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SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE (2000) Op.55

Opus number: 55

Title: Songs of Innocence and Experience

Instrumentation: children’s chorus (SSA) and orchestra; 2-2-2-2, 1-1-0-0, 1 perc., harp, 8-8-4-4-2

Date written:  August 2000

Length: twenty-four minutes

Commissioners: Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the New England Cosnervatory Preparatory Division Chorus

Publisher: Ione Press, a Division of ECS Publishing

Premiere: Boston, Jordan Hall, January 20, 2001, Boston Modern Orchestra Project and New England Conservatory Preparatory Division Children’s Chorus, Gil Rose, conductor; Jean Meltaus, choral conductor.

Important Subsequent Performances: January 20, 2001; Chorus Pro Musica, Jean Meltaus, choral conductor, Fannueil Hall, Boston; April 26, 2002, Juilliard Pre-College Chorus, Rebecca Scot, conductor, Paul Hall, The Juilliard School; November 3, 2002, Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander, conductor, Jordan Hall; November 9 and 10, 2002, Symphony Pro Musica, Mark Churchill, conductor, NEC Preparatory Division’s Children’s Chorus, Jean Meltaus, conductor, Bolton and Westborough, MA.

Texts: See Opus 53 texts

Recording: Albany Records (CD741) New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic and Children’s Chorus; Benjamin Zander, conductor

Program notes:  Songs of Innocence and Experience was written (or more accurately improvised) in three evenings in April of this year. The word improvised is important because the music was not written down while the work was being composed and I thought the best was to express the emotional directness of Blake’s poetry was through improvisation.

“William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience is a famous example of an adult’s perspective of the child. The child in these poems is rebellious, joyful, persistently playful, Christ-like, and always natural. The adults are, on the contrary, narrow, confining, rule-laden, Catholic, and superficial.

“An interesting balance also exists between the poems of innocence and those of experience. The Lamb is opposite the Tyger, the Nurse’s Song is transformed in The Garden of Love, and Infant Joy is answered by The Sick Rose. The piper referred to in the beginning bears a striking resemblance to the bard at the end.

“Very few of these songs begin and end in the same key. In fact, some songs will find their tonal conclusion in the next song giving the music a sense of continuity and connectedness typical of a cycle.

“If Blake’s Songs of Innocence simply represented the child and the Songs of Experience the adult, this black-and-white distinction would hold little interest to the reader and would have less to recommend it for a musical setting. Precisely because of the interdependence of these points of view, I think, the poems sustain repeated readings. Ultimately, the adult poet is resurrected by the regenerative power of wonder and play that seems to spring so naturally from children.

Songs of Innocence and Experience is written for children’s chorus (SSA) and orchestra. The work is a joint commission from the New England Conservatory Preparatory School and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and is dedicated to the memory of Frances Lanier.” –Note by the composer

Reviews: “Writing music for children’s chorus and orchestra usually dictates much about said work’s style and approach. Not surprisingly, Larry Bell’s Songs of Innocence and Expereince (which sets a bushel basket’s work to William Blake’s poetry) is dead-on triadic, perfumed with hints of Brahms, Britten, and folksy Mahler, though exhibiting some surprisingly imaginative harmonic progressions at times. The piece is charming, sweet, and sentimental in nature, well composed for its young singers. If it sounds a bit old-fashioned and foursquare, that’s more likely a by-product of writing for this kind of ensemble rather than anything Bell injected into the work’s fabric.” –David Cleary, 21st-Century Music

“The evening ended with another world premiere, Larry Bell’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” for orchestra and children’s chorus. Well prepared by director Jean Meltaus, the NEC Children’s Chorus sang in tune and with earnest conviction.” –Keith Powers, Boston Herald (January 22, 2001)

“Larry Bell’s settings of the Blake songs possess several virtues: The treble chorus sounds exceptionally pretty and never has to strain beyond its capabilities. The poems expose the children to first-rate laterature. And the opportunity for the youngsters to sing with orchestra in a work composerd specifically for them must have been very gratifying.” ­Ellen Pfeifer, The Boston Globe (January 23, 2001)

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CHORAL FANTASIA ON UNCHANGING LOVE (2008) Op. 87

Opus number: op. 87

Title: Unchanging Love, a hymn based on a text by Romulus Linney

Instrumentation: SATB choir

Text: Romulus Linney

Text: click here

Jesus defend us, O sweet mercy send us,

O angels attend us with unchanging love,

Jesus defend us and sweet mercy send us,

And angels attend us from heaven above.

