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Opus number: 23

Title: Sacred Symphonies

Instrumentation: 1-1-1-1; 1-1-0-0; 2 perc. pf, hp; strings

Date written: 1985, Boston; Bellagio, Italy

Length: 25 minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Verio Piroddi

Premiere performance:  Seattle Symphony, Christopher Kendall, conductor, February 10, 1987, Seattle, Washington

Important subsequent performances: Boston Conservatory Orchestra, Ronald Feldman, conductor, February 15, 1989; Symphony Pro Musica, Mark Churchill, conductor, May 1992, Hudson, MA; Da Capo Orchestra, Mark Hodgkinson, conductor, Christchurch, New Zealand, June 1996.

Recording:  Radio Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, Szymon  Kawalla, conductor, Radio Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Modern Masters #3016; tape of Feldman performance at The Boston Conservatory

Program notes:  The Sacred Symphonies was commissioned by and is dedicated to the composer’s Italian friend Verio Piroddi. Signor Piroddi had requested a religious work, therefore the composer drew from his own religious experience as a Southerner whose family was raised in the Pentecostal Holiness church. The title Sacred Symphonies is an Anglicization of the titles of the Schütz and Gabrieli works.

To prepare for the orchestral work Bell composed Four Sacred Songs for soprano and piano. Each song is a setting of a familiar hymn tune text, however the music is new and makes no reference to the original hymn tunes. The four movements of the Sacred  Symphonies correspond, Mahler-like, to the four songs: “There is a Fountain,” “Take the Name of Jesus with you,” “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus,” and “Spirit of God Descend upon my Heart.” Each represents a religious state: atonement, evangelism, suffering, and humility.

Sacred Symphonies  has a double texture throughout: The symphonic development of the themes of the songs coexists simultaneously with a slow-moving version of the songs in a distant tonality. The sequence of movements suggests a sense of spiritual progress–a coming to terms with the conflicts of the past.


Reviews: [recording] “ . . . a bittersweet, sophisticated, and half-ghostly simulacrum–the depth and simplicity of homespun religious sentiment.”

                                                                                                                    Mark Lehman-American Record Guide

Sacred Symphonies, (1985) by erstwhile North Carolina-native and Juilliard-graduate Larry Bell (b. 1952), is of more serious intent. In somewhat Ivesian fashion, the four movements of Sacred Symphonies are transformations of hymnlike music, settings originally created by Bell for his Four Sacred Songs . The difference between Bell and Ives is that the tunes themselves are his own, although clearly his music draws on the tradition of vernacular church music. The symphonic expansion of these tunes involves the parallel presentation of the hymn tune and its development along with a much slower version of the tune (although this isn’t always clear to me). This divided exposition amplifies the resemblance to Ives, particularly in the third movement. A few clichés—the cadence of the second movement, for example—slightly mar the appeal, but overall this is a substantive and moving work.

Performance and recording are not at the highest level, but are sufficient, I think, to indicate the potential of these works, which seems to be the point of the Music from Six Continents series. Partly due to the faulty, too-eclectic program, this will be of less-than-average interest except to the very curious, but I think the Silsbee and Bell pieces merit further exposure. This disc is available from, an interesting distributor of new music recordings.

Robert Kirzinger-Fanfare Magazine

 This article originally appeared in Issue 28:5 (May/June 2005) of Fanfare Magazine.

Review: [performance] “Conductor Mark Hodgkinson’s skill with the acquired art of programme building was shown in the final piece, ‘Sacred Symphonies’ by one Larry Bell.

“This contemporary American composer is new to me, and his music had plenty to arrest and stimulate an audience, with nothing to alarm the wary listener. Bright orchestral colours, dancing rhythms, and melodies recotnisable as such made a winning formula.

“ . . with soloists and programmes as rewarding as thes, ‘Da Capo’ concerts remain very much work watching out


–Timothy Jones The Press  New Zealand (June 24, 1996)



Opus number: 13

Title: “The Idea of Order at Key West”  A Double Concerto for Soprano and Violin (text by Wallace Stevens)

Instrumentation: four percussionists, pf-cel, harp; large string orchestra

Date written: 1979–1981, New York, Boston

Length: twenty-one minutes

Premiere performance: Juilliard Philharmonia, Jorge Mester, conductor, Ruth Jacobson, soprano, Nicholas Mann, violinist, May 14, 1982, Alice Tully Hall, New York City

Program notes: Bell writes, “I have long been interested in setting the poetry of Wallace Stevens to music and have tried to emulate Stevens’s unusually wholesome yet profound poetic character as well as his inevitable sense of form. Having set two of Stevens’s poems, ‘Domination of Black’ (for five solo voices) and ‘Reality is an Activity of the Most August Imagination’ (for soprano and piano), I felt ready to tackle the more complex poem, ‘The Idea of Order at Key West.’ This piece has two soloists, a soprano, who is the woman singing by the sea, and a violin who provides a subliminal voice. The first-chair strings form an octet of spectators. The body of the strings and the percussion represent the sea and the exotic setting of Key West.”

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.

The water never formed to mind or voice,

Like a body wholly body, fluttering

Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion

Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,

That was not ours although we understood,

Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.

The song and water were not medleyed sound

Even if what she sang was what she heard,

Since what she sang was uttered word by word.

