The Black Cat harkens back to the monodrama made popular in the nineteenth century by such Liszt melodramas as Der Traurige Monch. Richard Strauss's later monodrama Enoch Arden, recorded by Claude Reins and Glenn Gould, helped inspire my adaptation of the ghost-story setting of Edgar Allan Poe's familiar tale of murder and madness.
I augment the monodrama's typical narrator-and-piano instrumentation to include a cello. The cello represents the cat; the piano portrays the man telling the story and also sets the climate for the individual scenes. The cello has its own leitmotifs, for example, the tritone glissando that mimics a "meow" similar to the effect found in Ravel's animal opera. The music is based on the opening melody in G-sharp minor (frequently necessitating the F double-sharp scull-and-crossbones on the page).
Although the narrator's part is not notated musically, I carefully connected the words with the accompanying music. Poe's characteristic blend of the horrible and the ordinary is not without moments of humorafter all, a grown man is driven crazy by an innocent small animal! The Black Cat (1987) was commissioned by and is dedicated to cellist Eric Bartlett, who, along with the composer, is a cat lover.
Caprice for solo cello was written in 1978 and is dedicated to Scot Williams. The piece consists of several basic character types that are at first presented separately and then later in combination. The juxtaposition of these cross-cut strands of music produces a kind of ironic counterpoint of characters; hence the title Caprice.
The Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn for cello and viola was commissioned by Joel Krosnick for his 1983-84 six-concert series at Juilliard and the Library of Congress entitled "The Cello: A Twentieth-Century American Retrospective." The work was composed at the American Academy in Rome in 1983. The New York and Washington premieres were played by Krosnick and Samuel Rhodes in March 1984. Later the Fantasia was played on concerts of the Juilliard String Quartet. Eric Bartlett and Sarah Clarke gave the Fantasia its Boston and European premieres.
In an interview with Perry Goldstein, Krosnick says of this piece: "Larry Bell has organized his serial structures in diatonic ways--that is, with the same building blocks with which traditional tonal music is made. Rhythmically, however, and in terms of its polyphony, it is contemporary in its complexity and careful detailing. The two instruments in Larry's piece often represent two different characters, juxtaposing different kinds of music simultaneously, much like in the Carter Sonata. And yet, the organization of the materials and the materials themselves clearly come from the emotional world of Larry Bell. The music is often lyrical, sweet, playfulquite American sounding, containing the lilt of Southern folk music."
River of Ponds was completed in 1986 at the American Academy in Rome and was commissioned by and dedicated to Joel Krosnick and Gilbert Kalish. The title itself is drawn from a series of paintings called "River of Ponds" by Frank Stella. Stella was the Painter-in-Residence at the AAR during my Rome Prize Fellowship (1982-83).
The underlying theme of Stella's River of Ponds is a reflection upon his own childhood and the fishing trips he took with his father. The movement titles of my River of Ponds--"Black Creek," "Wyatt Earp's Pond," and "Silver Lake"refer to my memories of childhood in North Carolina.
The first piece, "Black Creek," is based on an original melody. This melody first occurs as a vague recollection from the past. The center of the movement contains a clear presentation of this theme as a vivid memory. The end of the movement dissolves as it began. G major and B major are contrasting tonal areas that grow out of the intervals of the theme itself.
"Wyatt Earp's Pond" is a nickname given to a fishing hole near where I grew up. This title has a humorous connotation and the movement could be thought of as a scherzo; a scherzo with two trios. In the trios the hymn tune "Softly and tenderly" is quoted.
The last movement, "Silver Lake," is a double variation form. The first theme is similar to the old hymn tune "The Old Rugged Cross," stated in a slow and somewhat grandiose manner. The second theme is drawn from the first movement; however here the theme is dance-like, driving, and usually grouped in rhythmic units of seven. The recurrence of both themes suggests a rondo finale.
Larry Bell, a composer who is recognized as "a major talent" (The Chicago Tribune), has been awarded the Rome Prize, fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, and the Charles Ives Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has received grants from the American Symphony Orchestra League, American Music Center, and Meet the Composer, as well as residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and MacDowell Colony. He was the first finalist in music for the Berlin Prize.
Bell studied with Vincent Persichetti and Roger Sessions at The Juilliard School, where he received his doctorate. Bell's works have been commissioned and played by the Juilliard String Quartet, the Seattle Symphony, Music Today (New York), RAI Orchestra of Rome, OeENM (Austria), St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble, and Speculum Musicae. In addition his music has been featured in festivals in Russe (Bulgaria), Moscow Autumn (Russia), Pontino (Italy), San Salvador (El Salvador), Aspen (Colorado), Ravinia (Chicago), Christchurch (New Zealand), and Valencia (Spain).
