The Sentimental Muse


(N/S R 1031)
Idumea Symphony
Song and Dance
Short Symphony for Band
The Sentimental Muse

Joel Suben, conductor
William Drury, conductor
Kathryn Sleeper, bassoonist
Moravian Philharmonic
Jordan Winds


Idumea Symphony (Symphony No. 2), Op. 40

Idumea (pronounced I-doo_-ma) is the Biblical name of a hymn tune taken from The Sacred Harp, an important nineteenth-century hymn book used widely in the South. The first line of text asks the haunting question, “And am I born to die?” These words and the awestruck concluding text “… and see the flaming skies” provided philosophical and imagistic points of departure for the music composed for the Symphony.

The Idumea Symphony is in four movements corresponding to the Classical number and pacing of movements. The first movement, a monothematic sonata form in the tempo of a slow waltz, incorporates the borrowed hymn tune with my own harmonization. Here the character is visionary and ecstatic. The second movement, Transcendental Scherzo, has two distinct tempos: one a swinging, jazzy scherzo that parodies the hymn tune, and the other a slow-moving version of the scherzo material written in a distant tonality. This second movement prophesizes the ominous fourth and last movement. Double Variation formally describes the third movement’s alternation between an original melody and the hymn tune. The finale has a punning subtitle “What Goes Around Comes Around.” The hymn tune is used here as the basis for “rounds” with rock-inspired rhythms culminating in a driving upbeat conclusion.

The Idumea Symphony was completed in the fall of 1996 with the help of a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. The work is dedicated to its commissioner and the orchestra who premiered it: Jed Gaylin and the Hopkins SymphonyOrchestra.

Song and Dance, a Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra, op. 44

Song and Dance was commissioned by Fred Cohen for his Currents ensemble at the University of Richmond. Written during the last two weeks of 1996, it was completed on New Years’ Eve 1996. The work was scored originally for an ensemble of thirteen soloists: woodwind quartet, brass trio, string quintet, and piano. The stringed instruments have been increased for the orchestral recording.

The titles of the work’s four movements–First Dance, Sing-a-long, Call and Response, and Last Dance–give the listener a sense of the popular style, or vernacular idiom, that influenced the composition. The titles also suggest a kind of participation asked of the listener; an invitation to sing and dance with the performers.

The phrase “Song and Dance” can also mean a put-on, something not quite what it appears to be. This Song and Dance is partly wistful, partly comic, playfully criss-crossing the border between seriousness and fun.

Short Symphony for Band, op. 47

Short Symphony for Band was completed and premiered (by the Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble) in the winter of 1999 and was written for William Drury and the Jordan Winds. The title is derived from two pieces I have long admired: the Short Symphony by Aaron Copland and Symphony for Band by my teacher, Vincent Persichetti.

As was the case with my first two symphonies, Sacred Symphonies (also recorded on CD) and Idumea Symphony, this work was developed from my own vocal music. “A Cry Against the Twilight,” eight madrigals (SSATB) on texts by Wallace Stevens that I wrote in 1996, furnishes the primary thematic material for this four-movement work. The five madrigals I used were “Valley Candle,” “Death of a Soldier,” “Tea,”†”Infanta Marina,” “Sonatina to Hans Christian.”

The form of the Short Symphony for Band resembles a classical symphony in its movement order: sonata, scherzo, slow movement, and rondo. In addition, themes from movements are foreshadowed or recalled. For example, the second theme group of the first movement foreshadows the third movement, and the trio of the third movement’s scherzo returns just before the climax of the fourth movement’s finale.

The use of one player per part gives this symphony a sonority much like chamber music, a quality somewhat different from what one usually associates with music for band.

The Sentimental Muse, a Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, op. 45

The Sentimental Muse was composed during the last three weeks of July 1997 and is dedicated to its commissioner, Kathryn Sleeper. She premiered the work in April 1998 with the University of Miami Orchestra, her husband Thomas Sleeper conducting.

The music is based on two different melodies. One of these melodies was used as the Prelude and Fugue in F in my set of 12 called “Reminiscences and Reflections” (also available on CD). The other melody, a little sentimental tune, was for me like a muse who followed me around until I could no longer resist her compelling song. The piece is therefore about the relationship between these two melodies.

The first movement is in sonata form. Its contrasting sections are interrupted by lyrical cadenzas from the solo bassoon. The second movement is in the form of an arch: The central sentimental tune is flanked by fast, syncopated dance sections that are in turn framed by a plaintive song. The last movement transforms the opening movement’s character; for example, the resolute rhythms of the first movement are brought back in the last movement as vivacious, lilting rhythms. After the climax the music once more glances back wistfully to the sentimental tune of the second movement.

The opening forte A’s are a reference point in each of the three movements. In the first, the note A is the fifth in the d-minor imperfect cadence. In the second, the A is the cadence note in the original “song” in F major as well as in the f#-minor tune that occurs midway. The bassoon has the last word with its contra A affirming the dotted rhythm of the sentimental song.

Liner notes by Andrea Olmstead and the composer

Review: Hubert Culot, (March 2004)

Over the last few months, I reviewed several recordings of works by Larry Bell. At that time, I remarked that this composerís music was the direct heir of Copland and, as such, presented a sort of present-day Americana. None worst for that, I must say, for he is a composer who wants to communicate in direct terms, regardless of any current trends and fashions. Though fairly traditional, his music approaches the American symphonic tradition in a most refreshing way, which is to my mind his most endearing quality. The four orchestral works here are all fairly recent, and were composed over the years 1996-1999. They confirmed my first impression, although listening to his Second Symphony also brings Virgil Thomson and his popular Symphony on a Hymn Tune to mind. Indeed, Bellís Symphony No.2 “Idumea” Op.40 is based on a Southern hymn tune which runs throughout the symphony, albeit in hugely varied guise. The first movement, a “monothematic sonata form” (the composerís words) mostly based on the hymn tune, is followed by a perky Scherzo. The slow movementDouble Variations alternates an original tune and the basic hymn tune, whereas the final movement is a lively rondo.

Song and Dance Op.44, subtitled Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra, is a more relaxed and lighter work indulging in popular dance music. A delightful, unpretentious work to be enjoyed for what it is worth, that could (should) become a popular concert opener.

The very title of the Short Symphony for Band Op.47 obliquely pays some tribute to two works that Bell admittedly admires, viz. Coplandís Short Symphony and Persichettiís Symphony No.6 Op.69 for band. (Persichetti was one of Bellís teachers, Roger Sessions was another.) Again in four short movements, based this time on five madrigals composed in 1996 to texts by Wallace Stevens, this is quite appealing.

The Sentimental Muse Op.45 was commissioned by Kathryn Sleeper who gave the first performance in 1998. The composer tells us that it is mostly based on two melodies. One of them appeared in Bellís set of twelve preludes and fugues for pianoReminiscences and Reflections Op.46 (available on North/South N/S R 1032, to be reviewed shortly) whereas the second is “a little sentimental tune”. The first movement, roughly in sonata form, makes play of these tunes, as does the third movement which also briefly glances back at the “sentimental tune”. There are not that many successful bassoon concertos around, so Bellís essay is a most welcome addition to the repertoire.

These attractive and enjoyable pieces are all well served by very fine performances and recording. If you are in tune with the American symphonic tradition of Copland, Piston or Thomson, then Larry Bellís superbly crafted music is for you. Anyway, this beautifully produced release is the best possible introduction to his music and may safely be recommended.


Available through:
North South Recordings