Opus number: 46

Title: Reminiscences and Reflections; Twelve Preludes and Fugues [may be played individually]

Instrumentation: solo piano

Date written: 1993, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts–1998, Boston

Length: sixty minutes

Premiere performance: Sara Davis Buechner, pianist, March 30, 1999, Jordan Hall, Boston; New York premiere, Sara Davis Buechner, April 27, 1999, Merkin Hall, New York.

Subsequent performances: Jonathan Bass, pianist, 2001–2002 season various venues, including March 26, 2002, Piano Masters Series, The Boston Conservatory

Recordings:  CD in progress, Jonathan Bass, pianist.


I. Prelude in C            Glissando Study

I. Fugue in C

II. Prelude in C#            Habenera

II. Fugue in C#

III. Prelude in D            Chase

III. Fugue in D

IV. Prelude in Eb              Habenera No. 2

IV. Fugue in Eb

V. Prelude in E            Recitative

V. Fugue in E

VI. Prelude in F            Sentimental Muse

VI. Fugue in F

VII. Prelude in F#    Backward Glances

VII. Fugue in F#

VIII. Prelude in G    Song and Dance

VIII. Fugue in G

IX. Prelude in Ab              Sing-a-long

IX. Fugue in Ab

X. Prelude in A            Last Dance

X. Fugue in A

XI. Prelude in Bb              Study for the Left Hand

XI. Fugue in Bb

XII. Prelude in B              Recitative No. 2

XII. Fugue in B

Program notes:  Reminiscences and Reflections is a series of twelve Preludes and Fugues–one on each pitch–written intermittently over a five-year period from 1993 to 1998. Initially it operated as a kind of sketch book for other pieces I was composing on commission. Often the fugues were written first and the preludes was designed to reflect the harmonic content of the fugue.

The references in the title were to some of my own pieces for which I had written piano models. For example, the Prelude and Fugue in F, “Sentimental Muse,” is largely the model for the second movement of my Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra called The Sentimental Muse. The Prelude in C#, “Habanera,” and its accompanying fugue are elaborations on the first movement of my Song and Dance for thirteen instruments. Similarly, the G (“Song and Dance”), Ab (“Sing-a-long”), and A (“Last Dance”) Preludes and Fugues are the piano models for the second, third, and fourth movements of Song and Dance. The Fugue in A also provided the conclusion of Four Pieces in Familiar Style, for two violins. The Fugue in Bb is adapted from the first movement of my trio for saxophone, ‘cello, and piano, Mahler in Blue Light. “Backward Glances,” the Prelude and Fugue in F#, not only refers to my 1986 work for cello and piano River of Ponds, but also refers to the previous Prelude and Fugue (in F).

About half of the composition was written independent of my other music. The Prelude in C, “Glissando Study,” and the Prelude in Bb for the left hand are designed as etudes. Their fugues were written to complement the etudes. Many of the Preludes and Fugues, such as the ones in D, Eb, E, and B, contain cross references to one another. For instance, the Prelude in Eb, “Habanera No. 2,” is based on the same thematic material as the Prelude in C#. The Prelude in B, “Recitative No. 2,” is a reflection of the Prelude on E. All the pieces, including the fugues, whether sketches for other works, adapted after the fact, or newly composed, all were the result of my own piano improvisations.

Despite the casual and improvisatory genesis of these works, they are united by two short motives. One is a gruppetto (a turn) followed by a leap; the other is an angular five-note figure that is often presented in a jazzy, syncopated manner. The Preludes and Fugues are tonal in the conventional sense that progressions are used to gravitate to a central triad. Each pair of pieces, however, is based on harmony drawn from a different six-note collection of pitches, that is a hexachord used freely. One of the technical goals of these pieces was systematically to use all possible transpositions of these hexachords. In other words, I like to use tonal and serial techniques simultaneously.