As a pianist he performs regularly and has championed the music of Frederic Rzewski, Persichetti, and other American composers. He has given recitals and concerto performances throughout the United States, Italy, and Japan. Bell has recorded frequently for broadcast on WGBH-FM radio in Boston, including their first live broadcast on the World Wide Web (of his trio Mahler in Blue Light). Bell's CD recording of his Piano Sonata has been released on North/South Recordings #1007. Reviewing this recording Fanfare Magazine called him an "exceptionally talented composer." Bell's Piano Concerto was recorded by the Russe Philharmonic in Bulgaria and appears on Vienna Modern Masters #3037. Sacred Symphonies was recorded by the Slovak Radio Orchestra for Vienna Modern Masters #3016.He has taught theory and ear training at The Juilliard School Pre-College Division, and composition at The Boston Conservatory since 1980 and at the New England Conservatory of Music since 1992.
New York Philharmonic cellist Eric Bartlett has established himself as an artist of formidable talent and artistic integrity. He has appeared frequently as a member soloist with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and is featured on several of their Deutsche Grammophon recordings. In addition to Orpheus, his solo appearances include the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, the Anchorage Symphony, the Hartford Chamber Orchestra, the Aspen and Juilliard orchestras, and the New York Philharmonic's Horizons '84 series. Mr. Bartlett is the recipient of a Solo Recitalist's Award from the National Endowment for the Arts (used in part to commission Bell's The Black Cat) and a special Performance Award as a finalist of the 1987 New England Conservatory/ Piatigorsky Award. Recent recital appearances include Avery Fisher Hall, Tokyo's Orchard Hall at Bunkamura, and the University of California at San Diego.
Recognized as a leading performer of contemporary music, Mr. Bartlett has participated in over sixty premieres since 1980, with ensembles such as Speculum Musicae, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Group for Contemporary Music, and the Columbia String Quartet; and has commissioned new works for the cello from American composers. He has served, alternately, as Artist-President and Vice-President of Speculum Musicae since 1990. He has also performed at the Mostly Mozart, Marlboro, Aspen, Adirondack, Grand Teton, and Waterloo festivals, and has been the principal cellist of Mostly Mozart and co-principal of Orpheus from 1984 to 1997.
He was awarded full scholarships to both the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School and received both his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from Juilliard, where he was a student of Leonard Rose and Channing Robbins.
Eric Bartlett is currently on the faculties of Columbia University and Queens College. Bartlett joined the New York Philharmonic in 1996 and became Acting Associate Principal in 1998.
Violist Sarah Clarke is a member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra which performs extensively in New York and with which she has toured the United States, Canada, South America, Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. She is a founding member of the Claring Chamber Players and a former member of the New Amsterdam Chamber Players. Ms. Clarke has been a frequent participating artist at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, and has made eight national tours with Music From Marlboro.
Ms. Clarke was the principal violist of the Bard Music Festival at Bard College since its inception in 1990, and played her seventh season as principal violist of the OK Mozart Festival in 1998. She has also performed at the International Festival in Sophia, Bulgaria, the North Country and Monadnock Festivals in New Hampshire, and the Caramoor and Mostly Mozart Festivals in New York. Ms. Clarke received her Bachelor's degree from the Curtis Institute of Music where she studied with Michael Tree and Karen Tuttle. Since moving to New York in 1979 she has performed with many prestigious ensembles including the New York Philomusica, the St. Luke's Ensemble, the Boston Conservatory Chamber Players, and the Sea Cliff Chamber Players. She has recorded for Nonesuch, Columbia, ProArte, and Deutsche Grammophon.
Robert J. Lurtsema is the voice of WGBH-TV's program "Mystery." With his years of theatrical experience and his musical expertise, Robert J. has become very much in demand as an actor/narrator for musical compositions, including The Black Cat which he performed in Hartford. Many composers have written pieces specifically for his multi-voiced narration. He has performed with the Boston Symphony, the Boston Pops, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble, the Paul Winter Consort, and countless other orchestras, chamber groups, and accompanists. Mr. Lurtsema has recorded fifteen LP's, cassettes, and CD's, and taped hundreds of voice-overs for PBS, corporate films, and award-winning documentaries, dramas, and commercials.
Robert J. Lurtsema has been the host and executive producer of Morning pro musica, public radio's popular program of primarily classical music, for over twenty-six years. His deep and resonant voice is well known to hundreds of thousands of listeners. His program is an innovative mixture of music, news, weather, live performances, and conversations with special guests.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Robert J. graduated from Boston University, where he studied liberal arts, drama, broadcasting, and journalism. In the last five years he has had two books published, A Pocketful of Verse and the Robert J. Lurtsema Musical Quiz Book. He has composed songs, a film score, and chamber pieces, including a bassoon quartet which was adapted to become the theme for Julia Child's television series on PBS.