Larry Bell: The Black Cat

Sam Ou’s Cello Recital at Old South Church in Boston, MA
March 15, 2012
Larry Bell: The Black Cat (Based on a Story by Edgar Allan Poe)
Sam Ou, cello
Steve McConnell, narrator
Larry Bell, piano


THE BLACK CAT harkens back to the monodrama made popular in the nineteenth century by such Liszt melodramas as Der Traurige Monch. Richard Strauss’s later monodrama Enoch Arden, recorded by Claude Reins and Glenn Gould, inspired my adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s familiar tale of murder and madness.

I augmented the monodrama’s typical narrator-and-piano instrumentation to include a cello. The cello represents the cat; the piano portrays the man telling the story and also sets the climate for the individual scenes. The cello has its own leitmotifs, for example, a tritone glissando that mimics a “meow” similar to the effect found in Ravel’s animal opera.

Although the narrator’s part is not notated musically, I carefully connected the words with the accompanying music. Poe’s characteristic blend of the horrible and the ordinary is not without moments of humor—after all, a grown man is driven crazy by an innocent small animal!

The Black Cat (1987) was commissioned by New York Philharmonic cellist Eric Bartlett and made possible by his grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He premiered the work at the 92nd Street Y in New York with myself as narrator and pianist Wu Han. Other performances include one with tonight’s narrator—Steve McConnell—with cellist Andrès Díaz and pianist Michael Dewart. Bartlett recorded the piece on North/South Recordings (N/SR1018) with myself on the piano and Robert J. Lurtsema narrating. —Larry Bell