Opus number: 24

Title: Celestial Refrain

Instrumentation: guitar

Date written: July, 1985, Bellagio, Italy

Length: fourteen minutes

Commissioners and dedicatees: Russell Southcott and Steven Walter

Premiere performances: Bell-Bartlett Concerts, March 1986, Russell Southcott, Steven Walter, guitarists (each played the work on the series)

Important subsequent performances:  John Muratore, MIT, April 4, 1996; Steven Walter, The Boston Conservatory, April 23, 1986; Russell Southcott, Conservatory, April 17, 1991; John Muratore, April 23, 1997, Conservatory; John Muratore, Museum of Fine Arts, January 2001. (?)

Recording: John Muratore, guitarist, recorded 1999;  not yet released; Walter, Southcott, and Muratore tapes all at The Boston Conservatory

Program notes: Celestial Refrain for solo guitar was commissioned by Russell Southcott and Steven Walter and was completed, with the aid of a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, in July 1985 at the Rockefeller Foundations Study and Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy. The work is a double variation based on two different themes; one is slow and dramatic and the other fast and dance-like. The centerpiece is a song drawn from Bell’s Sacred Symphonies based on the words “Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart.” As the piece unfolds these themes become more alike in shape and character.

Reviews: “Larry Bell’s ‘Celestial Refrain’ consists of eleven pages of great music Bell has come up with a composition that is folk-like, at times almost primitive, yet always incredibly rich in ideas and inventiveness . . . invigorating, fascinating . . . [It] will haunt both your mind and your heart.” –John Minahan, Guitar Review

            “Pianist Larry Bell teaches at the Boston Conservatory; his Celestial Refrain is unusual in that it has not one but two separate commissioners, Russell Southcott and Steven Walter (not to be confused with our reviewer), who each gave a ‘first’ performance on 3 and 10 March 1986 respectively. Some 14 minutes long, it revolves around an essential ingredient of driving dance rhythms, insistent and throbbing in their relentlessness, pushed inexorably on by pedals and syncopations, often redolent of rock and pop. These sections are interspersed, and given relief by, quieter interludes; in fact, this principle of alternation pertains throughout the structure for the work. The introduction is violent while the conclusion is found in gentle harmonies. A fairly short and peaceful pivotal point is the passage entitled Song:  Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart, a quote from the composer’s own Sacred Symphonies, in turn based upon his Four Sacred Songs. The overall texture of this composition definitely makes it guitaristic, with a performer requiring an innate sense of rhythm to sustain the momentum, as well as a decent set of fingers. This could be fun to play, and exciting too, with just enough variety to avoid a charge of excessive sytlistic repetition in the vigourous dance sections. Music with a difference, then, and of our times, produced in a neat and clear edition.” Chris Kilvington, Classical Review (UK)