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Snows of Yesteryear
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Snows of Yesteryear
Elizabeth Bell


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Suite For Wind Quartet, String Quartet, Piano and Percussion (1989)
Spectra is a piece about rainbows: about the dividing up of light (or sound) into its various wavelengths; about the gradual development of an image from the blank page (as in a Polaroid camera) into faint gray outlines, then little by little the color coming until the full range of the rainbow is alive; about the promise of calm after a storm.
The piece starts in the very high registers, and gradually widens its range downwards. The tonal centers, mimicking this, descend by minor thirds in each movement, from C down to C again. And the piece is tied together with the “rainbow” music which begins and ends the piece, and reappears from time to time within it. . . . This was my basic architectural form, but within it I imagined a fairyland “over the rainbow” where the “little people” live. The five movements (Dream, Dance, Song, March, and Storm) are simply events in their day, conceived with lightness and touches of humor to match their nature.
Spectra was commissioned by the North/South Consonance Ensemble, in 1989, for its tenth anniversary, and given its première performance by that group at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City in January 1990. It received the 1996 Grand Prize from the Utah Composers Guild.

for Two Pianos (1987)
Duovarios was an experiment for me. I wanted to write something more interesting than two pianos elaborating on the same theme: in effect, one piano played by twenty fingers. It seemed to me worthwhile to give each piano its own music, letting them spar and consort as they (and I!) pleased. So I assigned Piano I a 12-tone row, and let Piano II (which enters first) repeat and reconfigure five tetrads, one per measure, arranged to form a palindrome (1,2,3,4,5,4,3,2,1). Then I turned them loose (with some supervision!)
What resulted has many aspects of Variation Form (hence the title – Variations for Two), but also of Rondo Form, and even Sonata Form! Piano One has two main “themes”: a 12-tone melody, opening the piece and recurring frequently, including in majestic bass octaves at the end; and a chordal theme, which starts quite slow and becomes gradually faster each time it appears. Piano Two does not have similarly recurring themes, except for one long passage near the beginning which is repeated almost verbatim near the end. There are, however, many flashes of quasi-themes which come and go – a little march, a five-beat dance-like melody, various textural moments which suggest unexplored thoughts.
Duovarios won the 1994 Delius Prize for keyboard, in Jacksonville, Florida. It was written for David Bradshaw and Cosmo Buono, who premièred it in Alice Tully Hall, NYC, in January 1988. Jennifer Rinehart and Loretta Goldberg, the artists on this CD, have performed the piece many times, and made it their own.

For Soprano and Piano (1970)
This song cycle sets poems I wrote while in my teens and early 20’s: mostly love poems to my future husband (“forever” – or so I thought!). Those are balanced by two purely descriptive poems (“here”), and another, the last one, which combines a description of a thunderstorm which was taking place as I wrote the poem, and my meditations on the nature of love (“here and forever”). The first performance of the cycle took place at Barnes Hall, Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY in January, 1973. It was sung by Linda Paterson, soprano, for whom it was written, and accompanied by composer/ pianist Ann Silsbee.

Les Neiges d’Antan
Sonata For Violin And Piano (1998)
The title of this piece is taken from a well-known poem by the famous 15th century French poet, François Villon, about the ephemeral nature of time; it closes each stanza with the query: “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” The sonata is a dip into the nostalgia of my life. The opening movement, Snow-Dreams presents a montage-like frozen dream landscape of scenes, happy and sad, from my past. It is an amalgam of rondo and variation forms. The recurring theme of the rondo, which is also varied as it recurs, suggests snow falling, combined with a plaintive melody in the violin. This is contrasted with several more cheerful episodes, which are more fully developed…. The second movement is an Elegy for loved ones I have lost over the years, particularly my gentle father. It consists of a lyrical melody which repeats and is varied throughout.…. Shadow-Dance is a wistful, slow sort-of-waltz with a brief scherzo-like middle section; it seems to be a nostalgic memory of happy times.… The last movement, The Furies, is an invocation of anger and sadness for lost opportunities, spoiled hopes. It is constructed of a non-stop jagged melody, tossed from one part to another, contrasted with percussive off-beat chords, and a yearning, lamenting melody in the violin.
Les Neiges d’Antan was dedicated to my then-brand-new, first grandchild, Grace Cecelia Drake. Elizabeth Bell was born in 1928 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her instrument was the piano, and she was raised on the classics, with little or no exposure to music more contemporary than Debussy. However she had always wanted to be a composer, and when she went to college (Wellesley College in Massachusetts) she studied all the modern music she could. She followed this by studying composition at Juilliard (under Peter Mennin and Vittorio Giannini); however there were still gaps, with almost no exposure to the Second Viennese School. Therefore her occasional forays into 12-tone style since (as in one piano part in Duovarios) are still experimental and personal. But she developed a strong affinity for free atonality and dissonance, which have formed the basis of her style ever since.

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