The Cellist, Composers and Performers

Norman Rockwell painting of an old man playing cello while young child dances

by Galway Kinnell

At intermission I find her backstage still practicing the piece coming up next. She calls it the "solo in high dreary." Her bow niggles at the string like a hand stroking skin it never wanted to touch. Probably under her scorn she is sick that she can't do better by it. As I am, at the dreary in me, such as the disparity between all the tenderness I've received and the amount I've given, and the way I used to shrug off the imbalance simply as how things are, as if the male were constituted like those coffee- makers that produce less black bitter than the quantity of sweet clear you poured in - forgetting about how much I spilled through unsteady walking, and that lot I threw on the ground in suspicion, and for fear I wasn't worthy, and all I poured out for reasons I don't understand yet. "Break a leg!" somebody tells her. Back in my seat, I can see she is nervous when she comes out; her hand shakes as she re-dog-ears the top corners of the big pages that look about to flop over on their own. Now she raises the bow - its flat bundle of hair harvested from the rear ends of horses - like a whetted scimitar she is about to draw across a throat, and attacks. In a back alley a cat opens her pink-ceilinged mouth, gets netted in full yowl, clubbed, bagged, bicycled off, haggled open, gutted, the gut squeezed down to its highest pitch, washed, sliced into cello strings, which bring an ancient screaming into this duet of hair and gut. Now she is flying - tossing back the goblets of Saint-Amour standing empty, half-empty, or full on the tablecloth-like sheet music. Her knees tighten and loosen around the big-hipped creature, wailing and groaning between them as if in elemental amplexus. The music seems to rise from the crater left when heaven was torn up and taken off the earth; more likely it comes up through her priest's drss, up from that clump of hair which by now may be so wet with its waters, like the waters the fishes multiplied in at Galilee, that each wick draws a portion all the way out to its tip and fattens a droplet on the bush of half notes now glittering in that dark. At last she lifts off the bow and sits back. Her face shines with the unselfconsciousness of a cat screaming at night and the teary radiance of one who gives everything no matter what has been given.


black and white photo of Rostropovich in thumb position From its inception, the cello has provided the bass line in both chamber and symphonic music. But because of its warm, human-like tone and wide range, it has also become a solo instrument. For the purposes of this page, we will concentrate on the cello as a solo instrument.

Many composers have written for the cello, beginning with Johann Sebastian Bach's 6 Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. Some of the more well known composers and their works are: Franz Joseph Haydn, Concerto in D Major (as well as a less famous one in C Major); Robert Schumann, Concerto in A minor; Antonin Dvorak, black and white image of Casals conducting Concerto in B minor; Sir Edward Elgar, Concerto in E minor; and Camille Saint Saens, Concerto in E minor. Of course there are many other composers and many different types of works, such as concerti, sonati, rhapsodies, and numerous smaller pieces.

The most famous player of this century is Pablo Casals. He did more to teach and advance the cello than any other player. Others include Jac- queline Du Prez, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Pierre Fournier (all deceased), as well as Janos Starker, Lynn Harrell, Yo Yo Ma, and Mstislav Rostropovich.

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