• Cello
  • 12 min

Programme Note

In 1978, Lady Margaret Douglas-Howe, Artistic Director of the Burnham Market Festival in Norfolk, asked me to write an unaccompanied 'cello piece for an outstanding young player who was, at the time, studying at Oberlin College in the USA. I wrote the music quite quickly, sent it to America, and some time later Steven Isserlis phoned me and said: "Can I come over and go through your Toccata with you? I'm back in England." He arrived one afternoon saying that he couldn't possibly play the work, promptly sat down, tuned up and performed the entire piece from memory with total conviction and a true understanding of every phrase. He has since played it many times in various countries, including the USSR and Eire, and has recorded it for the BBC.

The title refers, not as some listeners might expect, to the 'external' or surface character of the music, but to the technical dexterity required by the 'cellist. The music proceeds as a set of variations on a twelve-note melody of a whimsical character heard at the outset and covers a wide range of moods and speeds, becoming extremely virtuosic at times. Eventually, a meditative coda is reached, and the music fades away quietly, bringing the work to a still close. Toccata is dedicated to Steven Isserlis.

Robert Saxton 1992