Score Spotlight: February 2013

Here’s a recap of the scores we released this month:

Delius Elegy for Cello Septet

Delius’ Elegy is a composition that dates from the composer’s final years when he was extremely ill. It was originally written for cello and chamber orchestra and also arranged for cello and piano. In this arrangement for cello ensemble by editor Hans Erik Deckert, the solo cello is the original solo part, while the other cellos perform the orchestral parts.

The Elegy is a powerful work, perhaps stemming from the nature in which it was composed. Delius was near the end of his life, having battled a long illness and already paralyzed and blind from syphilis. He composed this work by dictating, first to his wife, and eventually to the young composer Eric Fenby. Elegy was written for and dedicated to Beatrice Harrison, a cellist for whom Delius wrote his Cello Concerto and Cello Sonata. Elegy was originally composed and published with a Caprice, but in separating itself from the Caprice, it would find itself in an important role in British history. This was the work that filled the silence after Neville Chamberlain’s broadcast announcement that Britain would enter the second World War.

At a time of mounting chaos and confusion, there were few works that could have broken that silence. Delius’ Elegy, with its great intensity overwhelming harmonic richness, was able to embody and express both the tragedy of times and virtue of fighting through them.

Aus tiefer Not by Bach and Reger

Aus tiefer Not is a Lutheran chorale of which the words were written by Martin Luther himself as a paraphrase of Psalm 130. Published in 1524, it was part of the first Lutheran hymnal and has since them become a part of many subsequent hymnals.

Translated, the text of the first verse reads:

From deep affliction I cry out to you,
Lord God, hear my call;
incline your merciful ear here to me
and be open to my prayer!
For if you want to look at this,
what sin and injustice is done,
who can, Lord, remain before you?

Many composers have set Luther’s text to music, including Johann Sebastian Bach and Max Reger. Arranged by Hans Erik Deckert, these works have taken multiple musical settings. For the Bach chorale, Deckert has given two versions: one for cello quintet and another for cello sextet. For Reger’s treatment Deckert brings us a cello quintet arrangement.

While the essence of the work is consistent through all the versions, both Bach and Reger infuse their very different styles. For Bach, the arrangements for cello ensemble are written with exactly the same pitches as the choir’s original voices, allowing Bach’s polyphony to unfold with overwhelming beauty. On the other hand Reger, being an organist and having made this an organ chorale, placed the cantus firmus in the bass pedal. A performance of this work with cello quintet requires expressive tonal colors while maintaining stoic calmness in order to bring out the complex and rich harmonic texture.

Roither Seven Spirituals for 12 Celli

This month, Gerhard Roither joined the ranks of Ovation Press editors, publishing world-class arrangements of folk songs for cello ensemble. Included among them are two written for the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world’s most highly regarded cello ensembles. This collaboration came about in 1972 when, during a tour with the Berlin Philharmonic, Mr. Roither was asked by the chamber group to compose several short pieces to use as encores. This inspired Mr. Roither to arrange the Seven Spirituals.

The Seven Spirituals are Roither’s sophisticated take on seven African-American folk songs. They take full advantage of the complete tonal range of the cello and all the possibilities that a cello ensemble has to offer, including wonderful modulations. Roither succeeds in capturing the warm-hearted atmosphere of the original music. The inspiration for this set of works came from a memory Roither had: when he was younger his mother-in-law would play a record of African-American vocalists singing spirituals to him. That initial spark would blossom into the arrangements the Berlin Philharmonic cellists would first perform.

Roither Ack Värmeland, du sköna for 12 Celli

In addition to the Seven Spirituals, Roither also arranged the Swedish folk song Ack Värmeland, du sköna for 12 celli. Though the original folk song was written by the Swedish historian Anders Fryxell, it has experienced a number of renditions by various jazz artists including: Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Paul Chambers and John Coltrane. The song is about the Swedish county Värmland. Inside the country, this composition is often performed as an anonymous treasure of the Swedish folk tradition.

Ack Värmeland, du sköna was performed by the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic in Stockholm for the Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Queen Silvia of Sweden (who was born in Germany).

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