It may be that in all her phrases stirred

The grinding water and the gasping wind;

But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.

The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea

Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.

Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew

That we should ask this often as she sang.

If it was only the dark voice of the sea

That rose, or even colored by many waves;

If it was only the outer voice of sky

and cloud, of the sunken coral water walled,

However clear, it would have been deep air,

The heaving speech of air, a summer sound

Repeated in a summer without end

and sound alone.

But it was more than that,

More even than her voice, and ours, among

The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,

Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped

On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres of sky and sea.

It was her voice that made

The sky acutest at its vanishing.

She measured to the hour its solitude.

She was the single artificer of the world

In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,

Whatever self it had, became the self

That was her song, for she was the maker.

Then we, As we beheld her striding there alone,

Knew that there never was a world for her

Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,

Why, when the singing ended and we turned

Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights

The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,

As the night descended, tilting in the air,

Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,

Fixing embalzoned zones and fiery poles,

Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,

The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,

Words of the fragrant portals, dimly–starred,

And of ourselves and of our origins,

In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.


Reviews: Entitled “Music was right on Key West” and written by Bill Zakariasen for The New York Daily News (May 17, 1982), the article read in its entirety:

“America’s Mouse That Roared, Key West, got into the news again this past weekend, thanks to the Juilliard School of Music.

“On Friday night, the Juilliard Philharmonia under Jorge Mester’s direction gave the world premiere of “The Idea of Order at Key West” by Larry Bell, a current doctoral candidate at the school.

“Described by the composer as ‘A Double Concerto for Soprano and Violin,’ Bell’s work is set to the poem of the same name by Wallace Stevens. Like much Stevens poetry, “The Idea of Order at Key West” is pretty knotty stuff–more notable for setting indefinable, though definite, moods rather than making much overt sense to the reader.

“Bell admits a special affinity for Stevens, however (he set two other large poems by him in preparation for this project), and if his music doesn’t necessarily clarify any of the poetry’s hidden meanings, it takes on a decisive and individual life of its own.

“Bell’s writing is highly evocative of nature, and the parts for solo violin and soprano are demanding. One suspects he has on occasion been influenced by one of David del Tredici’s ‘Alice’ pieces, but that’s not a bad model these days.

“It’s really quite impressively beautiful, and in the main the performance, featuring soprano Ruth Jacobson and violinist Nicholas Mann, seemed fine. However, Stevens’ poetry–which needs all the clarity of projection it can get–was given short shrift by Jacobson’s mushy diction, in which consonants didn’t seem to exist.

“The rest of the concert included a good performance of Mozart’s Fourth Horn Concerto with Ozeas Arantes, while Mester led stylish renditions of Respighi’s “The Birds” and Koday’s “Dances from Galanta.”

“The Philharmonia is classed as Juilliard’s’ number three orchestra, but it played like number one Friday.”


CONTINUUM (1971) Op.3

Opus number: 3

Title: Continuum for orchestra

Instrumentation: picc-1-1-English hn-1-bass clarinet-bassoon-contrabassoon; 1-2-1-1; 2 perc, hp, pf; strings

Date written: 1971, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina

Length: 8 minutes

Premiere performance: Johnson, Vermont, Composers’ Conference,The Vermont Symphohy , Efrain Guigui, conductor,

August 1973

Important subsequent performances: RAI Orchestra of Rome, Massimo Pradella, conducting, November 1984; orchestral reading, The Juilliard Orchestra, 1980, Richard Fletcher, conductor

Program notes: The piece was written in 1971 when the composer was a sophomore at East Carolina University and a student of Gregory Kosteck. The title of the single-movement work refers to the gradual change of color from the lowest, darkest instruments that gradually moves to the higher and clearer sonorities in the highest-pitched percussion at the conclusion of the work. Even though the color passes from the dark to the light, the structure of the piece is distinguished principally by the discontinuity of the development.




HOLY GHOSTS: an Opera in Two Acts (2007) Op. 90

Opus number: op. 90

Title: Holy Ghosts, libretto by Andrea Olmstead based on the play by Romulus Linney

Instrumentation: Electric Guitar, Digital Piano, Synthesizer, Electric Bass, and Drum Set

Full orchestra version available on request.

Text: Holy Ghosts a two-act play by Romulus Linney

Date written: 2007

Length: two hours

Premiere performance: September 15, 2009, Berklee Performance Center, Larry Bell, conductor, Eve Summer, director.

Recording: visit for three-camera video, sound track, and scrollable libretto, along with cast list, performers’ biographies, and program notes.


April 27, 1999 Merkin Concert Hall, New York NY

New York Premiere of Reminiscences and Reflections, 12 Preludes and Fugues
Sara Davis Buechner, pianist



Revised to compose op. 12, Caprice for solo Cello



March 10, 2012 2:00 P.M.

New England Conservatory
Williams Hall
from Songs of Time and Eternity
“Will there really be a Morning?”
Margaret Wright-soprano


Febrary 10, 2013 11:00-12:00

First Church Boston
66 Marlborough St. Boston, MA
J.S. Bach Sonata no. 1 in G major for
‘Cello and Piano
Sam Ou -cellist
Larry Bell-pianist
simulcast on WERS (Emerson College Radio)