COMPOSITION MAKING – episode 2 – reflections from the train

Matthias Kadar's "Diary of a composer" - video 2 - the railroad of inspiration

Welcome to the 2nd episode of Matthias's composition making diary. Today he's on the train,  thinking, writing and building the main themes of his Cello Concerto. Matthias is a very successful composer, singer, and songwriter,  (author for Cicerone of a beautiful composition interactive course), and now he has a new challenge, with his Cello concerto composition. The train, for Matthias, is an inspiring environment, as the train moves Matthias thoughts also move to quite a challenging idea: to start the concert with the Cello solo. Will he be able to have the outbursting opening he wants? See the video below. Then we also go on with the “History of Cello” taken from research by Vincent Liu published in the “journal of music and dance” in 2011.  Enjoy that!

Composition Making - Basic cello facts
The cello is a stringed instrument between the viola and bass in pitch (with some overlap) and is used as a solo instrument ensemble member and part of the strings section of an orchestra. Cellists generally read from the bass clef but may use tenor clef or treble clef as well. The cello’s original full name was “violoncello” (in Italian), a term rarely used now. A cello’s parts include the scroll, pegs, neck, fingerboard, f-holes, fine tuners, tailpiece, endpin, strings, and bow. The lowest note the cello is capable of producing when tuned correctly is the open C, which is two octaves lower than middle C; the cello’s sound range reaches up to five octaves higher than this low C  (Stowell, 1999).

Techniques include

  • Vibrato, in which the players move his left hand back and forth while fingering a single note to create an oscillation in the pitch.
  • Harmonics, softer notes produced by placing a finger lightly above the string in specific locations;
  • glissando, sliding a finger up or down the string without releasing to produce a smooth rise or fall in pitch;
  • spiccato, bouncing the bow on the string; and pizzicato, plucking the string with a finger (Janof, 1996)

Composition Making - Anatomy of the cello
The cello comprises of over 70 unique parts. The cello’s front belly is made of two pieces of pinewood or spruce attached; the back, similarly, contains two
pieces of maple or popular. A fine, unique line called purfling “runs parallel to the two edges of the top and back” of the cello, serving dual aesthetic purposes: not only is it visually appealing, but it also improves tone quality and helps keep the cello’s edges from cracking (Prieto, 2006). The rib or bout, which is wedged on the sides between the cello’s front and back consists of three segments—from the neck to the waist, from the upper waist to the lower waist (this section is shaped like a C), and from the lower waist to the end bottom of the tailpiece (Stowell, 1999). At the top of the cello’s head are the scroll and pegbox, which contains four ebony pegs used during tuning to increase or decrease the tensions of respective strings.

The neck connects the cello’s head to its body and is usually made of maple. The four strings (A, D, G, and C) run down the ebony fingerboard. When a cellist plucks or bows a string, sound waves are emitted through the two f-holes (named after their “f” shapes) on either side of the bridge. The bridge is made of maple, is held in place by the pressure of the strings, and transmits the vibration of the strings to the soundboard to produce music. The tailpiece is connected to the bottom of the strings and was formerly made of ebony, boxwood, or rosewood, but is now typically plastic. It contains the cello’s fine tuners, used to only slightly adjust the tuning of the four strings, as opposed to the pegs, which are usually used for bigger adjustments. Strings today are typically steel or a synthetic metal while being made of catgut in the past (Hillard, 2002). The endpin allows a cellist to “conveniently set the cello on the floor.”

Composition Making - be continued