Angels attend us Sweet mercy send us,

Angels attend us Sweet mercy send us,

Jesus defend us, O sweet mercy send us,

O angels attend us with unchanging love,

Angels attend us Sweet mercy send us

Angels attend us Sweet mercy send us,

Unchanging love.

Date written: 2006

Length: two minutes

Premiere performance: September 15, 2009, Berklee Performance Center. (See op. 90, Holy Ghosts)

Program Notes: Unchanging Love, Op. 87, is a hymn written in an SATB format for congregational singing. Not only is it the basis for the beginning and end of the opera Holy Ghosts, but it also provides most of the material for “Unchanging Love” for brass quintet and organ. The text comes from the conclusion of Romulus Linney’s play, Holy Ghosts: “Jesus, defend us, oh mercy send us, and angels attend us from heaven above. Jesus defend us, oh mercy send us, and angels attend us with unchanging love.”

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HARMONY IN BLUE AND SILVER (1997) OP. 52

Orchestra

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SHORT SYMPHONY FOR BAND (1999) Op. 47

Opus number: 47

Title: Short Symphony for Band

Instrumentation: picc., 2 fl, 2 ob, cln in Eb, cln 1,2,3, b.cl, alto cl, 2 bssn., alto sax.1,2, tenor sax, baritone sax, 3 cornets in Bb, 2 trpts in Bb, Euphonium, 2 ten tbs, 1 bass tb, tuba, 3 perc

Date written: 1999, Boston

Length: twelve minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Jordan Winds, William Drury, conductor

Publisher:  Ione Press, a Division of ECS Publishing

Premiere performance: November 22, 1999, William Drury, conducting The Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble

Recordings: North.South Recordings CD (1031) The Sentimental Muse. William Drury, conductor, Jordan Winds at New England Conservatory

Program notes: The composer writes, “Short Symphony for Band was completed in the winter of 1999 and was written for William Drury and the Jordan Winds. The title is derived from two pieces that I have long admired: Short Symphony, by Aaron Copland and Symphony for Band by my teacher Vincent Persichetti.

“As in my first two symphonies this work was developed from my own vocal music. ‘A Cry Against the Twilight’ eight madrigals (SSATB) written in 1996 furnishes the primary thematic material for this four-movement work.

“The form of the ‘Short Symphony for Band’ resembles a classical symphony in its movement order: sonata, scherzo, slow movement, and rondo. In addition, the second theme group of the first movement foreshadows the third movement. The trio of the scherzo returns just before the climax of the finale.

“The use of one player per part gives this symphony a sonority much like chamber music, a quality somewhat different from what one usually associates with music for band.”

Reviews: Short Symphony for Band, recording

The Short Symphony for Band was written in 1999 for the Jordan Winds, who perform it here. They do a handsome job on a piece that deserves a wide audience. It is by turns dark and mysterious, then bright and lively. (Bell’s) music is tonal, tuneful, and enjoyable. The sound in all four works is very good, never distracting one from the music. The presentation is attractive, notes (by the composer and his wife) are excellent.

-Thomas McClain-The American Record Guide

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THE SENTIMENTAL MUSE Op.45

Opus number: 45

Title: The Sentimental Muse, a Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra

Instrumentation: 2-2-2-2;1-1-0-0; 1 perc, hp; strings; Piano reduction published by Bassoon Heritage Editions

Date written: 1997, Boston

Length: seventeen minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Kathryn Sleeper

Premiere performance: Kathryn Sleeper, bassoonist, Thomas Sleeper, conductor, University of Miami Orchestra, Miami, Florida, April 19, 1998

Recordings:  North/South Recordings CD (1031) The Sentimental Muse, CD recording with Kathryn Sleeper, bassoonist, the Moravian Philharmonic, Joel Suben conducting. Live performance recording at the University of Miami, CD recording with Kathryn Sleeper, bassoonist, the University of Miami Philharmonic, Thomas Sleeper conducting.

Program notes: “The Sentimental Muse” was composed during the last three weeks of July 1997 and is dedicated to its commissioner, Kathryn Sleeper.

The music is based on two different melodies. One of these melodies was used in my set of preludes and fugues calledReminiscences and Reflections. The other melody is a little sentimental tune that was for me like a muse who followed me around until I could no longer resist her compelling song. Therefore the piece is about the relationship between these two melodies.

