Commissioned by Jeannette Fang. Premiered at the University of Michigan on May 20, 2014.
Hear the loud alarum bells--
What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor
Now--now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear, it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows ;
Yet, the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells--
Of the bells--
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells--
In the clamour and the clangour of the bells!
-Edgar Allan Poe, from The Bells.
Alarum Bells takes its name from the third stanza of Edgar Allan Poe's The Bells. (The word "alarum" is an archaic term dealing with signaling danger and calls to arms.) I was drawn to the vivid imagery and striking descriptions and sought to use the extended piano to imitate the clangor of the alarum bells. The bell sounds ring out and echo between the very top and bottom of the piano's range, increasing in their panic and violence as the piece goes on. In addition to the shrieking high bells and thuds from the piano's bass, rubber "super balls" are bounced on the strings to add another layer of bell sounds. The central section of the piece alludes to the nocturnal aspect of Poe's poem, with distant bells continuing to ring over a mysterious drone produced by magnetic tape tied to the piano's strings.
This work utilizes two preparations for the piano: magnetic tape tied to strings and rubber "super balls" that are dropped and bounced on the strings. Like my previous work for prepared piano, the page turner is utilized to help with some of the inside-the-piano techniques.
Duration: ca. 13'