for solo cello | 2022 | 10'
World premiere: 19 June 2022 in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, as part of SmorgasChord 2022 by Tim Posner
Cantastoria was composed with an usual concert in mind: surrounding the audience were to be eight paintings by the extraordinary artist, Eva Frankfurther (1930-1959). Frankfurther was a Jewish emigré to Britain, and before her tragically early death produced a large number of paintings of exceptional expressivity and depth. For much of her life she lived in Whitechapel and most striking among her output is perhaps her portraits of the residents of that community, particuarly those of Jews and newly arrived immigrants.
The title, Cantastoria, refers to tradition of storytelling in which a storyteller narrates a story while referring to a series of images—the most famous example being perhaps 'Der Moritat von Mackie Messer' from Der Dreigroschenoper (1928). This, given the nature of the concert, and lent an associative quality of the Whitechapel area by Brecht and Weill's famous song, seemed like the perfect name for the piece.
Throughout the piece I employ a scordatura tuning in which the lower two strings of the cello are detuned by a semitone—the same as that so brilliantly employed by Zoltán Kodály in his Cello Sonata (1915). It lends the cello an exuberant, powerful sonority thatI found irresistible.
© Sebastian Black
Photo: ‘West Indian Waitresses’ by Eva Frankfurther c. 1955. Courtesy of the Ben Uri Gallery.