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IN MEMORY OF ROGER SESSIONS (1987) Op.29


Opus number: 29

Title: In Memory of Roger Sessions

Instrumentation: solo violin

Date written: 1987, Boston; Wilson, North Carolina; St. Maarten Netherlands Antilles

Length: eight minutes

Premiere performance: Ayano Ninomiya, violinist, Harvard Musical Association, May 16, 1997

Important subsequent performances: Ayano Ninomiya, violinist, Boston Conservatory, April 10, 1998; Cheri Markward, The Boston Conservatory

Recordings: tape at Boston Conservatory library of Ninomiya; CD recording in progress with Ninomiya

Program notes: “In Memory of Roger Sessions” for solo violin was written during Christmas in 1986. The work consists of three short movements: “Elegy,” “Parody,” and “Dialogue.” “Elegy,” based on a theme from Sessions’s most ambitious work, the opera Montezuma, is a slow rhapsodic movement with implied counterpoint. “Parody” refers to the mocking character of the second movement as well as to its Renaissance definition, a form of homage paid by quoting the music of another composer. Ten of Sessions’s works, from the Black Maskers for orchestra to the Sonata for solo violin, all identified in the score, are quoted in a seamless set of sarcastic variations. “Dialogue” is an imagined conversation between myself and Sessions much like our actual conversations. Our names are spelled as musical themes that are presented antiphonally and simultaneously, and, as in reality always, Sessions has the last word.

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 A  SACRED HARP (1986) Op.27

Opus number: 27

Title: A Sacred Harp

Instrumentation: solo harp

Date written: November–December 1986, Boston

Length: eleven minutes

Commissioner: Ellen Ritsher, harpist

Premiere performance: May 18 and 19, 1988, Ellen Ritsher, harpist, Tsai Performance Center, Boston University

Important subsequent performances: Ellen Ritsher, harpist, February  1990, Bruno Walter Auditorium, Lincoln Center, New York City; February 13, 1990, The Boston Conservatory

Recording: tape of Ritsher performance 1990 at The Boston Conservatory

Program notes: A Sacred Harp is a set of variations based on a hymn tune from the mid-19th century, found in a collection called The Sacred Harp. The original hymn tune was written in shape-notes, and the melody was found in the tenor voice, which is typical of music composed in the school of Sacred Harp singing. The song is nick-named Idumea, and the first line of its text is “And am I born to die?” In this piece, Bell has incorporated several of the coloristic effects found in Carlos Salzedo’s Modern Study of the Harp, such as “thunder,” which is produced by forcefully setting the bass wire strings in motion, thus causing the strings to rattle against each other; “falling hail,” descending glissandos played with the fingernails;  and the “pedal slide,” which alters the pitch of a string by a half-step while the sound is decaying, without playing the string again. A  Sacred Harpwas commissioned by Ellen Ritscher with funds obtained from the Kahn Career Entry Award Fund.

Reviews: “Far and away, this was the most interesting selection on the program and although [Ellen] Ritscher said she loves all the pieces she played equally well, ‘A Sacred Harp’ seemed to be her favorite. She told the audience of about 100 Wednesday this was the work’s premiere.

“The Bell composition is a set of variations based on a hymn tune from the mid-19th century, found in a collection of the same name. Bell, 36, is a composer and pianist Ritscher commissioned to write ‘A Sacred Harp’ with funds obtained from the Kahn Career Entry Fund. Ritshcer received a $10,000 grant from that fund in 1986.

“The work is a smooth line of strong melody punctuated by dissonance. At times the melodic line is so rhythmic one’s head starts to nod with the beat. At other times, it is quietly lyrical–only to be disrupted by resounding thunderclaps that slowly reverberate into the distance.

“Ritscher was able to generate from the seemingly-staid harp sounds that were complete surprises. At one point, she strummed the ancient classical instrument like a guitar. She tapped on the sound-board with her fingertips; created the sound of falling hail with a sharp glissando.

“‘A Sacred Harp’ conjured up images of urban America in the 1980s and created an expectancy. Something’s coming, the music seemed to say, and unequivocal joy was prefigured.

