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Thread: Writing a Cello Sonata for the first time

  1. #1
    Senior Member caters's Avatar
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    Default Writing a Cello Sonata for the first time

    So, I thought of maybe writing a cello sonata. After all, the cello and the piano complement each other so well. The overtone spectrum is very similar. Out of all the piano + solo instrument combinations I have seen and heard, I think the cello piano duo is the most balanced of them all(crossing octaves and having the 2 instruments at the same dynamic is not an issue). Though to be fair, bassoon + piano is pretty well balanced and flute + piano is very well balanced when the flute is in higher registers but when it is in the lower registers, more breath is required to not be overpowered by the piano because the flute gets quieter as it gets lower if the amount of breath is kept constant.

    I was thinking of maybe starting the sonata off with a cello solo. I know I want there to be some spots of piano solo and some spots of cello solo as well as the 2 instruments in a duet. I also know that the cello becomes the primary source of the melody when you write a cello sonata. I am not a cellist myself but I love the warmth it gives and how well it complements the percussive attack of the piano.

    I will probably want at least 1 ritardando towards the end of the first movement.

    By the way I have started making my own catalog of compositions. I call it the CMW catalog because I decided to use my initials for the letters before the Roman numerals. So far I have these categories in my catalog:

    I: Piano sonatas(the bulk of my works use the piano, whether it be solo or with other instruments)
    II: Piano Quartets
    III: String Quartets
    IV: Cello sonatas

    So I am going a similar route to that of Haydn as far as my catalog.

    My first piano sonata for example would have this on the left side above the tempo:

    CMW I. 1

    Other than changing from bass clef to tenor clef or tenor clef to treble clef when I reach 2 or 3 ledger lines above the current clef and changing back to tenor clef or bass clef when I reach the lowest note that I would write in that clef if I were changing clefs and I know that I will go lower for at least a few measures, I wonder if there is any advice you could give me on writing a cello sonata.

    I'm not all that familiar with writing for cello(I have written for cello a few times but that isn't enough for me to get familiar with writing for cello, plus sometimes it was orchestral or in ensemble and sometimes it was solo and I know that different things would apply to solo cello than to a cello in an ensemble. For example double stops would be totally okay in a solo cello piece as would triple and even quadruple stops as long as you don't use them all that often whereas in an ensemble, if any instrument is doing double stops it is more likely to be the violin than the cello and even then it is more likely to be a piano or harp that plays 2 notes at the same time. The clef rule of thumb that I typed in previously also applies. I have heard that if you can sing a melody, a cellist can play it as long as it is within the range of the cello. This is the range I get when I look up cello range:

    C2-A5(without harmonics)
    C2-A7(with harmonics, highest A on the piano)

    But I assume both these ranges would be for pro cellists and that the amateur cellist would have much less of the tenor register and none of the high register.

    Besides what I just wrote and how I would go about writing a piano sonata, is there anything else that could help a composer like me who has never played the cello, only the piano, write a cello sonata? I know that 2 obvious solutions are to either learn the cello or talk with a cellist. Thing is though, I don't know if I can afford the cello or even if it is worth buying since I play the piano so much. Sure, I would probably become a virtuoso cellist relatively quickly(especially since I have perfect pitch and I use my piano as a tuner for the guitar and the violin), but even a beginner's cello will cost around $1000 not taking the bow into consideration. Granted, I could find it for much cheaper on Amazon but it would still be several hundred dollars probably. So I can't really afford a cello right now anyway.

    Also, I don't know any cellists, haven't met one in person, and have no idea where I would contact a cellist to ask them questions about composing for the cello. Would I contact a string quartet around me even though I am not composing this for a string quartet? Would I contact an orchestra around me?

  2. #2
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    Isn't it an idea to actually write one (or more) cello sonata(s) before going to the trouble of devising a catalogue registering the as-yet non-existent cello sonatas?

    I don't think you need to actually learn the cello to write a sonata for it. After all writing a symphony doesn't require the composer to learn to play all the instruments employed in the work!
    You should probably listen to a lot of cello sonata models and follow the scores, which gives both an idea of what has been done and how it was done. Those cello works composed by or with the collaboration of cellists are a good start. They have already been through the process of discussion between composer/performer.

    It's very easy to read about the cello's capabilities in any book on orchestration/instrumentation and as a solo instrument.

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    Hi Caters

    I am a new member and just came across your post. I have a few initial comments to make:

    1. What standard of player are you catering to? You mention that the cello uses 3 clefs, but only cello sonatas with high technical requirements tend to use treble clef.
    2. The cello range is correct, A5 is often played as a harmonic depending on the music. going to A7 takes lots of practise, so any sonata going beyond about E5 (harmonic) will dissuade all but the more professional players from attempting it.
    3. I am a professional cellist (Master of Music in cello performance), and I may be able to be of more help if you ask specific questions.
    4. I would not necessarily contact string quartets or orchestras at this stage.

    When listening to cello sonatas, see which music period you like. Are you a Baroque (Vivaldi) aficionado, or a Breval/Boccherini/Beethoven tragic? Or a Shostakovich/Prokofiev advocate? Maybe Schubert's 'Arpeggione' or Cesar Frank sonata is your preference?

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