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Musical Explorations: Visiting Lukas Foss, Capriccio for Cello and Piano

I just finished rehearsing Lukas Foss, Capriccio for Cello and Piano (1948), with Cole Tutino, Professor of Cello at Miami University. We are preparing this piece along with the blockbuster hit, Rachmaninov Sonata for Cello and Piano, for a concert this Sunday.

Before collaborating with Cole, I was unfamiliar with Lukas Foss and his music. I am thankful for the introduction. Born in Germany, Foss and his family fled Nazi Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1937. Capriccio, a short, virtuosic six-minute work for cello and piano, depicts the optimism of his new life in America.

While there are some challenges in the piano part, this piece is a strenuous workout for the cellist. Written for Gregor Piatigorsky, Foss fully utilizes the whole gamut of the instrument by incorporating double stops across the four strings, adding special bowing effects, and featuring other extended techniques to create new, nontraditional sounds. I find these creative effects to be influential in conveying the jubilant, fanfare mood.

When I first heard the opening piano gesture, I thought that the piece sounded quite "American," like it came from some sort of Western film or scene, or even something resembling from Aaron Copland's Rodeo, which was written only six years earlier. This was a bit surprising to me since he had only uprooted his life about ten years ago. How did he acclimate to American life and culture so quickly? When learning more about Foss, I discovered he was close friends with iconic American composer, Leonard Bernstein, his classmate at the Curtis Institute of Music who would eventually write his big musical hit, Westside Story.

American-sounding or not, I like the individuality of the composer. In this piece, he doesn’t seem to conform to a particular style, but rather, he simply expresses his own "compositional voice." I noticed that he wrote a considerable amount of solo piano works including etudes, inventions, and other shorter pieces. Look out for a review of these works in the future!

Please enjoy a recording of this work by Gregor Piatigorsky, cello and Lukas Foss, piano. I would love to hear what you think of this piece!

Next week, I will recap our Sunday performance. Stay tuned.

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