for cello quartet
I have always loved the cello, and have often thought that if I had it to do over again I would be a cellist rather than a bass player. As much as I love the double bass, the cello repertory is just so much richer. In particular, I am very fond of cello ensembles: those wonderful pieces for cello choir by Villa Lobos, of course, but also things like the cello quartet in the last act of Tosca, the quintet at the beginning of the William Tell Overture, the viola/cello ensemble at the beginning of the 1812 Overture, and that brief but spectacular passage for multiple cellos (and horns) in La Mer.
After hearing a performance of Penderecki’s Agnus Dei, arranged for cello octet, a few years ago I thought I would like to write a piece for cello ensemble. Originally, under the spell of the Penderecki, I wanted to write an octet, but finally decided to go with the somewhat more practical quartet. I approached my colleague Paul York, the cello professor at the University of Louisville, and he gave me the go-ahead.
The title, which means “verses of [or from] the soul,” is taken from Versos sencillos, a collection of poetry by José Martí, probably Cuba’s best known literary figure. It comes from a couplet that reads “Y antes de morir yo quiero/Echar mis versos del alma.” (And before I die/I wish to send forth the verses of my soul.) The lines are incorporated into the well-known popular song, “Guantanamera,” the text of which is assembled from several, actually unrelated, poems from Versos sencillos.
I have tried simply to do what the poem says: send out some soulful musical verses. Despite the origins of the inspiration, I don’t think it sounds particularly Latino, and doesn’t incorporate any references to “Guantanamera,” as fond as I have always been of that song. The music is highly cello-specific, using techniques and sounds unique to the cello and exploring the huge range of the instrument and many, certainly not all, of its expressive capabilities.