The First movement is in sonata form. Its contrasting sections are interrupted by lyrical cadenzas from the solo bassoon. The second movement is in the form of an arch: the central sentimental tune is flanked by fast, syncopated dance sections that are in turn framed by a plaintive song. The last movement transforms the opening movement’s character, e.g., the resolute rhythms of the first movement are brought back in the last movement as vivacious, lilting rhythms. After the climax the music makes one more wistful backward glance to the sentimental tune of the second movement.

The opening forte A’s are a reference point in each of the three movements. In the first the note A is imperfectly the cadence note in d minor. In the second movement the A is the cadence note in the original “song” in F major as well as in the f#-minor  that occurs midway. The bassoon has the last word with its contra A affirming the dotted rhythm of the borrowed song.

A piano reduction is published by Bassoon Heritage Editions in Florida.

Movement titles:

Risoluto

Espressivo

Vivace

Reviews: The Sentimental Muse, recording

This composer’s music [i]s the direct heir of Copland and, as such, presents a sort of present-day Americana. . . .
he is a composer who wants to communicate in direct terms, regardless of any current trends and fashions. Though
fairly traditional, his music approaches the American symphonic tradition in a most refreshing way, which is to my mind his most endearing quality.

-Hubert Culot–www.musicweb-international.com

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SONG AND DANCE (1997) Op.44

Opus number: 44

Title: Song and Dance

Instrumentation: 1-1-1-1;1-1-1-0; solo strings: 2-1-1-1

Date written: 1996, Boston

Length: twenty minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Fred Cohen for Currents

Premiere performance: Fred Cohen for Currents, University of Richmond, Virginia, March 21, 1997, Richmond, Virginia

Important subsequent performances: November 21, 1999, Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble, Larry Bell, conductor.

Recording: CD in progress with the Maravian Philharmonic, Joel Suben, condcutor; tape of Boston performance at Boston Conservatory library

Program notes: “Song and Dance” was commissioned by Fred Cohen for his Currents ensemble at the University of Richmond. Written during the last two weeks of 1996, it was completed on New Years’ Eve 1997. The work is scored for an ensemble of thirteen soloists: woodwind quartet, brass trio, string quintet, and piano.

The titles of the work’s four movements–First Dance, Sing-a-long, Call and Response, and Last Dance–give the listener a sense of the popular style, or vernacular idiom, that influenced the composition. The titles also suggest a kind of participation asked of the listener; an invitation to sing and dance with the performers.

The phrase Song and Dance can also mean a put-on, something not quite what it appears to be. This “Song and Dance” is partly wistful, partly comic, playfully criss-crossing the border between seriousness and fun.

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IDUMEA SYMPHONY (1996)  Op.40 

Opus number: 40

Title: Idumea Symphony (Symphony No. 2)

Instrumentation: 2-2-2-2; 4-2-2-0; 2 perc, hp; strings

Date written: 1993–1996, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Boston

Length: twenty minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Jed Gaylin and the Hoplins Symphony Orchestra

Premiere performance: Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, Jed Gaylin, conducting, March 2, 1996, Baltimore, Maryland

Recording: Moravian Philharmonic, Joel Suben conductor, CD recording in progress

Program notes:  “Idumea” (pronounced I-doo´-ma) is the Biblical name of a hymn tune taken from The Sacred Harp, an important nineteenth-century hymn book used widely in the South. The first line of text is the haunting question “And am I born to die?” This phrase and the awestruck concluding words of text “. . . and see the flaming skies,” are philosophical and imagistic points of departure for the music I composed for the Symphony.

The Idumea Symphonyis in four movements corresponding to the classical number and pacing of movements. The first movement, a monothematic sonata form in the tempo of a slow waltz, incorporates the borrowed hymn tune with my own harmonization. Here the character is visionary and ecstatic. The second movement, Transcendental Scherzo, has two distinct tempos: one a swinging, jazzy scherzo that parodies the hymn tune, and the other tempo is a very slow-moving version of the scherzo material written in a distant tonality. This second movement prophesizes the ominous fourth and last movement. Double Variation formally describes the third movement’s alternation between an original melody and the hymn tune. The finale has a punning subtitle “What Goes Around Comes Around.” The hymn tune is used here as the basis for “rounds” with rock-inspired rhythms culminating in a driving upbeat conclusion.

The Idumea Symphony was completed in the fall of 1996 with the help of a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. The work is dedicated to its commissioner: Jed Gaylin and the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra.

