Need a great musical way to celebrate Women's History Month? How about playing some new solo cello music by up and coming composer Aitana Kasulin?
Aitana Kasulin is an Argentinian composer whose music, while utilising a tonal vocabulary, takes the listener on journeys to fantastic unexplored sound worlds. There are memorable melodies, interesting juxtapositions of harmony, and innovative rhythmic gestures. This is a composer whose work deserves more attention.
Saudade is a Portuguese word that doesn’t have a direct translation into English. It is a noun that means a kind of deep longing for someone or something. The word nostalgia carries some of this meaning, but saudade also includes the feeling of bittersweetness. It is a special word that many composers and musicians have used to title and describe their music.
When I first came across this piece I immediately took notice of the limited range. So often you come across new pieces of music and it seems like the composer wants to make sure the listener knows the absolute highest note possible on the instrument. All too often these super high notes are saved for these incredibly climactic moments where we have to play super high and super loud. Kasulin’s piece is different. In fact, the lines rarely go above 4th position on the A string. This limitation in range makes these pieces totally appropriate for younger cellists who are interested in exploring new music but who haven’t yet learned the upper positions.
Kasulin draws a thread of continuity through all three pieces in a few ways. The first is by keeping the same crochet equals 60 tempo for each piece. Rhythmic and metric variety provide the necessary variation to keep the music interesting over the 10 minute running time.
The first two pieces in the set are very free rhythmically so the crochet beat is often not felt by the listener. Even when we get to the third piece of the set, which is more metric than the other two, a freedom of metre still seems to prevail.
Piece 1 includes a secondary line that has the player tap a quiet rhythmic figure on the case of the instrument. This percussive background rhythm acts as a reminder of a more ordered rhythmic music in an otherwise rather rhythmically free fantasia. Both the first and second pieces in the set focus more on implications of harmony and movement rather than on memorable tunes. This works quite well, as Kasulin very often incorporates open strings into the rapid arpeggio-like figures that span the lower range of the instrument. Many of these figures appear multiple times throughout the three pieces. Ex. (Major 7th arpeggios, melodic patterns in 5ths and 4ths)
The second piece in the set is the most virtuosic and further explores the harmonic material laid out in the first piece. In the second piece there are two contrasting characters that trade off throughout the piece. The first utilises the ascending 5th material and presents a kind of cool echo effect.
The second character is a light skipping figure that is always presented in a lower dynamic.
Finally, we come to piece number three that opens with a lamenting G minor melody on the D string. To bring a clarity of character to this piece, careful attention must be paid to the phrasing and dynamics of the melody. Additionally, the performer must weigh the advantages of playing in higher positions on lower strings. Indeed, the first page and much of the second page could be played entirely in first position, but doing so would break the continuity of line and tone colour.
This set of pieces is an excellent addition to the cannon and accessible by a very wide range of players from ABRSM level 8 students to professionals. What makes a piece great is how you can revisit it throughout your life and bring new interpretations each time. Do, Saudades has this kind of staying power.