A capriccio

The sonata no. 5, the Baldacci Suite, is a careworn standard for the aspiring cellist. It begins light, as a butterfly sunning its wings on a ripened shoot of grass, and bends, as the grass bends. Its lower notes sway to and fro. The amateur player will play these notes in a fluid fashion, trying to approximate the sway of the grass, to balance the gentle weight of the butterfly. As the piece roves lower on the octave, there is a long interval where the cellist is allowed to play a capriccio. Most novices schlep through this section to get at the lighter conclusion of the sonata. The Baldacci Suite is a common piece of music and most students meet it formally and move on to more substantive material.

There is an approach to the sonata that eschews piano accompaniment by the teacher. The rhythm can be greatly sacrificed without this overarching harmony but, left alone, the student’s bow and strings become much heavier in the hand, much more substantial. And the simplest gesture of the wrist can seem too wide and unwieldy. The Baldacci Suite, encountered thus, acquires a stronger wind. And when the student plucks those lower notes she feels the butterfly’s lightness crush her clumsy music, and when it comes time to play at her pleasure it is an infuriating clash with something so simple as a blade of grass. Long hours can be lost lashing at this tittle of ephemera, until the student remits her effort. It sounds wrong every time to the trained ear, empty of the very emptiness it appears to be. The wrist must slacken, the performer must give up competency, and surrender. Therein, when the grass bends, if she is listening, comes a twist.

That the wind cannot be held at bay is the sonata’s lesson. Mastering it is impossible. The cellist must learn to dance.

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