As a cello teacher, it is paramount that I always have an accompaniment ready to play with my students at any moment. This may prove easy if the repertoire is made of cello duets or baroque/classical sonatas for cello and basso, but it may become a problem when the piece is original for cello and piano or, worse—for me—, for cello and orchestra.
In the last 10 years, piano accompaniment in a school is at a premium, mainly because of bureaucratic whims, so we teachers need to make a virtue of necessity.
The Bohemian composer David Popper has been a personally successful choice for my students, his beautiful singing melodies easily winning over much more blazoned composers and compositions. Artistic Score Engraving’s catalogue already contained the most famous Gavotte op. 23 n° 2 in D major, arranged for cello and string orchestra on an idea of Susan Rybicki-Varga, and for two cellos for yet another student concert occasion.
This is the reason I am now most proud to dedicate to Susan and to offer to all of you my new arrangement of the first piece from the “Three Pieces for cello and piano, Op. 64”. They are called “As in the Old Days”, “Tarantella”, and “Lullaby”.
From this short preview, it is clear how Popper’s lightest piano writing is perfect for a single instrument arrangement, and I have decided to offer the possibility of playing this “pizzicato”, even if both versions sound good.
The cello starts to show its limits when it needs to play chords so, when this occurs, one has to make a choice of either taking out most of the notes, or to arpeggiate them as much as possible (that is, stretching those same notes over time). With either options, we are forcefully going to lose something but, ultimately, our goal is to save the shape and character of the piece without ruining it (too much!).
The form of this piece is quite simple, A-B-A (with a short “Coda” to close it).
The first part contains the beautiful melody that made this piece memorable and, while the piano adds colours for sure, doubling the bass line and few other notes when they happen to be comfortable and resounding on the cello is more than enough. The soloist repeats the same melody twice, with the accompaniment mimicking the same, always with a piano sonority.
At the end of the first page we shift from C minor to E-flat major, and a consequent shift in sonority, to mezzoforte. Here the arranger has to show his talents as when the cello is holding the reins of the dialogue, the piano is just doing chords. Popper is a master of weaving melodies one into the other, and thus, a singing melody (a) is superseded by a rhythmical exchange (b), which I have decided to realise with pizzicato dyads (quite uncomfortable to play, yet very effective). We now go back to C minor in what is considered the climax of the piece (c). The piano plays octaves, with the left hand jumping over the right one to play the part of the triangle in the orchestra, while the soloist shows its mettle with a short but challenging run of double stops.
Now, this part is just outstanding music: from a dominant chord in C minor, we end up directly in G major for the fourth episode of this central part (d).
This has possibly been the hardest part to arrange, as the piano part is so rich and beautiful that it was a pain to take out each extra note. I can tell you that, from when I started arranging this piece, to when I performed it in concert last year, I changed this part FIVE times! I was never happy with the sonority, with how the two melodies were mixing together. This part in G major continues with the piano playing in bass clef with both hands. Fantastic, you must think! Finally, something perfect to be arranged for cello! Sadly, I have to disappoint you, as even if the notes fall well on the cello, they do not sound that good. You see, playing chords in piano dynamic on the piano (sorry for the unintended pun) is quite effective, yet using the bow on the cello cannot get you below a certain volume. This part would demand the utmost delicacy, but I was unhappy with using pizzicato here, it was just not feeling right. In the end, one needs to be incredibly delicate with this part of the accompaniment.
Part B ends with a lyrical turn (e) around the dominant of C minor, prelude to the comeback of Part A. Here the piano plays with both hands in the higher register, basically one chord per bar in different positions. The cello’s sound in that register is not as effective as the piano’s one, so I have found what, I think, is a good middle ground.
Recapitulation and coda
The main theme comes back unaltered, with the piano part enriched by a shift in octave that contributes to the enlightening of the scene. Suddenly, though, the cello shifts to a high B-flat that sounds almost like a desperate cry for those Old Days that, we now have to accept, are truly gone. The part for the second cello that I have written here is quite hard to perform, and sometimes it may be good enough to play a long note in the bass, but it is effective nonetheless.
Before the coda, we have a beautiful Neapolitan chord that preludes to the fermata on the dominant.
The coda starts with the only passage in thumb position of the whole piece, both for the main cello, and for the accompaniment. Once more, choosing the proper notes among the many the piano is playing was not easy, and I had to arrange quite a few octave shifts as the sound balance was seldom appropriate.
This is the challenge of arranging for two equal instruments: their register is the same, the waveform is the same, their spectrum is the same. Many times, what plays superbly on the piano, is just not right for the cello. Nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy playing this marvellous piece as much as I have enjoyed arranging it.
Where can I find it?
As with all my scores and products, it can be found on many providers, but the only way to get the best versions and future updates is to purchase it on Gumroad. I try to update also the other shops, but it is such an uncomfortable procedure that it usually is not worth the time. Of course, if you have bought one of my scores on another shop (and can prove it!), and would like to get on the right boat, just e-mail me and I will provide you with a link to purchase it on Gumroad for free.
You can browse all my scores and products at this link, while this precise score by Popper is available here. If I may, I would like to suggest you follow me here: this will get you notified for every update, including exclusive discounts for new editions. Moreover, you will receive three gifts in the first week following your subscription, and a list of discounted codes exclusive to followers. This is the least I can do to thank you for supporting my creative work.
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