Suite for Cello
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11 March 1986
Paul Recital Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City, New York
Robert LaRue, cello
1. Meditation No. 10
3. Scherzo: Homage a Copland
4. 'Three Musicians (1921)'
5. Meditation, Again
The Suite for Cello was composed between May and November of 1985 and is dedicated to Robert LaRue, who premiered it on 11 March 1986 at Lincoln Center's Paul Recital Hall. If the violin suite impresses the listener as a lyrically charged composition buttressed by composition buttressed by strong motivic ideas, then the cello suite forms the next step in an intense reductive process. Each of the five movements shares material from the first measure of the first movement, and the overall effect can be concentration to the point of brutality. Hagen was studying the process of 'cellular development' in the music of Stravinsky and Varese at the time, so his use of a painting by their great contemporary Picasso as a takeoff point for one of the movements is supremely appropriate. If the suite aims to prove the dictum that time in music is equivalent to space in visual art, it also shows how the various levels of a composer's life creatively interlock. The central scherzo is an act of homage to a great composer, the second and fourth are portraits of Hagen and Paetsch and LaRue together, while the outer movements are strictly Hagen's internal thoughts: the public, collegial, and private worlds seamlessly coalesce.
In the opening 'Meditation' gesture is all, tonality nearly irrelevant. The gestures unfold over an arch form rondo plan, with each coupled to the intervals of the perfect fifth, diminished fifth, or major ninth. While most of the music is rugged, a central section provides calm relief, with the violin suite's plaintive minor thirds making a return appearance. Hagen's finale, fleet and grim, is a re-execution of the first movement's material, the vertical sonorities composed-out horizontally. The scherzo is a strong contrast of mood, a celebration of Aaron Copland's music written when he first met the composer at Tanglewood, and given to him as a birthday gift. Copland's muse is most clearly honored in the bouncy two-plus-three mixed meters which influenced so much of mid-century American music; Hagen's voice comes out in the smiling but devilish trickery of the central section, in which difficult left hand pizzicati surround a skipping bowed motif coyly reminiscent of 'Tea for Two.'
In the two flanking movements Hagen makes portraits of himself and his two friends. 'Hagen' and 'LaRue,' transformed into gutsy musical ideas, make friendly battle during most of the little 'Rondino,' while 'Michaela' is shown in a pastoral central panel. 'Robert's' fugal idea (which begins the movement) adds voices on each successive entry until it ardently escapes the instrument's middle register. 'Three Musicians (1921),' based on the famous cubist painting of Picasso, is a far more fluid and daring experiment. On sight it is hard to tell whether Picasso's singer, recorder player and guitarist were painted or pasted on, and Hagen goes for a similar collage effect here, daubing on his ideas in an imagistic flow. Paetsch is seen in airy adagio lines, pleasant but not serene; Hagen in impetuous allegros; and LaRue in mercurial pizzicato runs or mysterious, disinterested strummed chords.
First performed on 11 March 1986 at the Paul Recital Hall of Lincoln Center by Robert LaRue, the first three movements were completed at Tanglewood on 30 July 1985, and the final two in New York City on 27 November 1985. The suite's first recording was made by Mr. LaRue for the Arsis label (Arsis CD111).
— Russell Platt, 1998