Cello Suite

Reflections, Dances and Fantasias a flexible suite for unaccompanied cello

Liz Dilnot Johnson

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Reflections, Dances and Fantasias

a flexible suite for unaccompanied cello

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Composer Liz Dilnot Johnson
Year of Composition 2015
Duration ca.28'

Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-lj1cs1


I had several motivations for creating this flexible work. These individual movements are designed to be user friendly and can be combined with other works or played in a sequence to suit the contemporary performers’ needs. I also wanted to compose music where teachers and their students can share performances together. And I wanted to include moments of improvisation for the cellist. This suite is designed to encourage the cellist to create and invent their own selection of music, combining the notated music with improvised moments, and offering an invitation to shape, reorder and invent new ideas around the given music of the score. As a cello player myself, I was never encouraged to improvise, and I hope this work will encourage classically trained players to engage more creatively with the score, which I see as a collaboration between composer and performer.

The core of the music, with which the music begins and ends, is drawn from the beautiful medieval plainchant Ave generosa written by the 12th century visionary poet, artist, philosopher and composer Hildegard of Bingen. The other key inspiration is the paintings and notebooks of the English artist Ben Hartley (1933-1996). The cello weaves its way around the medieval chant, hidden and decorated in different ways, only occasionally does Hildegard’s music come fully to the surface. The Ave generosa material forms a patchwork with rustic dances and reveries that are linked directly to Ben Hartley’s paintings and notebook entries. The two Fantasias (Reflections 12 & 27) combine ideas from the other movements and are the most virtuosic movements whilst others, such as Reflections 2, 6 and 20, are deliberately less challenging and suitable for less technically advanced players. The movements of the suite alternate between complex and simple music, embracing the bright colour and vigour of Hartley’s art works, as well as some of the incongruities and unusual juxtapositions found there. Hildegard’s music captures some of the intensity, beauty and vibrancy of Ben’s work, coupled with his deep religiosity (Hartley converted to Catholicism in 1968).

My thanks go to Bernard Samuels – the curator of the Ben Hartley Collection and to whom the work is dedicated – who has given me access to Ben’s notebooks and paintings (many painted on old brown parcel paper) and to cellist Heather Tuach – who made the premiere recording of the Cello Suite in 2016 (Intricate Web album, Liz Johnson Divine Art MSV 77206 with the title Reflections of an Eccentric English Artist). Heather gave the premiere performance on May 20th 2017 at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham, UK. Her assistance with finalising the Cello Suite and editing this first edition score has been invaluable. Thanks also to cellist Tamsy Kaner who performed an earlier version of the piece with SATB choir in 2010 called Ben Hartley Reflections.