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REMINISCENCES AND REFLECTIONS (1998) Op.46

Opus number: 46

Title: Reminiscences and Reflections; Twelve Preludes and Fugues [may be played individually]

Instrumentation: solo piano

Date written: 1993, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts–1998, Boston

Length: sixty minutes

Premiere performance: Sara Davis Buechner, pianist, March 30, 1999, Jordan Hall, Boston; New York premiere, Sara Davis Buechner, April 27, 1999, Merkin Hall, New York.

Subsequent performances: Jonathan Bass, pianist, 2001–2002 season various venues, including March 26, 2002, Piano Masters Series, The Boston Conservatory

Recordings:  CD in progress, Jonathan Bass, pianist.

Movements:

I. Prelude in C            Glissando Study

I. Fugue in C

II. Prelude in C#            Habenera

II. Fugue in C#

III. Prelude in D            Chase

III. Fugue in D

IV. Prelude in Eb              Habenera No. 2

IV. Fugue in Eb

V. Prelude in E            Recitative

V. Fugue in E

VI. Prelude in F            Sentimental Muse

VI. Fugue in F

VII. Prelude in F#    Backward Glances

VII. Fugue in F#

VIII. Prelude in G    Song and Dance

VIII. Fugue in G

IX. Prelude in Ab              Sing-a-long

IX. Fugue in Ab

X. Prelude in A            Last Dance

X. Fugue in A

XI. Prelude in Bb              Study for the Left Hand

XI. Fugue in Bb

XII. Prelude in B              Recitative No. 2

XII. Fugue in B

Program notes:  Reminiscences and Reflections is a series of twelve Preludes and Fugues–one on each pitch–written intermittently over a five-year period from 1993 to 1998. Initially it operated as a kind of sketch book for other pieces I was composing on commission. Often the fugues were written first and the preludes was designed to reflect the harmonic content of the fugue.

The references in the title were to some of my own pieces for which I had written piano models. For example, the Prelude and Fugue in F, “Sentimental Muse,” is largely the model for the second movement of my Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra called The Sentimental Muse. The Prelude in C#, “Habanera,” and its accompanying fugue are elaborations on the first movement of my Song and Dance for thirteen instruments. Similarly, the G (“Song and Dance”), Ab (“Sing-a-long”), and A (“Last Dance”) Preludes and Fugues are the piano models for the second, third, and fourth movements of Song and Dance. The Fugue in A also provided the conclusion of Four Pieces in Familiar Style, for two violins. The Fugue in Bb is adapted from the first movement of my trio for saxophone, ‘cello, and piano, Mahler in Blue Light. “Backward Glances,” the Prelude and Fugue in F#, not only refers to my 1986 work for cello and piano River of Ponds, but also refers to the previous Prelude and Fugue (in F).

About half of the composition was written independent of my other music. The Prelude in C, “Glissando Study,” and the Prelude in Bb for the left hand are designed as etudes. Their fugues were written to complement the etudes. Many of the Preludes and Fugues, such as the ones in D, Eb, E, and B, contain cross references to one another. For instance, the Prelude in Eb, “Habanera No. 2,” is based on the same thematic material as the Prelude in C#. The Prelude in B, “Recitative No. 2,” is a reflection of the Prelude on E. All the pieces, including the fugues, whether sketches for other works, adapted after the fact, or newly composed, all were the result of my own piano improvisations.

Despite the casual and improvisatory genesis of these works, they are united by two short motives. One is a gruppetto (a turn) followed by a leap; the other is an angular five-note figure that is often presented in a jazzy, syncopated manner. The Preludes and Fugues are tonal in the conventional sense that progressions are used to gravitate to a central triad. Each pair of pieces, however, is based on harmony drawn from a different six-note collection of pitches, that is a hexachord used freely. One of the technical goals of these pieces was systematically to use all possible transpositions of these hexachords. In other words, I like to use tonal and serial techniques simultaneously.