“The work seemed to echo the 25-year-old harpist’s personality: strong, vivacious and independent. Ritshcer is an assistant professor of the harp at the University of North Texas and a staff member at the Breckenridge Music Institute, a summer festival in Colorado.” ­Valerie Barna, Mesquite News (Texas) October 14, 1988

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CELESTIAL REFRAIN (1985) Op.24

Opus number: 24

Title: Celestial Refrain

Instrumentation: guitar

Date written: July, 1985, Bellagio, Italy

Length: fourteen minutes

Commissioners and dedicatees: Russell Southcott and Steven Walter

Premiere performances: Bell-Bartlett Concerts, March 1986, Russell Southcott, Steven Walter, guitarists (each played the work on the series)

Important subsequent performances:  John Muratore, MIT, April 4, 1996; Steven Walter, The Boston Conservatory, April 23, 1986; Russell Southcott, Conservatory, April 17, 1991; John Muratore, April 23, 1997, Conservatory; John Muratore, Museum of Fine Arts, January 2001. (?)

Recording: John Muratore, guitarist, recorded 1999;  not yet released; Walter, Southcott, and Muratore tapes all at The Boston Conservatory

Program notes: Celestial Refrain for solo guitar was commissioned by Russell Southcott and Steven Walter and was completed, with the aid of a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, in July 1985 at the Rockefeller Foundations Study and Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy. The work is a double variation based on two different themes; one is slow and dramatic and the other fast and dance-like. The centerpiece is a song drawn from Bell’s Sacred Symphonies based on the words “Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart.” As the piece unfolds these themes become more alike in shape and character.

Reviews: “Larry Bell’s ‘Celestial Refrain’ consists of eleven pages of great music Bell has come up with a composition that is folk-like, at times almost primitive, yet always incredibly rich in ideas and inventiveness . . . invigorating, fascinating . . . [It] will haunt both your mind and your heart.” –John Minahan, Guitar Review

            “Pianist Larry Bell teaches at the Boston Conservatory; his Celestial Refrain is unusual in that it has not one but two separate commissioners, Russell Southcott and Steven Walter (not to be confused with our reviewer), who each gave a ‘first’ performance on 3 and 10 March 1986 respectively. Some 14 minutes long, it revolves around an essential ingredient of driving dance rhythms, insistent and throbbing in their relentlessness, pushed inexorably on by pedals and syncopations, often redolent of rock and pop. These sections are interspersed, and given relief by, quieter interludes; in fact, this principle of alternation pertains throughout the structure for the work. The introduction is violent while the conclusion is found in gentle harmonies. A fairly short and peaceful pivotal point is the passage entitled Song:  Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart, a quote from the composer’s own Sacred Symphonies, in turn based upon his Four Sacred Songs. The overall texture of this composition definitely makes it guitaristic, with a performer requiring an innate sense of rhythm to sustain the momentum, as well as a decent set of fingers. This could be fun to play, and exciting too, with just enough variety to avoid a charge of excessive sytlistic repetition in the vigourous dance sections. Music with a difference, then, and of our times, produced in a neat and clear edition.” Chris Kilvington, Classical Review (UK)

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CAPRICE (1978) Op.12


Opus number:  12

Title: Caprice

Instrumentation: solo cello

Date written: 1978, New York City

Length: 8 minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Scot Williams

Premiere performance: Scot Williams, cello, April 17, 1980, Michael Paul Hall, The Juilliard School

Important subsequent performances: Eric Bartlett, New York New Music Ensemble, Carnegie Recital Hall, February 15, 1983; Bartlett, March 31, 1983, American Academy in Rome; Bartlett, February 21, 1984, The Boston Conservatory

Recording: Eric Bartlett, cello, North/South Recordings #1018; tape at the Boston Coonservatory library of Bartlett performance

Program notes: Caprice for solo cello was written in 1978 and is dedicated to Scot Williams. The piece consists of several basic character types that are at first presented separately and then later in combination. The juxtaposition of these cross-cut strands of music produces a kind of ironic counterpoint of characters; hence the title Caprice.

Reviews: [recording] “Bell is the most lyrical and consonant of serialists. Somewhat like Dominic Argento, he constructs his rows out of consonant intervals, which produces the effect of a rather fluid tonality under his decidedly tonal melodic lines. The Caprice for Solo Cello is in some ways the most adventuresome music here roughly divided into a three-part slow-fast-slow sequence. The lyrical, opening slow section reappears at crucial points for rhetorical emphasis.” Fanfare May/June 1999, Vol. 22 No. 5

            “Larry Bell, who holds the doctorate from Juilliard, has won a long list of prizes and grants, and teaches at the New England Conservatory. This disc offers four compositions which differ widely in mood and performing forces.  . . . Caprice, for solo cello, and Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn illustrate both in title and content one of the most notable characteristics of Bell’s music: a wide range of styles, techniques, and effects within the same piece.” Jocelyn Mackey, Pan Pipes, Fall 1999

