A new album by Steven Isserlis surveys the music written for the cello during the period of World War I. The album is called The Cello in Wartime. It includes several popular pieces performed on an instrument called a trench cello.
The trench cello is a lightweight, collapsible version of the instrument that can be transported easily and assembled in under five minutes. The trench cello Isserlis plays on this recording belonged to Harold Triggs, an English amateur cellist who served in the Royal Sussex Regiment. In the liner notes, Isserlis says that he tried to imagine what kinds of music Triggs might have played in the trenches and then chose those pieces for this album. These include a popular song, a patriotic song, a hymn and “The Swan” from the Carnival of the Animals.
Isserlis, along with pianist Connie Shih, also perform four pieces for cello and piano written during the 1910s. For these pieces, Isserlis plays his own cello, the “Marquis de Corberon” Stradivarius of 1726. The pieces include cello sonatas by Claude Debussy, Frank Bridge and Gabriel Faure as well as a suite of three short pieces by Anton Webern. All of these works were written in the period of World War I, and each composer was deeply affected by the war in different ways.
Detailed liner notes by both Isserlis and historian Charles Beare explain the history of the trench cello, describe how it is assembled and include several pictures of the instrument. They also discuss the story of Harold Triggs and how his trench cello came to be used in this particular recording.