Like the WTC, the Reminiscences and Reflections could be played piecemeal. The bi-partite construction of a prelude and fugue was obviously suggested by Bach’s famous “48.” The character of my work, however, is closer to Robert Schumann’s works with canons and the Chopin Preludes (also modeled after the Well-Tempered Clavier). I admired Robert Schumann’s comment on Felix Mendelssohn’s Preludes and Fugues, Op. 35: “The best fugue will always be the one that the public takes–for a Strauss waltz; in other words, where the artistic roots are covered as are those of a flower, so that we only perceive the blossom.” Most listeners today might perceive my preludes and fugues as dance music or popular songs without words; the technical aspects of fugal writing are there for the connoisseur to discover.

Reviews: “The world of new music is, perhaps, a stranger place than it was during the experimental rages of the ‘50s. Just as the brilliant sonic experiments of the post-war generation were working themselves into the vernacular, and Schoenberg was beginning to enjoy his rightful place in the glorious lineage of pedestaled German masters, many composers just gave up and reverted to Neo-Romantic gesture and classical formalism. Accessibility is in, even in music which still exercises free dissonance, and old-fashioned tonality has a new wardrobe, more often than not recycled from early 20th-century French music. The two works by composer Larry Bell presented in Jordan Hall last night are largely of this type, but they’re distinctively American both in the sources from which they draw, and in that ineffable way that was first caught by Charles Ives, and made almost tangible by composers like Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland, themselves conservative for their time.

“Bell’s work is very attractive, lyrical, and as regards his writing for the piano and violin, Romantically idiomatic and unadventurous. In the case of his series of preludes and fugues for piano, ‘Reminiscences and Reflections,’ it can saturate your senses like a pleasant but persistent aroma that eventually becomes either cloying or dulled.

“Pianist Sara Davis Buechner performed the 24 pieces in ‘Reminiscences and Reflections’–a prelude and fugue on each of the 12 tones. Buechner is a very accomplished player with a long list of credentials to support the claim, and for the general tenor of the work, hers was just the right approach–singing melody supported by blended and diffused pedaling, with lots of color in the pastels. . . . .

“The declamatory style of the opening Prelude on C, a study in glissandi, recalled the C Major Transcendental Etude of Liszt in the sense that it served to enunciate a beginning. The two habaneras, Preludes No. 2 and No 4, were reminiscent of Debussy’s habanera, ‘La Soiree dans Grenade.’ The fugues were not the least bit academic in their design, and many replaced traditional contrapuntal interest with color, redefining the notion of a fugue subject as a textual object.” “Buechner plays Bell with lots of color,” Michael Manning, Boston Globe , March 31, 1999.

“A Larry Bell piano premiere is a noteworthy new-music event in itself, but when a fascinating artist is also engaged for the performance, you can be sure the event will be well attended. Sara Davis Buechner (formerly David Buechner) drew a sophisticated audience and immediately dove into some Bach-based Busoni and Busoni-arranged Bach with impressive results. . .

“Mr. Bell’s huge 56-minute work took up the entire second part of the concert. It’s a series of preludes and fugues which pays homage to J. S. Bach and his Well-Tempered Clavier without neglecting the 250 years since then. The opening C-major Prelude states that idea with chromatic glissandi between sturdy chords, which seem to warn us that this is important writing, only to be followed by a disarmingly lyrical Fugue in that key. And so it goes throughout–interesting surprises set up by carefully descriptive titling–with often unexpected but subtle delvings into jazz, “Sing-along,” the Habanera, a Prelude titled “Last Dance” which is wild and desperate in tempo, and even a “Study for the Left Hand.” And while the 24 preludes and fugues are keyed from C to B, the chromatic hexachords, the teeth and bones of serial writing, assert themselves in equal proportion to any clinging to a true tonality.

“Did this very careful balancing of the serial with the tonal create a problem? Ms. Buechner played the work with great repsect, indeed a certan austere reverence. Whether this seeming absence of a truly dramatic mise en scene (for which Bell is noted), or a modicum of sentimentality, was what the composer intended, we cannot say. But this pianist’s assets–the faultless technique, the powerful dynamic range, the ability to get the piano to sing in those lyrical passages–certainly commanded the event.” Barry L. Cohen, New Music Connoisseur, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1999)

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BLUES THEME WITH VARIATIONS (1992) Op.37

Opus number: 37

Title: Blues Theme with Variations

Instrumentation: two pianos

Date written: 1992, Boston

Length: eight minutes

Premiere performance: Larry Bell and Michael Dewart, pianists, 1992

Important subsequent performances: Moscow Autumn 1995, Elena Ivania and Alissa Smith, pianists; New England Conservatory Preparatory Division students; Bell and Carmen Rodriquez-Peralta, April 16, 1992

