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.