A survey of the solo and chamber works for cello composed by William Bolcom
Kang, Eunice Myungwha
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The diversity of modern society and an increasingly global economy find many artists in various disciplines concerned with searching for a “common language,” an effective means of achieving relatively widespread public appeal without compromising the integrity of their artistic expression. Composers have responded to this modern dilemma in different ways, each musician developing a style that corresponds to his/her individual perspective. The term Postmodernism is used in this study in the specific context of Jann Pasler’s definition in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed.: Postmodernism as a reaction to Modernism, which involves the incorporation of previous styles and genres into a contemporary musical language. This study explores the stylistic approach of William Bolcom, whose compositional philosophy exemplifies a uniquely effective solution to the modern artist’s stylistic dilemma. His compositional style is examined in five works which feature the cello: Décalage for Cello and Piano (1962); Dark Music for Five Timpani and Cello (1970); Capriccio for Cello and Piano (1985); Sonata for Violoncello and Piano (1989); and Suite no. 1 in C Minor for Violoncello Solo (1994). These pieces exhibit a variety of influences, ranging from ragtime and the tango brasileiro style of Ernesto Nazareth to the works of Samuel Beckett and Arthur Miller. Although these compositions are not widely played or recorded, this study provides a resource for cellists who are interested in expanding their repertoire. Bolcom’s postmodern sensibility has produced effective works of enduring relevance and multi-faceted perspective.