Recordings: Larry Bell and Michael Dewart, pianists, WGBH-FM radio; tape at Boston Conservatory; tape of Bell, Rodriquez-Peralta 1992 performance at Boston Conservatory

Program notes: “Blues Theme with Variations” is an arrangement of the second movement of Bell’s Piano Concerto. He performed this pieces many times with his duo-piano partner, Michael Dewart. The work is a set of variations on an original theme. The theme’s major-minor third interplay suggests a blues inflection.

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PIANO SONATA NO. 1 (1990) Op.34

Opus number: 34

Title: Piano Sonata

Instrumentation: solo piano

Date written: 1990, New York City

Length: sixteen minutes

Dedicatees: Penelope Rosekell, Wu Han, Michael Dewart, Carmen Rodriguez-Peralta

Premiere performance: Larry Bell, pianist, February 1, 1991, Boston Conservatory. Other pieces on the program: Bartok, Improvisations, Op. 20; Hindemith, Sonata No. 2; Berg, Sonata Op. 1; Persichetti, Mirror Etudes

Important subsequent performances: Larry Bell, pianist, Salzburg, Austria, April 1994; U-Mass-Amherst, 1994; Dartmouth College, May 24, 1995; December 10, 1995, Larry Bell, New Music Ensemble, The Boston Conservatory; Micheal Dewart, April 17, 1991, The Boston Conservatory; Carmen Rodriguez-Peralta, pianist, April 16, 1992 and October 22, 1992, Greenwich House, New York; Larry Bell, March 1996, Temple University, Tokyo, Japan; NACUSA Christ and St. Stevens Church, New York

Recordings: Larry Bell, pianist, North/South Recordings CD N/S #1007; tape of premiere at Boston Conservatory; also tape of Dewart performance and Bell performances at The Boston Conservatory; video of October 20, 1992 Rodriguez performance

Program notes:  This first piano sonata was written in summer of 1990 in New York City. Previous works for piano include Variations for Piano, Miniature Diversions, Revivals, First Tango in London, The Parable of the Parabola, and a Piano Concerto. In the Sonata each of the four movements is dedicated to a pianist who has played my music.

The first movement,  Appassionatamente mesto,  dedicated to Penelope Rosekell, is a monothematic sonata form whose principal theme consists of the cross-relation clash between A major and the cadential a minor.

Wu Han is the dedicatee of the second movement, Canto agitato, a song form with variations. The tonal stability of this movement acts as a kind of resolution to the stormy first movement.

The third movement, Scherzo pop, is in scherzo-trio form. The “joke” in this movement consists of a parody of the first movement; the A major/a minor conflict of the opening movement, now with inflections of pop music, is reversed to end this movement in A major.  Michael Dewart is the dedicatee.

Ballo risoluto, the fourth movement, is a perpetual mobile toccata, written throughout in 11/8 + 7/8 creating the feeling of an American folk dance. This movement is dedicated to Carmen Rodriguez-Peralta.

Every movement is based on the same harmony and the same polyrhythms. This represents the underlying sound and rhythm of the entire work, although each movement differs in style as much as possible from the others without sacrificing the unity of the whole. Any resemblance between the personalities of the movements and their dedicatees is up to the listener to determine.

Reviews:  [recording] “The most substantial, and by far the most compelling, work on this program is the 1990 piano sonata of Larry Bell. A broad, passionate composition, Bell’s music has something of the anxious, highly embroidered density of Rachmaninov. There are sections of the sonata that seem to be overcrowded with ideas and energy, and some of the writing is overly florid, but there is a sense that such excess is basically a result of the youthful exuberance of an exceptionally talented composer. I would expect fine things yet to come from this fresh and exciting voice.” –Peter Burwasser, Fanfare  July/August 1996

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PARABLE OF THE PARABOLA (1988) Op.30

Opus number: 30

Title: The Parable of the Parabola

Instrumentation: solo piano

Date written: 1988, American Academy in Rome

Length: five minutes

Premiere performance: Larry Bell, pianist, November 10, 1988, The Boston Conservatory

