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CONTEMPO Ten contemporary piano duets for intermediate pianists (2008) Op. 94 

Opus number: op. 94

Title: Contempo

  1. Angry Tango
  2. Wistful Waltz
  3. Revenge Blues
  4. .Unlucky Love
  5. Southern Serendade
  6. Risky Romance
  7. Tap Dance
  8. Melancholy Ballad
  9. Dazzling Duo
  10. Swan Song

Instrumentation: Ten contemporary piano duets for intermediate pianists

Commissioned:  A. Ramon Rivera

Dedication: A. Ramon Rivera

Date written: 2008

Length: 25 minutes

Premiere performance: January 30, 2010, Today’s Youth Perform Today’s Music, students of A. Ramon Rivera

Program Notes: Contempo, Op. 94, is a set of ten piano duets (piano four hands) written for Angel Ramon’s NEC Preparatory School seminar. The work is notable for its use of the American vernacular and indigenous rhythms of American popular music. Contempo was written in 2008 and first performed at the annual NEC “Today’s Youth Plays Today’s Music” in January of 2009.

 

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REMBERING AL: Idumea Variations (2007) Op. 91

Opus number: 91

Title: Remebering Al: Idumea Variations

Instrumentation:solo piano

Date written: Summer 2007

Length: three and a half minutes

Premiere performance: October 19, 2007, Memorial Church at Harvard University; Larry Bell-pianist.

Important subsequent performances: January 20, 2008, Williams Hall at New England Conservatory.

Program notes: Remembering Al was written in the summer of 2007 after the death of our close friend Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., the Pulitzer-Prize winning historian married to the artist Fay Chandler. I played it at Al’s memorial service, October 19, 2007, held in Memorial Church at Harvard University. Unchanging Love , for brass quintet and organ, was played at the same service.
Excerpt: (coming soon)

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ADAGIO FOR PIANO (1947)  by  Roger Sessions

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PIANO SONATA NO. 3 (Sonata Macabre) (2006) Op. 83 

Opus number: op. 83

Title: Piano Sonata No. 3, Sonata Macabre

I. Adagio

II. Allegretto–Meno mosso–Allegretto

III. Largo (In memoriam: György Ligeti (June 12, 2006)

IV. Scherzando

Date written: 2006

Length: 12 minutes

Premiere performance: October 15, 2006, Jordan Hall, Larry Bell, pianist

Subsequent performances: February 9, 2009, Larry Bell, pianist. David Friend Recital Hall, Berklee College of Music

Program Notes: My Third Piano Sonata was written in June of 2006 and grew out of a desire to understand the musical language of one of my teachers, Roger Sessions. After a thorough analysis of the Sessions nine symphonies, I began to notice a consistent (although unorthodox and unsystematic) approach to the choice of pitches.  Most notable, however, was the absence of any techniques associated with dodecaphony or serialism.

Instead, I noticed a distinct preference for half-step fluctuations between scales of the same type (such as whole tone and octatonic scales). Furthermore these scales were embellished with “non harmonic” tones that lay outside of these collections. Although these groupings were clearly not tonal, they also seemed to eschew any type of system. The pitches were chosen rather freely, but always in relation to a principal motive or theme.

My own sonata follows the classical scheme: first movement, sonata form with three expositions (a form dear to Sessions and derived from Beethoven); an elegiac slow movement; a third-movement minuet and trio; and a frenetic and somewhat sardonic finale. The overall character of the music shows the influence of  Sessions, as well, in its preoccupation with a kind of black comedy; thus the subtitle Sonata Macabre. In addition, while composing the sonata, I learned of the death of the great Hungarian composer, György Ligeti, hence the dedication at the head of the second movement.

I recorded my first Piano Sonata on “New American Romantics” in 1996 on North/South Recordings (N/SR 1007) and my Piano Sonata No. 2 (Tâla) on “Piano Music of Larry Bell,” Albany Records (Troy 828).

Recording: Larry Bell, Casa Rustica Recordings CRR 001

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MUSIC OF THE SPHERES (2006) Op. 82

Opus number: op. 82

Title: Harmony of the Spheres

I. Jupiter

II. Mars

III. Saturn

IV. Earth

V. Uranus

VI. Venus

VII. Neptune

VIII. Mercury

IX. Pluto

Date written: 2006

Length: 25 minutes

Premiere performance: October 16, 2006, Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory, Larry Bell, pianist

Program Notes: The sculptural mobiles of Alexander Calder, which I saw at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in March 2006, inspired this work for solo piano. Calder’s preoccupation with the planetary orbits and his unique sense of motion and balance gave me the idea of doing something similar in a musical medium.

While this work has no direct connection to Holst’s “Planets,” indirect references to the characters of the Greco-Roman gods can be heard. Jupiter, for instance, begins with a lightening bolt, Mars has a certain militaristic rhythm, and Mercury is quite rapid and fanciful.

