By Mary Nemet | From the January-February 2023 issue of Strings magazine
Here are three in a series of over 50 books arranged by Wolfgang Birtel for two, three, and four cellos. Each comprises a full score with separate parts. The lively sounds of swinging dances, stirring melodies, and temperamental tangos hark back to the 19th century with its well-loved and bewitching tunes, a nostalgic contrast to our busy and noisy world.
Scott Joplin: “Maple Leaf Rag”; Edward Elgar: “Land of Hope and Glory”; Angel G. Villoldo: “El Choclo Tango” Arr. by Wolfgang Birtel, Edition Dohr, Joplin, €9.80; Elgar, €9.80; Villoldo, €9.80
Birtel captures the march-like, mesmerizing beat of “Maple Leaf Rag” for four cellos.Joplin’s prediction that the piece would make him “the king of ragtime composers” came true, and since its composition 120 years ago, it has seen countless arrangements from the original piano solo to versions for dance and brass bands and even vocals. The scintillating sixteenth notes may need to be played at a more leisurely pace than at their customary speed; however, with its spirited bass line and jaunty syncopations, Joplin’s masterpiece will be a pleasure for four enthusiastic cellists endeavoring to bring it to vivid life.
In contrast, Elgar’s “Land of Hope and Glory” is taken from his famous Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches. Penned coincidentally around the same year as Joplin’s rag, this beautiful melody suits the noble timbre of the cello. Here Cello One takes the lead melody while the other three keep a military beat. This patriotic British song remains a walk-out song for international rugby league matches and is still an entry march for graduates at Yale since Elgar visited in 1905.
Angel Villoldo’s enchanting tango needs no introduction. Its style and mood are captured here in Birtel’s arrangement for two cellos, ideally complementing each other in equal measure. “El Choclo,” translated as the corn cob, was premiered in Buenos Aires in 1903 and quickly became the most popular tango in Argentina. Countless song and orchestral arrangements are known to new generations of fans, performed by Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Tony Martin, and perhaps most entrancing of all, the beguiling singer Julio Iglesias. Cellists will revel in these very appealing arrangements.