Music Post: Focus on the cello

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We all have our favorite instruments, and our unfavorites, I suppose, but nobody doesn’t like the cello, and as someone who loves low notes in music, I am happy to oblige with an entire cello-centric HDO.

Violoncellos, to use their original full name, were widely used from the 1500s, almost two centuries before Bach (1685-1750) composed solo suites for the instrument.

The four strings are tuned an octave lower than the four strings of the viola, in fifths, with the lowest string tuned two octaves below middle C on the piano.

Like the bassoon, the cello has a broad range that roughly corresponds with human voices.

In the Baroque era, the cello was mostly a back-bench instrument providing or supporting the bass line, but even then there must have been virtuoso players or Bach’s six unaccompanied suites would have been very different.

In the two decades after Bach’s death, Haydn (1732-1809) composed two cello concertos, and Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) composed 12.

Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote sonatas for cello and piano and, in 1803, his Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano.

Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor of 1850, Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor of 1895 and Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor of 1919 are often considered the three pinnacles of the cello repertory.

But in fact there have been wonderful cello concertos in more modern times including Samuel Barber’s in 1945, Dmitri Shostakovich’s in 1959, and the Benjamin Britten Cello Symphony of 1963. My personal favorite is the 1956 concerto by William Walton.

The entire “Howard’s Day Off” this weekend will feature concertante works for cello, opening with “The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saens. Saint-Saens “Carnival of the Animals,” which would become his most popular work, was intended only for private performance and “The Swan” was the only he actually wanted to be published.

“Howard’s Day Off” now airs live 5am-7am HST Saturdays, and 5pm-7pm HST Sundays, on KIPO Honolulu, KIPM Waikapu, KIPH Hana and KAHU Pahala and streams on www.hawaiipublicradio.org 

You’re invited to join the Howard’s Day Off Listener Appreciation Society on Facebook.

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