Critical Notes Series: Hunkins's Rhapsody

Eusebia Hunkins - Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (First Edition)

​Born in Troy, Ohio, Eusebia Simpson Hunkins (1902-1980) studied piano and theory in Dayton until granted a fellowship from the Juilliard Foundation in New York. Her instructors at Juilliard were James Friskin in piano, Rubin Goldmark in theory and composition, and Albert Stoessel in conducting. Hunkins is known widely as a composer of American folk opera. Her husband Maurel Hunkins was Dean of Men and later Director of Public Occasions at Ohio University.

Eusebia Hunkins's family has many musicians, including her cellist/composer son Arthur, daughter Nancy (violinist), brother-in-law Sterling Hunkins (cellist), niece Nella Hunkins (cellist), niece Adrienne Elisha (violinist/composer), granddaughter Sarah Taylor (violinist), and others.

Hunkins's output included mainly piano, choral, and vocal works, as well as operas. According to her cataloger Alexandra Taliani, Hunkins only has 3 instrumental works, one for winds, one for string quintet, and finally the Rhapsody for cello and piano.

The 7-minute Rhapsody, composed in 1949, is a one-movement work in 5 parts. The outer parts are recitatives composed of open and extended harmonies. The second section is a lilting sicilienne with a bit of Irish flair. This section is diatonic with the theme repeating in A major and D major. The third section is a playful scherzo in B Dorian. The placid fourth section is in D major and switches between meters, with an undulating piano accompaniment.

Hunkins gives an option of playing a few phrases with artificial harmonics. If this option is taken, we recommend playing harmonics with the sounding pitch one octave above what is written. 

The Rhapsody was performed at Ohio University with Maurel Hunkins's orchestration. Arthur Hunkins recalls this performance with the Ohio University Symphony, directed by Dr. Karl Ahrendt, director of the Music Dept., with Janet Stewart (Marshall), cello teacher at OU, as the soloist. The materials for the orchestration have not been found to date. No other performances of the Rhapsody are known.

We would like to thank Arthur Hunkins and Sarah Taylor for kindly providing permission to publish the Rhapsody as well as the archives at Ohio University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for providing the sources for our first edition. The Rhapsody sources include an autograph piano score and cello part. The cello part and the cello line in the score have minor differences, mainly with regard to articulation marks and dynamics. A couple of pitches have been displaced by an octave.

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