About this Recording
9.70126 - Cello Music (Canadian) - COULTHARD, J. / WEINZWEIG, J. / GUERRERO, A. / ARCHER, V. (When Music Sounds) (J. Harrison, Keillor)
English  French 

WHEN MUSIC SOUNDS: Canadian Cello Music
Coulthard • Weinzweig • Guerrero • Archer


Canadian composers turned their attention to composing for the cello in the 19th century. Unfortunately works such as the Suite for Cello and Piano, written by Calixa Lavallée (1842–1891), the composer of Canada’s national anthem, have so far not been located even though their first performances met with considerable success. This recording presents subsequent compositions for this medium by Canadians that deserve to be heard and better known.

Jean Coulthard (1908–2000): When Music Sounds (1970) • Sonata for Cello and Piano (1946)

The selections are framed with works by the Vancouver-born Jean Coulthard. Her Sonata for Cello and Piano marks an important point in establishing her unique voice. After studying one year in London, England, where she had Vaughan Williams as a tutor, she returned to her home city. Fortunately Arthur Benjamin settled in Vancouver during the war years and from him she received real guidance in composition. Consultations with Aaron Copland, Béla Bartók, and Arnold Schoenberg solidified her efforts. By the mid-1940s she had found her own voice, building on the influences of Debussy and establishing her own harmonic language combining major and minor triads. That voice can be readily heard in this three-movement sonata. Listen for the beginning of the second movement that clearly suggests Debussy’s famous Clair de lune.

Coulthard’s later work When Music Sounds exemplifies her lyricism and sensitive treatment of both instruments. This cello and piano version is her own arrangement of the piano solo, Prelude VIII: Song inspired by the poem, When Music Sounds of Walter De La Mare.

John Weinzweig (1913–2006): Sonata for Cello and Piano, ‘Israel’ (1949)

John Weinzweig (1913-2006) dedicated his Cello Sonata to the newly-founded state of Israel. He had been using the serial technique for a decade, but challenged himself in this work to combine its principles with Jewish-influenced melodies. The first movement incorporates a Yemenite melody and thus although twelve different pitches are heard in the opening cello melody, this is not the twelve-pitch set that the composer selected for this movement. For Weinzweig, lyricism always had to come first regardless of the exact ordering of his chosen set. Texturally the cello acts as a cantor while the piano responds as if it were the congregation. This tense situation acts as a pleading for a resolution. Its climax arrives in a solo cello cadenza, reminiscent of the niggun, a strongly rhythmic improvised song that represents pure religious ecstasy. The heraldic opening of the second movement seems to announce the establishment of the new state of Israel. In this movement Weinzweig uses segments of the serial set that he had chosen to build the opening chords in the piano and to provide the basis for lyrical material for the cello. The music at times represents the periods of turbulence and struggle that occurred to create the new nation state. In contrast to those sections there are lyrical passages expressing attainment. Thus the composer has aimed to musically describe the difficulties and satisfactions being experienced in the geographical area now known as Israel.

Alberto Guerrero (1886–1959): Chants oubliés and Danse (1916)

Alberto Guerrero is best remembered as the main teacher of Canada’s iconic pianist, Glenn Gould. In his native country of Chile, Guerrero was known as a fine composer of stage music as well as a pianist and pedagogue. Before finally settling in Toronto, he had several tours with the cellist Michael Penha. They gave a New York performance of Chants oubliés in 1916. About this concert the critic of Musical America wrote: “The works were so Ornsteinly [Leo Ornstein] original.” John Beckwith, Guerrero’s biographer (2006) considers this work of his few extant compositions to be outstanding. Obviously the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel has been absorbed by Guerrero and extended in new directions. As might be expected in the work of a South American, the Danse has subtle touches of a Spanish flavour in its rhythms.

Violet Archer (1913–2000): Sonata for Cello and Piano (1956, rev. 1972)

Violet Archer wrote her Sonata for Cello and Piano at the MacDowell Colony in 1956. Montreal-born Archer studied at McGill University and then completed a graduate degree at Yale University where she worked under Paul Hindemith. Her years as a member of the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra had given her a keen sense of the individuality of each instrument. In this Sonata she exploits different sides of the characters of the two instruments, at times sensuous, acrobatic, or witty. Like Coulthard she refers to older models of composition. The Baroque dance of the Sarabande was an inspiration for Coulthard’s second movement of the Sonata, while Archer draws on the Baroque concept of a slow-fast-slow-fast tempo arrangement of the four movements in her Sonata. Obviously both composers in their harmonic language draw on developments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

© Elaine Keillor 2014

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