Return to Chamber Music
Return to Works

Cantos for Slava (2007)

Mstislav Rostropovich ("Slava")

For cello and piano or viola and piano

In Celebration Mstislav Rostropovich
First performance by Matt Haimovitz, cello, and Geoffrey Burleson, piano, 21 September 2009 in Boston, MA
Duration: 12'
Duration without Canto #1: 10 minutes

There are two versions of this work.
One is:

The other is arranged as:
SLOW, FAST, FAST, SLOW; i.e.: with the two fast sections combined in the middle.

The sonic musical materials for either version are the same. The only difference is the order with slight adjustments at the “seams”. Please indicate to the publisher which version you wish to order because the printed sheet music differs depending on the version.

The fast, jazzy, with cello-pizzicati music has been transformed and developed into stand-alone 7-minute composition. If you would like to review that composition it is titled Bebop Riddle II.




Canto #1: “Playful and Energized.”

Canto #4: "Elegant and Lyrical."

CD Available

This work is available on Odd Couple

Program Note

With Mstislav Rostropovich after the world premiere of chamber opera LIGEIA which Slava commissioned from Augusta

Slava fostered and fought for that outward-looking spirit that embraces openness, understanding and, above all, liberty.  He believed that it was freedom of expression and a passionate devotion to the arts and to the universality of the idea of political liberty that allows the arts to flourish. Slava would not have wanted me to write solely a slow dirge or funeral song in his memory, as he was too full of life, creativity, new ideas, new sounds, energy, and passion.

Canto means any of the main divisions of a long poem.  In Cantos for Slava, four cantos are played without pause, #1 and #3 each lasting about two minutes, #2 and #4 each lasting about 4 minutes.  They are of contrasting moods, although all based on related materials.  Cantos #1 and #3, fast, are directly interconnected, same with the slow Cantos #2 and #4.

Because Slava played pizzicato with marvelous power and musicality, an underlying concern of this composition is that of plucked sounds. For instance three techniques are to be played with a great variety of color: the cello playing pizzicato, short pizzicato-like notes or chords played on the keyboard, and plucking of strings inside the piano.

In Canto #1, which is characterized by playful and energized syncopated lines, the cello plays only pizzicato (never using the bow).  In Canto #2, marked "Spacious, Elegant and Warm," there is one plucked piano string for each of Slava's 80 years of life; and no single note is plucked more than once.  (i.e.: 8 notes are not ever plucked assuming an 88-key piano). Above this round resonance of collected tones, the cello sings a long, soulful line, at times almost as if chanting- as if the cello was telling a story.  Canto #3 interrelates Canto #1 and #2 for two minutes and serves as a transition to Canto #4, which is marked "Elegant and Lyrical." It is a dreamy melodic trajectory and toward the very end, the score is marked: " if floating away into the sunshine..."

Cantos for Slava is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Frances Richard, Matt Haimovitz and Geoffrey Burleson.

The premiere was given by Matt Haimovitz and Geoffrey Burleson on September 21, 2008 and they recorded it onto commercial CD, released by Oxingale.

It is optional to perform the work without the first Canto, starting at bar #42, in which case the piano should NOT play bar #42 with the cello — but should start playing in bar 44.   And the program note should be revised accordingly if you plan to start with Canto #2.  The composer slightly prefers the version without Canto #1.

— Augusta Read Thomas

Selected Reviews

Lloyd Schwartz, The Boston Phoenix The Ditson Festival of Contemporary Music
"Cellist Matt Haimovitz, joined by pianist Geoffrey Burleson, played the world premiere of August Read Thomas's Cantos for Slava, a memorial piece for Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich that was both uncannily light on its syncopated feet and ravishing."

Jeanne Fischer of the Fischer Duo playing Cantos for Slava at Serenak at Tanglewood Music Center under the portrait of Koussevitzky.

To obtain examination or performance material for any of
Augusta Read Thomas's works, please contact G. Schirmer Inc..