Like the WTC, the Reminiscences and Reflections could be played piecemeal. The bi-partite construction of a prelude and fugue was obviously suggested by Bach’s famous “48.” The character of my work, however, is closer to Robert Schumann’s works with canons and the Chopin Preludes (also modeled after the Well-Tempered Clavier). I admired Robert Schumann’s comment on Felix Mendelssohn’s Preludes and Fugues, Op. 35: “The best fugue will always be the one that the public takes–for a Strauss waltz; in other words, where the artistic roots are covered as are those of a flower, so that we only perceive the blossom.” Most listeners today might perceive my preludes and fugues as dance music or popular songs without words; the technical aspects of fugal writing are there for the connoisseur to discover.

Reviews: “The world of new music is, perhaps, a stranger place than it was during the experimental rages of the ‘50s. Just as the brilliant sonic experiments of the post-war generation were working themselves into the vernacular, and Schoenberg was beginning to enjoy his rightful place in the glorious lineage of pedestaled German masters, many composers just gave up and reverted to Neo-Romantic gesture and classical formalism. Accessibility is in, even in music which still exercises free dissonance, and old-fashioned tonality has a new wardrobe, more often than not recycled from early 20th-century French music. The two works by composer Larry Bell presented in Jordan Hall last night are largely of this type, but they’re distinctively American both in the sources from which they draw, and in that ineffable way that was first caught by Charles Ives, and made almost tangible by composers like Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland, themselves conservative for their time.

“Bell’s work is very attractive, lyrical, and as regards his writing for the piano and violin, Romantically idiomatic and unadventurous. In the case of his series of preludes and fugues for piano, ‘Reminiscences and Reflections,’ it can saturate your senses like a pleasant but persistent aroma that eventually becomes either cloying or dulled.

“Pianist Sara Davis Buechner performed the 24 pieces in ‘Reminiscences and Reflections’–a prelude and fugue on each of the 12 tones. Buechner is a very accomplished player with a long list of credentials to support the claim, and for the general tenor of the work, hers was just the right approach–singing melody supported by blended and diffused pedaling, with lots of color in the pastels. . . . .

“The declamatory style of the opening Prelude on C, a study in glissandi, recalled the C Major Transcendental Etude of Liszt in the sense that it served to enunciate a beginning. The two habaneras, Preludes No. 2 and No 4, were reminiscent of Debussy’s habanera, ‘La Soiree dans Grenade.’ The fugues were not the least bit academic in their design, and many replaced traditional contrapuntal interest with color, redefining the notion of a fugue subject as a textual object.” “Buechner plays Bell with lots of color,” Michael Manning, Boston Globe , March 31, 1999.

“A Larry Bell piano premiere is a noteworthy new-music event in itself, but when a fascinating artist is also engaged for the performance, you can be sure the event will be well attended. Sara Davis Buechner (formerly David Buechner) drew a sophisticated audience and immediately dove into some Bach-based Busoni and Busoni-arranged Bach with impressive results. . .

“Mr. Bell’s huge 56-minute work took up the entire second part of the concert. It’s a series of preludes and fugues which pays homage to J. S. Bach and his Well-Tempered Clavier without neglecting the 250 years since then. The opening C-major Prelude states that idea with chromatic glissandi between sturdy chords, which seem to warn us that this is important writing, only to be followed by a disarmingly lyrical Fugue in that key. And so it goes throughout–interesting surprises set up by carefully descriptive titling–with often unexpected but subtle delvings into jazz, “Sing-along,” the Habanera, a Prelude titled “Last Dance” which is wild and desperate in tempo, and even a “Study for the Left Hand.” And while the 24 preludes and fugues are keyed from C to B, the chromatic hexachords, the teeth and bones of serial writing, assert themselves in equal proportion to any clinging to a true tonality.

“Did this very careful balancing of the serial with the tonal create a problem? Ms. Buechner played the work with great repsect, indeed a certan austere reverence. Whether this seeming absence of a truly dramatic mise en scene (for which Bell is noted), or a modicum of sentimentality, was what the composer intended, we cannot say. But this pianist’s assets–the faultless technique, the powerful dynamic range, the ability to get the piano to sing in those lyrical passages–certainly commanded the event.” Barry L. Cohen, New Music Connoisseur, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1999)