Elizabeth Bell was born in 1928 in Cincinnati
and studied first at Wellesley College and later at the Juilliard
School of Music under Peter Mennin and Vittorio Giannini. She
is not to be confused with her younger namesake Larry Bell (born
1952) whose music has already been discussed here.
The present release
gathers four works spanning almost thirty years of her composing
life, and thus provides a fair survey of her present output.
The earliest work is her substantial song cycle Songs
of Here and Forever composed in 1970 setting her own
poems written while in her teens and early twenties. Most poems
are about the nature of Love; they are mostly love poems to
her future husband. The cycle opens and closes with somewhat
more descriptive poems, although Love is nevertheless present.
Words and music are nicely varied and contrasted so that the
whole is most satisfyingly balanced, and interest sustained
throughout this large-scale cycle.
composed in 1989 and scored for small mixed ensemble (string
quartet, woodwind quartet, percussion and piano), is a suite
in five contrasted movements, the titles of which speak for
themselves: Dream, Dance, Song, March, Storm. The music is appropriately
colourful and varied, although the whole is held together by
what the composer refers to as “rainbow music” that opens and
closes the piece. This also reappears from time to time as a
refrain in the course of this vividly colourful work.
for two pianos is a theme and variations, albeit one encompassing
Rondo and Sonata Form. Here the composer uses a twelve-tone
row, although the music may not really be described as serial.
It represents one of the composer’s rare forays into twelve-tone
writing, which she never really strictly observes. As the other
pieces show, she prefers free tonality (or atonality, maybe)
which she handles with resourcefulness and imagination. Anyway,
Duovarios is substantial and a welcome addition
to the repertoire.
d’Antan, actually a full-fledged four-movement sonata
for violin and piano, which gives this release its collective
title, is the most recent piece here. The title refers to a
line from a poem by François Villon, in which it is used as
a refrain. It gives some idea as to the emotional content of
this substantial piece, that the composer describes as “a dip
into the nostalgia of my past”. The first movement (“an amalgam
of rondo and variation form”) alternates extrovert and more
restrained episodes. The second movement is a deeply felt and
moving Elegy “for loved ones I have lost over the years”. The
third movement Shadow-Dance is a ghostlike Scherzo in
the form of a slow, wistful Waltz with a more animated central
section. The final movement The Furies is more complex
both musically and emotionally. The music is appropriately nervous
and tense, with much propulsive energy and jagged, angular lines.
This maybe Nostalgia but it is of a vindictive and angry rather
superbly crafted, often stringent, imaginative, but strongly
expressive music is clearly of its time, closer to Alban Berg
than to Webern. Here is a composer who obviously has personal
things to say. I look forward to hearing more of her music.
Committed and well prepared performances, and very fine recorded
sound. Well worth investigating.