Works

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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VARIATIONS (1974) Op.7

Opus number: 7

Title: Variations

Instrumentation: piano

Date written: 1974, Appalacian State University, Boone, North Carolina

Length: twelve minutes

Premiere performance:  Larry Bell, pianist, Appalachian State University Contemporary Music Festival, May 1974

Important subsequent performances: Larry Bell, May 1974, Boone, NC; May 1980, Paul Hall, Juilliard; March 31, 1983, American Academy in Rome; April 18, 1982, and February 29, 1984, at The Boston Conservatory

Recording: tapes at The Boston Conservatory library of Bell’s performances of 1982 and 1984

Program notes: “Variations” for piano was written for the composer to play and completed at Appalachian State University in the spring of 1974. Much of this work shows the influence of Dallapiccola’s “Quaderno Musicale di Anna Libera” in its preoccupation with contrapuntal techniques. Larry Bell first performed it at Appalachian’s Contemporary Music Festival in May 1974 and it won a BMI Student Composers Award that same season.

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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 www.Holyghoststheopera.org for three-camera video, sound track, and scrollable libretto, along with cast list, performers’ biographies, and program notes.

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