Got a note from a cellist looking for solo pieces to record for an upcoming CD. He wants to know if I have written any unaccompanied cello pieces.

I almost wrote him back saying I hadn’t, but then I gave it another moment’s thought and remembered I had three:

Dele 3: Independividual (1978)
Monody (1988)
Assault, assuage, assimilate (1992)

When I was nineteen, I wrote a cycle of pieces that took well-known masterworks and removed a majority of the voices, testing the limits of their coherence. I called them “decompositions,” and thought them quite witty and fascinating, in a conceptual way. Independividual was the third of these pieces; it consists of the bottom voice of the B Major fugue from Bach’s WTC I. I believe it was only performed once, by bassist Robert Black.

There was a time when I would have been horrified to have anyone know these pieces existed. Now, I find them interesting again – partly because they are so shamelessly sophomoric.

Ten years later, I wrote Monody, which consists almost entirely of double-stops – the G-string sustained throughout, while a freely modal melody meanders over the entire length of the D-string. The cellist who premiered it hated it, possibly for good reason, although he wasn’t exactly a patient man.

Then came Assault, assuage, assimilate, a deliberately provocative title. Ass3, as I like to think of it, has never been performed and, in fact, should not be performed – it’s a piece that should only be recorded. It’s for seven cellos, all recorded by one performer. A solo cello begins with an abrasive, repetitive figure; the others enter one by one, gradually enfolding the aggressive line into a warm embrace.

So today I will respond to this cellist’s request, but I haven’t yet decided what to tell him. Options:

1. I don’t have any solo cello pieces.
2. My solo cello pieces are all very old and no longer represent my compositional thinking.
3. I have three solo cello pieces: Independividual, Monody and Assault, assuage, assimilate. Would you be interested in one of them?

If I take the third option, I’ll be obliged to dig through the cobwebs to see if I can actually find them, a prospect I have little patience for. Which will I do? Gotta decide today.

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