Victoria Yagling: Cello Suite No. 1

At one point a major force in the Soviet musical world, cellist-composer Victoria Yagling (1946-2011) is completely forgotten by the general public of the Russian-speaking vestige of the USSR. Yagling came from a family of award-winning artists and academics. Her father Boris was a Jewish prose writer, publicist, screenwriter (film "The Day of the New World," 1940), playwright and war journalist, who died unexpectedly in active duty when Victoria was 2 years old. Her mother Emine-hanum was a hydrogeologist, painter and sculptor (wooden sculptures). Her stepfather Ilya Frenkel was Ukrainian-Jewish a poet, prose writer (the book of memoirs “River of Time," 1984), a war journalist, author of the texts of famous songs “Factories, Stand Up!,” “In Defense of the Peace,” “Let's Have a Smoke,” “Odessa Port” and others. Frenkel replaced Victoria's father, after his untimely death, and had a significant impact on the formation of her personality.

Yagling grew up in the time when musicians were expected to both play an instrument and compose. Her most notable teachers were cellist Rostropovich, and composers Kabalevsky and Khrennikov.

Victoria Yagling has a substantial catalog of compositions, but one work that sticks out among many is her First Suite for Solo Cello (1982). This work was selected to be the compulsory piece for the 7th International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1982. The Suite is comprised of four movements, a longer Prelude and three shorter movements.

The entire Suite stems from a 3-note motive, C-D-C. The slow-moving Prelude blossoms from the depths to the heights of the cello range, very much like the opening of Kabalevsky's Cello Concerto No. 2 and Schnittke's Cello Sonata No. 1. In addition to the 3-note motive, there is 5-chord motive that punctuates the music. The melodic outline of those chords is G-Bb-A-Eb-C#. The Prelude evaporates in the end. The Prelude and Fugue are to be played without pause.

The second movement is a Fughetta, or a Fugue in 2 Voices, as Yagling calls it in the manuscript. This is a tribute to the greatest Fugue composer, J.S. Bach. The subject is based on the 3-note motive, now presented in fast, 2-note clips. The countersubject is based on the melody from the 5-chord motive. The Fugue begins quietly, but grows steadily to the end.

The third movement is a gentle Intermezzo, perhaps inspired by the Intermezzo from Boris Tchaikovsky's Solo Suite, which Yagling recorded. This gentle slow waltz has a mixolydian flavor in the beginning. Yagling explores the beauty of harmony in this movement. The melody is always accompanied by doublestops or chords. The last quarter of the movement is played pizzicato, finishing on a C-G-D-C harmony, another moment reminiscent of Kabalesky's Cello Concerto No. 2.

The Finale is a tour de force. The 16th note figure, without a doubt, comes from the final part of Khachaturian's Concerto-Rhapsody. Again we see the 3-note motive from the Prelude accented among the perpetual motion of the 16th notes. The last few seconds of the Finale recap the Prelude and the Suite fades away on the C-G-E-C# harmony.

I will be performing this Suite several times in the Southeastern United States this season. I would like to thank the Martha Blackeney Hodges Collection for providing me a copy of the manuscript, as well as Fennica Gehrman for being active supporters and publishers of Yagling's music.

1 comment

  • Ovidiu Marinescu
    Ovidiu Marinescu West Chester, PA
    I was familiar with her music from my years in Romania, have not heard her name mentioned in the US until this year.

    I was familiar with her music from my years in Romania, have not heard her name mentioned in the US until this year.

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