Rhapsody for Violoncello & Piano

for Violoncello & Piano
Dan Locklair

Rhapsody for Violoncello & Piano was the result of a 2021 commission from the legendary Hungarian-Canadian briar Pipesmith, Julius Vesz. The commission honors the talented and sensitive young Canadian cellist, Emma Fisher, and is dedicated to her. For many years Mr. Vesz has been very close to the Fisher family and especially to Ms. Fisher’s father, Julian Fisher (Principal and Music Director of the Toronto School for Strings and Piano). Mr. Vesz has followed with great interest Emma’s growth as a person and as a musician, and this commission musically celebrates her.

Emma Fisher studied in the Phil and Eli Taylor Academy at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, with further studies in cello with Hans Jørsen and Andrés Diaz. At the time of this commission, Emma Fisher was a graduate student at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where her teacher was Paul Katz. Further studies have occurred at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The cellist for the Canadian Formare Piano Quartet, Ms. Fisher is at home in the worlds of both chamber and orchestral music and has a special interest in contemporary music. With many accomplishments already to her credit, Emma Fisher is poised for a significant career in music.

Rhapsody for Violoncello & Piano is approximately eight minutes in length and was composed during the spring of 2021. It is a lyrical composition whose musical materials throughout are based on the Lydian mode. Following a brief piano introduction, the cello presents the primary aria-like idea that is central to the composition. Tonalities shift often. The piano soon takes over the primary material, punctuated by cello interpolations of variants of the primary theme in ethereal, glassy harmonics. The cello soon returns in full voice and a climax point is reached. The mid-section of Rhapsody is based on the anonymous 13th-century Gregorian plainsong melody, Adoro te devote. Long associated with a Eucharistic hymn text by Thomas Aquinas, this mid-section of the piece pays tribute to the abiding presence of faith in Emma’s life. Adoro te devote is a chant based on Mode V, the Lydian mode. Although historically its fourth scale degree has been lowered to avoid the resulting interval of the tritone (the “devil in music” to the early church), when the chant melody is first heard in Rhapsody the fourth scale degree is raised so as to make it purely Lydian mode. Only at the climatic statement of the chant melody is its fourth scale degree lowered to project the familiar major mode sound of the chant that is heard in common usage. Following the climax of the piece, the opening section of the Rhapsody, now somewhat varied, returns and concludes in a rich and celebratory manner.

Dan Locklair
Winston-Salem, North Carolina