Anthony Ritchie’s Dedication for Solo Cello Op. 90b

Brian Patrick Bromberg
18 November, 2021

Anthony Ritchie is one of New Zealand’s most prolific composers.  He has written over 200 works, including five symphonies, concertos for viola, violin, piano, many works for choir, and chamber works for nearly every ensemble imaginable. 

Dedication for Solo Cello, composed in 1996, is a fantastic addition to the solo cello repertoire, an addition that brings fresh ideas to the instrument without seeming avant-garde or unapproachable.  The overall structure of the piece is in three interconnected parts, the opening of which starts with a ⅞ dance. 

It utilises open strings and resonant double-stops and has both melodic lines and driving rhythmic patterns.  As is typical of Ritchie’s works of this era, he uses tonal material as the basis of his main sections and themes and then takes the listener on a journey full of surprises. 

The second section of the piece is a slow 6/8 melody that always reminds me of Central Javanese gamelan music written in the pelog scale.  When playing this section it is important to maintain the pulse, so that the tempo inflections the composer has written are maximally effective.  If the movement is too rubato, these tempo changes lose their effectiveness.  There is one particularly idiomatic and satisfying-to-play passage that appears mid-way through this section and eventually takes us to the climax.  The combination of open strings, natural harmonics, and double stops make the cello resonate with depth and intensity.

This middle section shrinks down to whispering A and D string harmonics,  and we come to the final and fastest section of the piece.  Dance rhythms return here in this rambunctious finale where it’s easy to hear the influence of Hungarian folk music that Ritchie absorbed during his time in Hungary.  The modal melodies and open string passages serve to further strengthen  the folky feeling of this finale.

At a lively ♩= 144 it is important to keep a super steady tempo throughout so that the offbeat accents and metric interplay are maintained. As we make our way to the last bars of the piece, there is a pulling back in tempo that lets us really expose the harmonic structure of this last section in two big chords that resonate until the double bar.  

It is interesting to point out that Ritchie wrote this piece as a wedding present for some friends who were soon to move house.  He prints the text “Farewell to you my friends” over the final six notes that fade to nothing over a quietly plucked open C string.

Overall, this piece is a great solo piece to open a cello recital.  It’s full of energy, lyricism, and fun.  In terms of difficulty, this piece is very playable, the difficult sounding passages really lay on the instrument quite nicely.  If you enjoy the music of Prokofiev, Schostakovich, Bartok you will really love working on this piece. 

Scores available from http://www.anthonyritchie.co.nz/