Listen to "Piece for Solo Cello #9" here
I have been obsessed with the Bach Solo Cello Suites for decades. As a child I would sneak listens to my parent's vinyl records of these monumental works, recorded by the legendary Pablo Casals in the 1930's. To most classical musicians, Bach is the Alpha and Omega of music and to cellists, at least those over 40 years old, Casals holds a similar place in the cello world.
It is with great humility and trepidation that I have endeavored to write my own works for solo cello. One must brave the politely unexpressed and yet inevitable thoughts of colleagues who know and love the Bach Cello Suites as much as I. I must confess that these same thoughts occur to me, and I am not nearly as polite with myself as I compare my efforts with The Master, who probably dashed out his great works during coffee breaks.
I find composition to be an endless fascinating process since it is multi-dimensional. There is an ever-shifting interplay between intellectual, emotional, aesthetic, and tactile elements. There are certain compositional rules and traditions that one must always have in oneís sight, so composition is far from a spontaneous outpouring of notes, at least for us mere mortals. There are certain places I need to go, structurally, and it can be a puzzle as to how to get there. Sometimes I find myself, when stuck on a compositional problem, looking to Bach to see how he solved the same issue.
It should come as no surprise that emotion is part of the compositional process. I donít believe that music and emotion should ever be disassociated from each other. Some composers and performers strive for this separation, saying that music should speak for itself, but I canít imagine divorcing oneís feelings from the notes. The best music, at least for me, is like distilled emotion.
Perhaps most importantly, I strive for music that is aesthetically pleasing on some level. In other words, I try to write music that I would like to listen to. Some composers seem to get caught up in the highly intellectual side of composition, delighting in some admirable mathematical construction, and they seem to lose sight of the fact that their music is not something anybody would ever listen to. After I have wrestled with some intellectual problem, I always take a step back and ask myself if I actually like it. This litmus test has resulted in several abandoned pieces.
The tactile element is also very important in my process. I enjoy writing for the cello since I know how it feels in my hands to play certain notes, intervals, or strings. I use this intimate knowledge to assist in my process. A certain physical awkwardness, for example, can reinforce an emotional strain Iím trying to convey.
I hope that others will enjoy my music as much as I enjoy writing and playing it.
(Photos courtesy of courtesy of Kyle Madson)
Tim Janof is Director of the Internet Cello Society and President of Seattle Cello Congress. His interviews of almost 70 internationally known cellists, pedagogues, and scholars, including Mstislav Rostropovich, Janos Starker, and Anner Bylsma, continue to serve as reference material for cellists around the world. He has written several articles for the Internet Cello Society that are cited throughout the internet's classical music community, including Interpretational Angst and the Bach Cello Suites and Baroque Dance and the Bach Cello Suites. He has also had articles published in The Strad and American String Teacher magazines. Prior to his involvement with the Internet Cello Society, Tim Janof was President of the Seattle Violoncello Society, a cello instructor at Music Center of the Northwest, and principal cellist of community orchestras in the Seattle area. Tim Janof was largely self-taught until his sophomore year in college. He was able to win a cello position in the Seattle Youth Symphony
without ever having had a single cello lesson. He then studied with Toby Saks, Eva Heinitz, and Cordelia Wikarski-Miedel. Tim Janof continues to juggle his job as an electrical engineer with his music activities as a writer, performer, and composer.