Important subsequent performances: Michael Lewin, pianist, Boston Conservatory, September 14, 1990;Larry Bell, pianist, Boston Conservatory, April 13, 1989, April 10, 1998, Boston Conservatory

Recordings: tape at Boston Conservatory library of world premiere, tapes two other Bell performances, and tape of Lewin performance

Program notes: “The Parable of the Parabola” was written in 1988 at the American Academy in Rome. It is a short, one-movement piece dedicated to the memory of my teacher, Vincent Persichetti. The title, an homage to the Persichetti Parables, is also a double entendre: “parabola” is Italian for “parable.” The form of the music also suggests the basic shape of a parabola, an arch that begins as a jazzy scherzo, becomes a song without words, and concludes, palindromic-fashion, with a retrograde return of the jazzy section.

The work was premiered by Larry Bell at a joint faculty concert (with Mary Saunders, soprano) in memory ofVincent Persichetti. The concert included Persichetti’s Parable for Piano, op. 34, Twelfth Piano Sonata (Mirror Sonata), op. 145, ten songs from Harmonium, and Bell’s Four Sacred Songs.

 

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THE EVANGELICAL (1986) Op.26


Opus number: 26

Title: The Evangelical

Instrumentation: two pianos

Date written: 1986, Boston

Length: five minutes

Premiere performance: Larry Bell, Michael Dewart, duo-pianists, November 7, 1986, The Boston Conservatory

Important subsequent performances: Larry Bell, Michael Dewart, duo-pianists, Composers Forum, Boston University, November 1987; Larry Bell, Michael Dewart, duo-pianists, November 7, 1986, April 21, 1987, March 5, 1991, The Boston Conservatory

Recordings: Larry Bell, Michael Dewart, duo-pianists, recorded July 22, 1992, for WGBH radio broadcast; tapes at The Boston Conservatory of 1987 and 1991 performances

Program notes: The Evangelical is a transcription of the second movement of Bell’s Sacred Symphonies for Orchestra. That movement of the Sacred Symphonies draws melodically from the second of the Four Sacred Songs,  “Take the Name of Jesus with You.” The title The Evangelical refers to the general character of the movement, optimistic and unrelenting, and also to its religious origins. The form is ternary with a middle section that includes many simultaneous tonalities. The first and last sections are characterized by their insistent rhythm.

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FIRST TANGO IN LONDON (1985) Op.22

Opus number: 22

Title: First Tango in London

Instrumentation: piano

Date written: June 1985, London

Length: two minutes

Commissioner: Yvar Mikashoff

Premiere performance: Yvar Mikashoff, pianist, February 1986, Dance Theater Workshop, New York City

Subsequent performances: Larry Bell, March 25, 1986, and November 6, 1987, the Boston Conservatory

Recording: tape of Bell’s 1986 and 1987 performances at Conservatory

Program notes:  “First Tango in London” was written for Yvar Mikashoff’s tango project. It was written one evening in the summer of 1985 at the home of Keith Potter and Kay Yeo in East London.

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REVIVALS (1984) Op.21

Opus number: 21

Title: Revivals

Instrumentation: piano

Date written: 1983–1984, American Academy in Rome, Boston

Length: twenty-five minutes

Dedicatee: Frederic Rzewski

Premiere performance: Larry Bell, pianist, The Boston Conservatory, March 28, 1985

Important subsequent performances: Larry Bell, pianist, January 1985, Bowdoin College; March 1985, Florida State University; March 1985, Harvard University; April 1985, The Boston Conservatory; November 1987, Atlantic Christian College, Wilson, North Carolina; November 6, 1987, Boston Conservatory; April 23, 1986, Carmen Rodriguez-Peralta, Boston Conservatory; March 1992, Bell, The Boston Conservatory

Recordings: Larry Bell, pianist, recording for WGBH-FM in Boston; tape of Bell’s March 1985, November 1987, and March 1992 performances at Boston Conservatory library; tape of Rodriguez-Peralta April 1986 at Conservatory

Program notes:

1. The Old Gospel Ship

2. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

3. When the Stars Begin to Fall

4. When the Roll is Called up Yonder

5. Jesus Calls Us

Revivals for Piano is a set of five piano pieces. In Revivals Bell uses hymn tunes as Baroque composers used chorale melodies as the basis for extended compositions. Part variation, part fantasy, part parody, the composition reflects upon death and the comforting aspects of religious “reality” for survivors of painful and disorienting experiences. Each of its folk melodies, or hymn tunes, was chosen because of its textual association with the afterlife. The Old Gospel Ship and When the Stars Begin to Fall are of folk origin, and the others are often found in Protestant hymn books.

