• Two Pieces for Baby5:19

frank stemper

for solo cello [7 min.]


These two pieces, actually one piece masquerading as two different pieces, was commissioned by composer/cellist Tom Flaherty for 25¢, when we were graduate students together in New York.  I’m not sure who performed the piece first.  It was probably Tom, but it may have been on 10 July 1980 by Paul Kilpatrick on a Wisconsin Contemporary Music Forum (WCMF) series in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  But now that I think of it, the piece was most likely performed by someone at the University of Oregon, as part of a regional American Society of University Composers (ASUC) conference.

However, it was my pal Tom Flaherty who instigated the piece, then performed a dozen times, then recorded it on Opus One Records, Inc., and then performed it another couple dozen times.  The piece has also been heard across the United States, CANADA, WESTERN and EASTERN EUROPE.

This was the first time a piece just spilled out of me.  I wrote it when I as a grad student.  Another student had been given an assignment to write a solo ‘cello piece as part of his comprehensive exams.  My assignment was to write an a cappella choir piece, but I really thought it was a great idea to write a piece for solo ‘cello.  I persevered and completed my choir piece (see CAGE), and then completed my comprehensive exams including a grueling oral examination.  But as soon as I had time again, I started the solo ‘cello piece.  And, as I said, it just spilled from my pencil.  It was as I was taking dictation from some unknown cellist in the back of my head.  I just wrote and wrote, and then the piece was finished.  I hardly changed a thing. 

It was also the first time my music went chronologically backwards, or thus it seemed.  I remember starting the second of the two pieces, and then suddenly I was writing the first piece again, or at least discussing the same things from the first piece.  And then, I as I continued the second piece issues, I went back and, sure enough, the first piece was also discussing those issues.  Narrative Time is a very interesting thing, and this was my first experience dealing with it, or actually it was dealing with me.

By the way, the “Baby” was our first child, Julia, who was born a few months before I wrote the piece.  She’s now an actress living in Chicago, specializing in Shakespeare (she’s done it at the Globe in London), and she has her own Shakespeare troupe.  Don’t get me started on my children.