Unlike Pythagoras, who was preoccupied by the relationship between harmonic intervals and the proportional distance of the other planets to the earth, my main interest was to derive the rhythmic proportions of the music from the planets’ relative distance to the sun. One underlying macro-speed connects all the movements with their respective proportions. That fundamental speed is expressed in time as dotted half note equals 33: In both Mars and Earth the quarter note equals 99, which means the dotted half equals 33. Uranus is scored at dotted quarter equals 66 (so the dotted half equals 33). In Neptune the dotted quarter note equals 44, in Pluto the quarter equals 44 (both two-thirds of 66; a 2:3 ratio); and in Jupiter that quarter is doubled to equal 88. Saturn’s quarter equals 66 (twice 33), while for Venus and Mercury it equals 132 (twice as fast as 66, or four times 33).

Earth here is considered to have a 1:1 relationship to the sun. The uniqueness of the Earth is characterized by unison and octave textures. Mercury, the shortest distance, has a relationship of about .4 of that of the Earth, its relative distance closer to the sun. Its relationship in the music is expressed as the polyrhythm 5:2–another way of expressing .4, that is, two-fifths of a beat, or five sounds against two beats. Pluto is approximately 39.5 times further from the sun than the earth, and this is expressed musically in chords whose durations are 39.5 sixteenth notes. In Venus the proportion 5:4, which expresses its .8 of the distance of the Earth to the sun.

Uranus is nineteen times the distance from the Earth to the sun, therefore the chords in its movement occur every nineteen sixteenth notes. Similarly, Pluto has a chord every 39 sixteenth notes. Jupiter, which is 5.2 times the Earth’s distance from the sun, is first rounded down to five and written as groups of phrases with five beats. Mars, at 1.5 the distance to the sun, lends itself nicely to 2:3, two beats sound against three beats. Neptune, on the other hand, is thirty times our distance from the sun, and therefore is broken into 5 times 6, or six five-beat phrases = 30. The swirling, circular figures of Saturn represent its rings. Saturn is 9.5 times the Earth’s distance from the sun, which I rounded down to 9:2 to represent nine and a half eighths.

In order to present nine separate pieces in a dramatic sequence, I arranged them so that the increasingly further away orbits alternate with the increasingly closer: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto become slower and alternate with Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury, which become faster. Thus the work ends with fastest piece, Mercury, followed by the slowest, Pluto. In addition, the first piece, Jupiter, functions somewhat as an overture that foreshadows each of the other movements. Just after I had written and learned these pieces did astronomers decide to renumber the planets and eliminate Pluto!

Recording: Larry Bell, on Casa Rustica Recordings 001

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ELEGY (2005) Op. 72

Opus number: 72

Title: Elegy

Dedication: Dr. William A. Silverman and Dr. Edwin G. Olmstead

Instrumentation: solo piano

Date written: January 20, 2005

Length: ca. 7 minutes

Premiere performance: May 25, 2005, Larry Bell, pianist, New England Conservatory

Important subsequent performances:

Program notes: Elegy, op. 72, was written in memory of Dr. William A. Silverman and Dr. Edwin G. Olmstead. I learned of Dr. Silverman’s death while writing my cello concerto “The Triumph of Lightness” in the late fall of 2004. Elegy was completed on January 20, 2005,  the day we learned of the death of my father-in-law, Dr.Edwin G. Olmstead. A recording of the work was performed for the first time at a “Celebration of Life” for Dr. Silverman in Greenbrae, California, on March 18, 2005.

Reviews: (performances) (recordings)

Excerpt: (coming soon!)

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FOUR CHORALE PRELUDES (2003) Op. 67

Opus number: 67

Title: Four Chorale Preludes

Dedication: Jonathan Bass

Instrumentation: solo piano

Date written: December 2003

Length: ca. 25 minutes

Premiere performance:

Important subsequent performance:

Program notes:

Reviews: (performances) (recordings)

Excerpt: Four Chorle Preludes (Coming soon!)

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SUITE FROM HANSEL AND GRETEL (2003) Op. 65

Opus number: 65

Title: Suite from Hansel and Gretel

Instrumentation: piano

Date written: January 2003

Length: ca. 12 minutes

Performances:

Program notes: These short piano pieces were drawn from  Hansel and Gretel, a Fable for Narrator and Orchestra. Thery were written especially for Angel Rivera’s young pianist seminars at the NEC Preparatory School. See program notes for Op. 59.

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PIANO SONTAT NO. 2 “TÂLA” (2002) Op. 61

Opus number: 61

Title: Tala

Instrumetation: piano

Date written: February 2002

Length: ca. 10 minutes

Performances:

Program notes: This piece was heavily influenced by Messiaen’s piano music, especially Cantéyodjay^a. Bell uses Hindu rhythms to create an additive structure.

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