Music from Six Continents 1992 Series

Music from Six Continents 1992

(VMM 3016)

Larry Bell – Sacred Symphonies
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava
Szymon Kawalla, conductor

Larry Bell
Sacred Symphonies
I. Soulfully                           5:25
II. Spirited                            6:23
III. Powerfully                      5:48
IV. Transcendently                6:26




Music from Six Continents 1992 Series(#3037)
Larry Bell – Sacred Symphonies

Sacred Symphonies was commissioned by and is dedicated to the composer’s Italian friend, Verio Piroddi. Signor Piroddi had requested a religious work; therefore, the composer drew from his own religious experience as a Southerner whose family was raised in the Pentecostal Holiness church. The title Sacred Symphonies is an Anglicization of the titles of the Schutz and Gabrieli works.To prepare for the orchestral work, Bell composed Four Sacred Songs for Soprano and Piano. Each song is a setting of a familiar hymn tune text; however, the music itself is new and makes no reference to the original hymn tunes. The four movements of the Sacred Symphonies correspond, Mahlerlike, to the four songs: “There Is a Fountain,” “Take the Name of Jesus with You,” “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus,” and “Spirit of God Descend upon My Heart.” Each represents a religious state: atonement, evangelism, suffering, and humility.Sacred Symphonies has a double texture throughout: the symphonic development of the themes of the songs coexists with a slow-moving version of the songs in a distant tonality. The sequence of movements suggests a sense of spiritual progress – a coming to terms with the conflicts of the past. The quasi-autobiographical subject matter and the combination of vernacular and cultivated techniques creates in Bell’s Sacred Symphonies the distinctive color of indigenous American music – music in the tradition and spirit of Ives and Copland.Sacred Symphonies was completed in the summer of 1985 while Bell was a resident composer at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Conference and Study Center in Bellagio, Italy. The work received its first performance in February, 1987, with the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Christopher Kendall.

Andrea Olmstead


Review of the recording:

Sacred Symphonies, (1985) by erstwhile North Carolina-native and Juilliard-graduate Larry Bell (b. 1952), is of more serious intent. In somewhat Ivesian fashion, the four movements of Sacred Symphonies are transformations of hymnlike music, settings originally created by Bell for his Four Sacred Songs . The difference between Bell and Ives is that the tunes themselves are his own, although clearly his music draws on the tradition of vernacular church music. The symphonic expansion of these tunes involves the parallel presentation of the hymn tune and its development along with a much slower version of the tune (although this isn’t always clear to me). This divided exposition amplifies the resemblance to Ives, particularly in the third movement. A few clichés—the cadence of the second movement, for example—slightly mar the appeal, but overall this is a substantive and moving work.

Performance and recording are not at the highest level, but are sufficient, I think, to indicate the potential of these works, which seems to be the point of the Music from Six Continents series. Partly due to the faulty, too-eclectic program, this will be of less-than-average interest except to the very curious, but I think the Silsbee and Bell pieces merit further exposure. This disc is available from, an interesting distributor of new music recordings.

Robert Kirzinger-Fanfare Magazine

                  This article originally appeared in Issue 28:5 (May/June 2005) of Fanfare Magazine.