Week 37: “Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 49” by Dmitry Kabalevsky

I think that some instruments were created for a specific purpose. The electric guitar, for example, was invented so that teen angst could be given a soundtrack. The slide whistle was invented to make sad clowns funny. And the bagpipes were invented as a weapon to drive the English out of Scotland, screaming and clasping their hands over their ears.

The cello, meanwhile, was invented so that people would know what beautiful sounds like, and Kabalevsky puts the instrument to good use in this piece.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The shifts from major to minor. Considering that he was the son of a mathematician, and a member of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, Kabalevsky wrote some amazingly emotional music.

2. The oboe echoing the cello. It took a few listens for me to notice this, and I’m not sure why; picking out an oboe in a sea of string instruments should be as easy as finding your own belly-button. But once I noticed it (the oboe, that is), I loved it.

3. The cello by itself, beginning at 3:07. After a particularly victorious-sounding section, the orchestra slips away, leaving the cello to fend for itself. On this particular recording, the cellist is Yo-Yo Ma, who, when not hanging out with his buddy Bobby McFerrin, does a pretty good fending for himself. Notice that the major-minor thing happens again, in pizzicato form, at 4:06.

Recommended listening activity:

Taking a nap under a sheet that’s just come out of the dryer.

Buy it here.