The present release samples Larry Bell’s music for cello, and a very contrasted body of works it is too, of which the earliest is Caprice Op.12 (1978). This is actually the first of a series of similarly titled pieces for solo instruments. This is a freely constructed fantasy based on several basic elements continually transformed, separated or combined in many ways. This is a brilliant piece of musical display exploiting the many characteristics of the instruments, though never extravagantly so. A really fine work that cellists should happily add to their repertoire.Hubert Culot, MusicWeb.uk (Jan. 2003)

 

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THE BOOK OF BLUES, op. 119

Opus number: op. 119

Title: The Book of Blues (words and music by Larry Bell)

Instrumentation: Baritone voice and Piano

Texts: 1. There’s a cold wind blowin’ 2. It was (is) a good life to be a slave 3. He wears his money on his sleeve 4. Why can’t we all get along?

Date written: 2013

Length: ten minutes

Premiere performance: September 17, 2013 David Friend Recital Hall, Berklee College of Music; Philip Lima-baritone, Larry Bell-piano

Program notes: The Book of Blues, Op. 119, is a set of songs for voice and piano that center on the form and style of American blues. The texts are by the composer and focus on the problems of race, politics, and religion as experienced from the perspective of the 21st century.

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Twelve Lyric Preludes (2012) Op. 116 

Opus number: op. 116

Title: Twelve Lyric Preludes

Written for: Angel Ramon Rivera and the NEC Preparatory School Piano Seminar

Date written: 2012

Length: twenty-one minutes

Premiere performance: March 2, 2013, Today’s Youth Plays Today’s Music, NEC’s Preparatory Division Contemporary Festival. Twelve students of A. Ramon Rivera

Subsequent performance: May 24, 2013, Pierce Hall at New England Conservatory, students of A. Ramon Rivera

Program notes: Twelve Lyric Preludes, Op. 116, were written for and dedicated to Angel Rivera’s Intermediate Seminar at the NEC Preparatory School. They were first played in March of 2013 as part of the annual “Today’s Youth Plays Today’s Music” festival. Earlier in September of 2012 the composer played the first four and the last four of these preludes in a concert at David Friend Recital Hall at the Berklee College of Music and in a service at First Church Boston.

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INGS (2011) Op. 115

Opus number: op. 115

Title: INGS, Ten bagatelles for piano

  1. Chasing Rainbows
  2. Taking One Step Fowrd and Two Steps Back
  3. Bending Over Backwards
  4. .Leaping to Conclusions
  5. Blowing Your Own Horn
  6. Facing the Music
  7. Whistling in the Dark
  8. Twisting in the Wind
  9. Stopping to Smell the Roses
  10. Jumping for Joy

Dedicated to: Angel Ramon Rivera and the NEC Preparatory School Piano Seminars

Date written: 2011

Length: seventeen minutes

Premiere performance: January 28, 2012, NEC’s Today’s Youth Plays Today’s Music. The Intermediate and Advanced Piano Seminar Classes of A. Ramon Rivera.

Program notes: These ten bagatelles for piano, collectively titled INGS, are designed for the young intermediate pianist. Each piece is based on an idiomatic phrase such as “Chasing Rainbows” or “Blowing Your Own Horn.” Each of these phrases starts with a gerund whose first word ends with “ing,” hence the title INGS. The works were written in the summer of 2011 for Angel Ramon Rivera and the students of the piano seminars he teaches at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School.

Many of these bagatelles were inspired by Beethoven, particularly his set of Bagatelles, Op. 126. The language here, however, is drawn from a type of modal harmony most clearly associated with popular song of the 1960s and 70s. Moreover, the ironic character of these pieces comes from the frequent use of chromatically mirrored chords that are at once organic and yet surprising. Taking into account the young pianists at New England Conservatory, special attention was paid to use keys, scales, and chord configurations that conform to smaller hands.

 

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PIANO ETUDES (Book 1)  (2010) Op. 109

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Opus number: op. 109

Title: Piano Etudes (Book 1)

  1. Veloce
  2. Doloroso, con rubato
  3. Scherzando
  4. Vivace
  5. Andante cantabile
  6. Risoluto
  7. Agitato
  8. Andante con moto
  9. Semplice
  10. Allegro con fuoco
  11. Allegro
  12. Decisivo

Written for: Angel Ramon Rivera

Date written: 2010

Length: 25 minutes

Premiere Performance: NEC’s Contemporary Festival, Today’s Youth Plays Today’s Music, January, 2011, Students of A. Ramon Rivera.

