As a lover of traditional Classical music written up to the second half of the 20th-century, I am always skeptical when venturing out and exploring works written by 21st-century composers, as these modern pieces tend to sound unorthodox when compared to the standard classical repertoire I am familiar with. However, my skepticism turned to surprise as I was taken aback by the lyricism and colors used in “Air No. 2 for Cello and Piano” written by Kevin Puts. This piece is truly an “Air” in its homophonic texture and “aria-like” luscious melodies in cello that continue developing until the very end of the piece. “Air No. 2” is reminiscent of the Shostakovich and Walton Cello Concertos in its airy texture and use of a powerful statement in the form of a Cadenza. The biggest deviation from the standard classical repertoire is found in the ambiguity of form. However, this feature is a common occurrence in the 20th-century music. Therefore, it is safe to say that without knowing who the composer was, I would place this composition in the first half of the 20th-century, alongside the previously mentioned great classical composers.
Besides its primarily homophonic texture, as well as heavy use of triple meter, the prevalent feature of the piece that shows a connection to the classical Western art tradition is the play on tonality. The tonality is somewhat ambivalent, yet in all the major high points of the piece, the keys are clearly set with their structure following the circle of fifths. This sort of behavior provides us listeners with a form of release, as the tension building up in between the keys in the form of whole tone scales eventually breaks and the piece finds its way back to the familiar keys of the long cherished Western tradition.
“Air No. 2” has an unstoppable flow to the music and provides no indication that it intends to fit into any sort of a traditional form. The piece has an organic form constructed on the ideas of tension and release. Throughout the piece, the cello and piano are working cohesively toward building that tension dynamically and harmonically, as well as by using a texture change from homophony to polyphony. The solo cello cadenza serves as yet another tactic to emphasize the intensity. The rise in tension finally reaches resolution to an expected release, harmonious agreements between the instruments through a greater stability in key, as well as voluptuous melodies. Puts is gradually shifting our attention to the larger picture and narrative of his work through these techniques, as well as continually making reference to the previously played material. The chordal texture of pulse seen at the beginning in piano, as well as the descending melody first heard in the cello, come back differently each time, strong and bold as an indication of climax, or slowly dissipating into silence at the very end of the piece. This constant reflection on the past through the repetition of material evokes an image of the ever-changing journey through life. Each time the statements return, they are familiar but never the same.
“Air No. 2’s” tonality, relationship between cello and piano, as well as the meter and texture demonstrate that Puts values the classical Western art tradition and did not want to abandon or forsake it. It almost feels as though Puts created a homage to Western tradition with “Air No. 2”. Furthermore, the piece sympathizes with the general audience’s mindset, emphasizing familiarity through tonality and rejecting the overuse of dissonances. Therefore, when discussing “Air No. 2’s” “excellence”, it is important to note that even though it may fit the criteria of early 20th-century music, the discussion of the sort comes down to a matter of taste. Personally, the piece was extremely pleasurable to listen to, creating feelings of nostalgia and a sense of sentimental longing. The piano and cello have a strong relationship and there is a natural flow in the piece that is never interrupted. Kevin Puts proves he is a masterful composer, capable of creating strong effects throughout the piece. As a cellist, I cannot wait to perform his composition.