Cello Sonata (Pathways of Desire)
Score and part included.
Commissioned by the Thelma Hunter Fund at the American Composers Forum.
Premiere—2010, by Zuill Bailey, cello; Lydia Artymiw, piano, Music in the Park Series, Saint Paul, MN.
Recording available on request.
A pathway of desire is a collaboration of choice and trajectory, a route off the beaten track marked out while seeking a way from here to there. Architects use the phrase. The trail that leads diagonally across the park is a pathway of desire. So, too, the mailman’s snow track from house to house. A forest bushwhack would qualify; so could a game trail. It’s a high-falutin’ term for a most natural yen: that given the freedom to roam, we’ll do so in the most expedient, often Euclidean way. In life, the fences that foil pathways of desire may protect us; in the world of the imagination, trampling on rules leads to unmapped places. In writing this work, I permitted the genre to suggest formal borders, but once inside, I allowed my spirit to range.
The sonata begins with a meandering, soulful movement which takes its moody tone from the plaintive lowered sixth scale-step. There are three themes, and the style varies considerably throughout. Before the coda, the unaccompanied cello summarizes things, as it might in a concerto. Odd meters abound in the playful Fast movement, but the trio is more hymn-like. The slow movement comprises a songful tune, a chromatic wedge figure and an archaic-sounding progression that seems to suspend time. The close is luminous. After a couple of phrases “quasi cadenza,” the cello launches the fugato finale by recalling the opening of the work in a jazzy voice. A seductive second theme adds Latin rhythms, and spirits remain irrepressibly high to the end.
The Cello Sonata, Pathways of Desire was composed with sincere gratitude to Thelma Hunter for her generosity, and to Julie Himmelstrup for her advocacy over many years. I’m indebted to Gina Parosa for her essay on pathways of desire in the radio series, This I Believe. A note of appreciation to cellist Truls Mørk, who expressed interest in such a piece and sparked its commission.