Time and the Bell

for Piano and Chamber Ensemble

Gerald Levinson

Performing Ensemble: Piano with Orchestra
Duration: 28:00
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

"Time and the Bell?" was written for pianist Marcantonio Barone and Orchestra 2001, James Freeman, director, and was commissioned by Meet the Composer for Orchestra 2001, the Syracuse Society for New Music, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group. All three ensembles are performing the work during the 1998-99 season.

The title alludes to a line from T.S.Eliot?s "Four Quartets", and evokes something of both the sound world and the musical/poetic preoccupations of the work. Bell sounds, reverberations, echoes, and resonances of all kinds are omnipresent throughout all six movements. I have always felt, even before my studies of Balinese gamelan, that the complex overtones of resonating metallic sonorities contain a kind of magical power, a sense of mystery, of immense spans of time and space. In this work the piano generally acts as a generator of bell-like motifs and sonorities which are amplified by the resounding percussion, while the string and wind instruments offer complimentary lyrical and rhythmic ideas and counterpoints.

The element of time, always fundamental to music, is treated here in somewhat unusual ways. In much of the music, particularly the four inner movements, rhythmic layers are superimposed which are in themselves cyclic and static, but which interact with one another, and at times with the harmonic or melodic materials, in constantly changing relationships. The texture of the music is constantly underpinned by canonic imitations, sometimes at different speeds, and overlapping, echoing, or ?shadowing? statements of ideas.

The first movement, ?Mosaic,? is a study in fragmentation and discontinuity, as various bell-motifs and other ideas are crosscut in ever-varying juxtapositions ? until a temple bell sound, suddenly stilling the activity and moving the music into a rapt meditative (and gamelan-like) state, much a bell sounds in a monastery as a call to contemplation.

?Ostinato,? the second movement, is a set of accumulating variations on a rhythmic theme presented first by the temple blocks, over an independent (and isorhythmic) line of bell chords in the piano. ?Evening? is a piece of tone painting, evoking a quiet moment at dusk when bells from two towers are heard sounding the hour, slightly out of phase with one another, while birds call back and forth in their own rhythms and tempi.

The fourth movement is a fleet perpetual motion in dizzyingly changing meters, at high velocity. ?Ragamalika,? or ?garland of ragas? refers to a virtuoso practice in Indian classical music in which the soloist whirls through a series of different ragas, or melodic modes, before returning to the principal raga of the piece. This movement continually darts in and out of various inter-related ragas, some authentically Indian, some of my own invention.

In the fifth movement, ?Night,? a melody for English horn (marked ?musingly?) threads its way through a densely layered polyrhythmic background in the piano, chimes, and strings, with occasional comments from bass clarinet and flute. This piece is an homage to Charles Ives, by way of his ?In the Night? from the "Set for Theater Orchestra".

The final ?Incantation? combines elements from most of the preceding movements with its own characteristic ?calling? motif in the piano, including superimpositions of fragments of the perpetual motion movement onto the gamelan-like episode from the first movement. Toward the end the temple bell once again summons the music to move inward, to close in a meditative, chant-like state.

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by Orchestra 2001 of Philadelphia, the Syracuse Society for New Music, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group through the Meet the Composer / Commissioning Music USA Program.
Composition Date 1998
Orchestration Solo Pno.; 1(dbl. A.Fl.) 1(dbl. E.H.) 1(dbl. B.Cl.) 0 - 0 0 0 0; 1-2Perc. Vln. Vcl. Vla.
Premiere November 15, and 16, 1998 - Swarthmore and Philadelphia, PAOrchestra 2001James Freeman, conductorMarcantonio Barone, pianist


I. Mosaic
II. Ostinato
III. Evening
IV. Ragamalika
V. Night
VI. Incantation

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