Subsequent performances: May 19, 2011, Jonathan Bass in Brown Hall at New England Conservatory, Boston, Piano Etudes nos. 8, 10, 11, & 12

Program notes: Piano Etudes, Op. 109, are twelve etudes for piano that were first performed by Angel Ramon Rivera’s piano seminar in 2010 for NEC’s annual “Today’s Youth Plays Today’s Music.” Later in 2010 pianist Jonathan Bass played the four of the etudes on a recital in NEC’s Brown Hall.

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FIFTEEN TWO-PART INVENTIONS (2008) Op. 96

Opus number: op. 96

Title: Fifteen Two-Part Inventions

Invention No. 1 in C major (White Hot)
Invention No. 2 in c minor (Feelin’ Blue)
Invention No. 3 in D major (Victory Lap)
Invention No. 4 in d minor (Dorian Canon)
Invention No. 5 in Eb major (Night Flight)
Invention No. 6 in E major (Midsummer Air)
Invention No. 7 in e minor (Wayfaring Stranger)
Invention No. 8 in F major (Lydian Accents)
Invention No. 9 in f minor (Pianola)
Invention No. 10 in G major (Mixolydian Etude)
Invention No. 11 in g minor (Which Side Are You On?)
Invention No. 12 in A major (Anthem)
Invention No. 13 in a minor (Ballad)
Invention No. 14 in Bb major (Parody)
Invention No. 15 in b minor (Rock Riff)

Date written: 2008

Length: 25 minutes

Premiere performance: October 9, 2008, David Friend Hall at Berklee College of Music, Larry Bell, pianist

Important subsequent performances: January 31, 2009, NEC’s Today’s Youth Plays Today’s Music, students of Angel Rivera, at New England Conservatory. May 3, 2009, students at The Rivers School.

Program Notes:  Like J. S. Bach’s fifteen two-part inventions, this set of inventions both follows his same pattern of keys and is designed for didactic purposes. The titles, such as Invention no. 1 in C major, are used only in a metaphorical sense, since none of these pieces is, strictly speaking, tonal. No. 1 could be more accurately described as pandiatonic, no. 2 uses a blues scale, no. 3 is in the dorian mode, etc. The piano teacher might consider assigning these pieces–either instead of or in addition to the Bach–to promote a greater understanding of musical structure and to teach the fundamentals of sound production and phrasing.

In terms of musical structure, many of the same kinds of techniques and contrapuntal procedures one finds in Bach’s inventions are here, too. Most of the subjects are imitated conventionally at the octave; the exceptions are nos. 4 and 8 that use imitation at the fifth, while no. 10 imitates at the minor seventh. The presentation of the subject as an accompanying pattern is an unusual feature: It can be seen in nos. 5, 12, and 13. Subjects are generally first introduced unaccompanied; exceptions are found in nos. 7 and 11, which are based on the folk songs, Wayfaring Stranger and Which Side Are You On? respectively.

In addition, the subject often appears in augmentation (no. 1, ms. 15-20), melodic inversion (no. 2, ms. 17-20), modulatory sequences to closely related keys or modes (all Inventions), subject in stretto (no. 3 ms. 15-20), strict canon at the fifth (no. 4, ms. 1-24), cross-accented phrasing and hemiola (no. 8), double counterpoint at the octave (no. 6, ms. 32-35 and in virtually all of the others), and double counterpoint at the twelfth (no. 13, ms. 15-18). Finally, the Invention no. 14 in Bb major comically parodies Bach’s Invention no. 14 in the same key.

For the most part, each invention is written in two parts. As in Bach, the exceptions occur when added extra voices fortify final cadences. Invention no. 12 also begins with a multi-voiced introduction brought back at its coda in mirror inversion. Although pedal markings appear only in no. 2, it is understood that the pianist will use pedal melodically (where slurs are indicated) and harmonically (at changes of root succession). Accents should be pedaled (as in no. 15) to achieve a better quality of sound.

Because these pieces are written in a contemporary vernacular idiom, I hope that this music may be more stylistically accessible than music written in the eighteenth century. These Inventions were composed for students of all ages, especially those new to the piano but familiar with popular music.

Recording: Casa Rustica Recordings CRR 001, Larry Bell, pianist

 

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