The first piece was finished in Rome in July 1983. The tune of The Old Gospel Ship is first suggested after a passage marked “Like a mandolin.” This melody not only appears in the foreground in distorted octave displacements, but its general shape determines the high points and harmonic articulations of the entire piece. The text of the gospel hymn, Leaning on the Everlasting Arts, was written by Elisha A. Hoffman and the tune was composed by Anthony J. Showalter. The work is in two parts, which form a binary scherzo, where the hymn tune is sometimes mocked and is elsewhere used in a lyrical fashion. The culmination of the second part occurs after a tonal quotation is interrupted by a chromatic movement marked “with a sense of shocked disillusionment.” The piece ends “dreamily.”

When the Stars Begin to Fall, also finished in the summer of 1983 in Rome, begins with a clear diatonic canon of the revival tune, which gradually dissolves. After the climax of the movement, written in the highest register of the piano, a gradual descent programmaticly depicts the falling of stars. When the Roll is Called Up Yonder was written by James M. Black, a Methodist minister. Bell remembers writing his high-register canon on a train between Cologne and Augsburg. Like Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, it is an evangelical scherzo dominated by dotted rhythm. The text of Jesus Calls Us is by the Anglican Cecil Frances Alexander, and the tune by the English organist William H. Jude. This movement concludes the work with an overlapping cadence in D-flat major and G major, the central tonal conflict of Revivals, and its spacing suggests church bells ringing in the distance.

The composer gave the Revivals its world premiere in Boston in 1984, as well as well as having performed it on concerts at Bowdoin College, Harvard University, the University of Florida, and in Rhode Island and his native North Carolina. The other works he performed on the premiere program were Ruth Crawford’s Preludes for piano Nos. 6, 7, 8, and 9, Rzewski’s “Which Side Are You On?” from the North American Ballads, and Twleve Virtuoso Studies, Op. 46 by Edward MacDowell. Revivals was inspired by and is dedicated to the composer Frederic Rzewski.

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MINIATURE DIVERSIONS (1983) Op.15 

Opus number: 15

Title: Miniature Diversions

Instrumentation: piano

Date written: 1982-83, January 2, 1983, American Academy in Rome

Length: six minutes

Dedicatee: To Andrea Olmstead

Premiere performance: Larry Bell, pianist, March 31, 1983, American Academy in Rome

Important subsequent performances: Penelope Roskell, July 1983, University of Keele, UK; February 29, 1984, Bell at The Boston Conservatory; Michael Dewart, March 1986, Bell-Bartlett Concerts, First and Second Church, Boston; Bell, November 6, 1987, at The Boston Conservatory

Recordings: tapes of Larry Bell Boston performances, 1984 and 1987 at The Boston Conservatory library

Program notes:

Serenade

Rhythm Study

Imaginary Hymn

Scherzino

The Miniature Diversions consist of four pieces written in four days between December 20 and January 4, 1983. They are dedicated to Andrea Olmstead as a first wedding anniversary gift. The first performance was on 31 March 1983 at the American Academy in Rome, played by the composer.

The Serenade is like a two-part invention which uses inversion. They Rhythm Study is sub-titled “Laying Bricks” because of the overlapping metric structure: The right hand plays in 5/4, the left in 7/4. The Scherzino is also arranged this way. The Imaginary Hymn is an original tune that floats above the wistful slow movement. The Hymn is parodied in the next piece, Scherzino. The pieces were designed as compositional exercises for the Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn for ‘cello and viola.

Reviews: “Bell is a skilled craftsman who deftly blends serial techniques with more conventional methods of expression. He has a gift for melody, a sense of wit and a feeling for continuity. All were evident in four ‘Miniature Diversions’ for piano and in a ‘Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn’ for viola and cello.” –Arthur Hepner, The Boston Globe (March 5, 1986)

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GRAND SONATA PIANO FOUR HANDS (1977) OP. 10

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