! Incomprehensible! He is invincible! His loveshall reign! His love shall reign, for evermore!" In thiscello ensemble version, adapted by Derek Snyder, frommy original mariachi orchestration, I think you caneasily match the words to the melody.
Cello, Celli was originally written for a Paris celloensemble that stipulated that my son, Matthew, formerstudent of Aldo Parisot at Yale, would be theimprovising soloist. After dedicating many hours ofintense work in order to meet their deadline, I wasinformed that the commission had to be droppedbecause the French arts budget had been drastically cut.
When Ida Mercer, another former student of Parisot,asked me after a performance of my music at the BrittFestival in Oregon, if I had ever written anything forcello ensemble, I answered "Yes, Ida. I have just such apiece that's never been performed". I sent Cello, Celli toher for a subsequent performance with the ClevelandCello Ensemble, sans improvisation.
The Desert and the Parched Land was originallywritten as a soprano solo in my Mass To Hope!composed in 1979 and premiered in 1980 at theCathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence, RhodeIsland. It replaced the usual Scriptural reading in theMass ritual. When I recorded To Hope! at the NationalCathedral in Washington, D.C., I improvised a shortpiano interlude followed by the soprano returning tosing the original theme. I have since discovered thatmany other musicians love to play this melody andfollow it with an improvised solo. Derek Snyder, inarranging for cello ensemble, has added some newmaterial to my original composition derived from animprovisation by Michael Moore, the bass player in myquartet.
Regret was composed for string orchestra in 2001. Iexplained in the notes for the London Symphonyperformance that Regret expressed "a sweet sadness, alonging for lost moments, might-have-beens, and a pastthat cannot be re-lived. Perhaps it is an emotion uniqueto someone who has lived as many decades as I."However, that fragile emotion seems to be moreuniversal than I imagined. The Russian NationalOrchestra string section has performed and recorded it.
The Chattanooga Choral Society, under the direction ofPhilip Rice, has recorded it using only vowel sounds andthe word "regret". I have great respect for each of theconductor's individual performance. What, I wondered,will happen with the Yale Cellos under Aldo Parisot'sguidance? The premi?¿re performance of Regret for celloensemble took place at Carnegie Recital Hall in 2003.
As I took my seat and was handed the eveningprogramme my heart almost stopped. Villa Lobos,Johann Sebastian