Cello Sonata No. 1 (2006)
Much of the Cello Sonata was drafted in October 2005, at a cottage in the Ontario Muskokas where I spent a week on a composition retreat during a sabbatical year. I had been thinking of the road from pain and suffering to hope and celebration. My goal for that sabbatical had been to begin sketching an oratorio on the plight of the “Russian Mennonites”, reflecting the violence of the revolutionary times, the agony of relocation, and the challenge and joy of establishing new communities in a foreign land. In the end, I postponed this large plan, and rather set out to write a number of smaller works influenced by the dynamic of that narrative, one of them being the Cello Sonata.
Two months earlier that summer I had visited Tiegenhagen in the Ukraine, my mother’s childhood village. Though there was no remaining trace of the house and yard at the site, here was the home of her story, beginning with childhood years in revolutionary Russia, before her family fled for refuge to a new homeland in North America in 1924. None of that history is explicitly part of the Sonata, but traces of the emotional/spiritual narrative come through: the first movement expresses grief and pain; the second movement, “Hymn and Variations”, is hopeful with an almost giddy excitement in some of its variations; the third movement is a celebration—it is a Rondo, the joyful nature of its rustic refrains tempered by episodes recalling, in turn, the intensity of the first movement, and the hymn-like confidence of the second. In the end, though, it is the rustic theme--an almost peasant-like celebration--that wins out.
The work is unapologetically melodic, relative to the huge body of material for solo cello that has appeared in recent decades. In this, perhaps, the Sonata reflects my personal history of choral and congregational singing—of music as a voice of lament, healing, and celebration. I have always loved the cello, in my imagination it is a human voice.
The Sonata is dedicated to cellist Ben Bolt Martin, who premiered it in Waterloo, Ontario on 7 February 2007.