Opus number: 17

Title: Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn

Instrumentation: cello and viola

Date written: 1983, American Academy in Rome

Length: fifteen minutes

Commissioner and dedicatee: Joel Krosnick

Premiere performance: Joel Krosnick, cellist, Samuel Rhodes, violist, Juilliard Theater, New York, and Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., March 12 and 14, 1984

Subsequent performances: Juilliard String Quartet, April 1984, Library of Congress; Eric Bartlett, cellist, Sarah Clarke, violist, March 1986, Bell-Bartlett Concerts, First and Second Church in Boston; October 1986, American Academy in Rome; Bruce Coppock, cello, and Katherine Murdock, viola, April 21, 1987, The Boston Conservatory; Bartlett and Clarke, October 1992, Boston Conservatory and Greenwich House, New York.

Recording: Eric Bartlett, cello, Sarah Clarke, violist, North/South Recordings CD (N/S #1018); tape of Coppock and Murdock performance at The Boston Conservatory library; video of Bartlett-Clarke Boston Conservatory performance in library

Program notes:  “The ‘Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn’ for cello and viola was commissioned by Joel Krosnick for his 1983–84 six-concert series at Juilliard and the Library of Congress entitled ‘The Cello: A Twentieth-Century American Retrospective.’ The work was composed at the American Academy in Rome in 1983. The New York and Washington premieres were played by Krosnick and Samuel Rhodes in March 1984. Later the Fantasia was played on concerts of the Juilliard String Quartet. Eric Bartlett and Sarah Clarke gave the Fantasia its Boston and European premieres.

“In an interview with Perry Goldstein Krosnick says of this piece, ‘Larry Bell has organized his serial structures in diatonic ways–that is, with the same building blocks with which traditional tonal music is made. Rhythmically, however, and in terms of its polyphony, it is contemporary in its complexity and careful detailing. The two instruments in Larry’s piece often represent two different characters, juxtaposing different kinds of music simultaneously, much like in the Carter Sonata. And yet, the organization of the materials and the materials themselves clearly come from the emotional world of Larry Bell. The music is often lyrical, sweet, playful–quite American sounding, containing the lilt of Southern folk music.’”

Reviews: [performances] “For all the ferocity of some of the work’s lines, it ends lyrically. No hymns are actually used, but the composer uses serial harmony to suggest the flavor of such hymns–an attractive new twist on the Charles Ives esthetic.” –Lon Tuck, The Washington Post (March 15, 1984)

“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 in 1983 and in a ‘Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn’ for viola and cello, all composed in 1983.” –Arthur Hepner The Boston Globe (March 5, 1986)

[recording] “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)

[recording] Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn Op.17 (1983/4) is for the somewhat rarer combination of viola and cello. It falls into two parts of fairly equal length in which counterpoint is paramount. The music is strictly organised and tightly argued. Any less modest composer would have called this piece a sonata, which this impressive piece really is. -Hubert Culot, 2003)