MAHLER IN BLUE LIGHT (1996) Op.43     

$25.00 score, sax and cello parts, $5.00 each


clarinet part, $5.00

Opus number: 43

Title: Mahler in Blue Light

Instrumentation: alto saxophone, cello, piano; also arranged for clarinet, cello, and piano

Date written: June 1996, Boston

Length: twenty-two minutes

Commissioner: World-Wide Concurrent Commissions and Premieres

Premiere performances: Ken Radnofsky, saxophone, Pamela Frame, cello, and Larry Bell, piano, December 8, 1996, Jordan Hall, Boston. Members of the World-Wide Commissions and Premieres, thrity-five commissioning ensembles

Clarinet version: North/South Consonance, Richard Goldsmith, clarinet, Jonas Tauber, cello, Max Lifchitz, pianist. May 23, 1999, Christ and St. Stephen’s Church, New York

Important subsequent performances: March 13, 1997, Ken Radnofsky, saxophone, Pamela Frame, cello, and Larry Bell, piano, World-Wide Web Live broadcast sponsored by BBN, WGBH-FM, the National Schools Network, and New England Conservatory; Ken Radnofsky, saxophone, Pamela Frame, cello, and Larry Bell, piano; Valencia, Spain, September 30, 1998 International Saxophone Congress; January 6, 2002, Ken Radnofsky, saxophone, Eric Bartlett, cello, and Larry Bell, piano, New England Conservatory; January 17, 2002, Ken Radnofsky, saxophone, Eric Bartlett, cello, and Larry Bell, piano, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.

Recordings: CD by Russell Peterson, alto saxophone, Dougland Schneider, piano, Diane Tremaine, cello, “American Breath” Barking Dog Records. Recorded March 13, 1997, at WGBH-FM Boston, premiere performers; tape at New England Conservatory library of Radnofsky Jordon Hall performance


Program notes:

I. Fantasy and Fugue

II. Intermezzo

III. Variations on a Theme by Mahler

IV. Rondo Finale

“Mahler in Blue Light” was completed in June of 1996 for a commission by World-Wide Concurrent Premieres and Commissioning Fund, Inc. Kenneth Radnofsky, the executive director, suggested the instrumentation and facilitated dozens of simultaneous premieres on December 8, 1996.

“Mahler in Blue Light” opens in the altissimo range with the highest note of the piece, concert F. This striking gesture returns at the end of the Fantasy, just before the introduction of the fugue; in the third movement prior to the introduction of the quote; and in the last movement before the coda.

All four movements are an elaborate passacaglia (variations on a chord progression) based on a twenty-seven-bar instrumental fragment from “Der Abschied” movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The only time the fragment appears in its original form here is toward the end of the third movement, called “Variations on a Theme by Mahler.” My goal was to present the quoted material in a stylistically seamless fashion, so much so that if you did not know the original beforehand, you would not recognize it as a quote here.

The “Abschied” theme used as the basis of these variations consists of a chord progression whose principal bass notes are Bb, Cb, G, Ab, and F. These same notes are also a melody (one Mahler did not write) that acts as a original cantus firmus in each of these movements. It is also my fugue subject. The compositional objective was to make something new out of something old. I thought of this piece as my own portrait of Mahler’s music seen through the saxophone’s blue color.

Review of first WGBH webcast:

Score, New England Conservatory News
Volume 11, Number 14
March 24, 1997

NEC Musicians in Cyberspace
by Evelyne Tiersky

March 13, 12:20 p.m. At WGBH 89.7 FM’s studios, the Sumner Gerstein Theater is packed. Feels like Election Night at Studio Central. A cyberspace music premiere is about to happen. NEC saxophone faculty Kenneth Radnofsky with pianist/composer Larry Thomas Bell (of NEC’s Extension Division faculty) and cellist Pamela Frame are preparing to perform live with “Classical Performances” host Richard Knisely as part of MOTET, an innovative live cyber performance initiative to teach music appreciation. Larry Bell’s Mabler in Blue Light received its world premiere at NEC’s Jordan Hall in December, and is about to be re-premiered on the Internet. Carried live on WBGH radio locally, the performance is also being broadcast live to National School Network Exchange schools and a worldwide audience on the Internet at using Real Audio TM technology and desktop videoconferencing.

12:45 p.m. Cables everywhere, computers, telephones, photographers, a television crew, lights, action! Projected on a large screen from one of the four computer terminals, the performance, coming live from the studio across the street, unfolds in its multimedia form. Pictures in evolution, images in constant resolution, the focus shifts between the three performers. In small inset frame on the blown-up screen, Richard Kindly listens in through headphones, and concludes this special edition of “Classical Performances” by inviting listeners to tune in now on the Internet.

1:15 p.m. The performers have now re-entered real space and joined us in the theater to conduct the live online chat with students of the 20 National School Network Exchange schools. One by one, schools are now “coming in” to the virtual classroom, from Campbell Drive Florida, to the Rundle School in Massachusetts, with schools in Connecticut, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California, D.C., Arkansas, New Jersey. One school in Germany is listening!

1:25 p.m. Close-ups on younger kids and teenagers as they approach the microphone or keyboard. Questions are pouring in, ranging from “were you pressured by your parents to study music?” to “how and why did you choose the saxophone?” More pointed questions turn to the structure of the piece and what mouthpiece to use.
Answers are immediate, instantaneously typed in (on the ichat line) or spoken through a microphone (on CuSeeMe): candid, direct, always encouraging. “At school they gave me the sax because I liked the color and it fit my buck teeth.” “We’re always looking to reach new audiences in all possible venues and mediums.”
“Perhaps this is the way we will hear live concerts in the future,” concludes Larry Bell. He hopes this enterprise will help put more emphasis on music in public schools, as “there is always the problem of whether we can afford to teach music in the schools, but people in politics and education have no trouble justifying the technology.”