 

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WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND (1996) Op.40A

Opus number: 40

Title: Idumea Symphony (Symphony No. 2)

Instrumentation: 2-2-2-2; 4-2-2-0; 2 perc, hp; strings

Date written: 1993–1996, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Boston

Length: twenty minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Jed Gaylin and the Hoplins Symphony Orchestra

Premiere performance: Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, Jed Gaylin, conducting, March 2, 1996, Baltimore, Maryland

Recording: Moravian Philharmonic, Joel Suben conductor, CD recording in progress

Program notes:  “Idumea” (pronounced I-doo´-ma) is the Biblical name of a hymn tune taken from The Sacred Harp, an important nineteenth-century hymn book used widely in the South. The first line of text is the haunting question “And am I born to die?” This phrase and the awestruck concluding words of text “. . . and see the flaming skies,” are philosophical and imagistic points of departure for the music I composed for the Symphony.

The Idumea Symphonyis in four movements corresponding to the classical number and pacing of movements. The first movement, a monothematic sonata form in the tempo of a slow waltz, incorporates the borrowed hymn tune with my own harmonization. Here the character is visionary and ecstatic. The second movement, Transcendental Scherzo, has two distinct tempos: one a swinging, jazzy scherzo that parodies the hymn tune, and the other tempo is a very slow-moving version of the scherzo material written in a distant tonality. This second movement prophesizes the ominous fourth and last movement. Double Variation formally describes the third movement’s alternation between an original melody and the hymn tune. The finale has a punning subtitle “What Goes Around Comes Around.” The hymn tune is used here as the basis for “rounds” with rock-inspired rhythms culminating in a driving upbeat conclusion.

The Idumea Symphony was completed in the fall of 1996 with the help of a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. The work is dedicated to its commissioner: Jed Gaylin and the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra.

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PIANO CONCERTO (1989) Op.33

Opus number: 33

Title: Piano Concerto

Instrumentation: 1-1-1-1; 1-1-1-0; strings

Date written: Summer 1989, Boston

Length: twenty-five minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Gerard Schwarz

Premiere performance: Gerard Schwarz conducting Music Today, November 22, 1989, Merkin Hall, New York

Important subsequent performances: New England Conservatory Orchestra, Tamara Brooks, conducting, Larry Bell, pianist, February 10, 1994, Jordan Hall, Boston; Boston Conservatory, Yoichi Udagawa, conductor, Larry Bell, pianist, April 25, 1996, Boston; Russe Philharmonic Orchestra, Tsanko Delibosov, conductor, Larry Bell, pianist, June 2, 1996, Russe, Bulgaria

Recordings: Russe Philharmonic Orchestra, Tsanko Delibosov, conductor, Larry Bell, pianist, Vienna Modern Masters CD VMM #3037; tape at Boston Conservatory of Udagawa performance; tape at NEC Firestone of Brooks’s performance.

Program notes: The Piano Concerto was commissioned by Gerard Schwarz for Music Today and the Seattle Symphony Chamber Players. It is dedicated to Gerard Schwarz in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the American Music Center, and Schwarz gave the premiere–with Bell as the soloist–with Music Today in New York in 1989.

The Piano Concerto is in three movements of increasing tempo and brevity. The first movement, Lyrical and Majestic, contains two themes, one for the chamber orchestra of twelve players and one for the solo pianist. During a brief moment in the middle of the movement the orchestra shares the piano’s theme. The piano, however, begrudgingly recognizes the orchestra’s theme in an ironic role reversal at the end of the movement.

The second movement, Blues Theme with Variations, is based on an original melody. The popular Blues idiom permeates the set of classical varia-tions. As in the first movement, a brief cadenza introduces a recapitulation of the main theme.

Dancelike and Driving, the third movement’s rhythm is rock influenced. Later the Blues Theme of the second movement reappears.

As the piece progresses, each movement not only gets faster and shorter, but the concertato texture diminishes; the piano ultimately plays with the orchestra and not against it.

Reviews:  [performance] “. . . an amiable, light-sprirted work. And the finale is enlivened by interesting chordal modulations in the piano part, deft wind writing, and hints of a rock influence struggling to shine through the work’s Neo-Romantic surface.” –Allan Kozinn, The New York Times (November 26, 1989)

[recording] “A return to a neoromantic America is marked by Larry Bell’s vibrantly melodic, Piano Concerto (1989) in three movements (“Lyrical and Majestic,” “Blues Theme with Variations,” and “Dancelike and Driving”), carried off with great aplomb by the composer as pianist. The second movement’s blues theme bears a certain viscosity resembling the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields,” which was of course also used to good effect by Alvin Lucier. The powerful mixed-meter finale uses the hammering rhythms of rock to impressive effect and finds ways to connect with the early movements.” –Elizabeth Agnew 20th Century Music, August 1999

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