The Bells

for large ensemble, chorus and solo voices

Robert Peate

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for large ensemble, chorus and solo voices

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Composer Robert Peate
Year of Composition 2015
Duration ca.25'
Forces pic-tpt, tptd, 2tptc, 2tpt, 2flugel, 2eflat.b-tpt, 2bflat.b-tpt, 2perc, pf, org, v-sop, v-alto, v-ten, v-bass, choir, 2db
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-rp1tb1


The idea to set Edgar Allen Poe’s four part poem The Bells came from a number of ideas that I had brewing at the time, and my choice of text was in fact the final piece of the puzzle which served to crystallise my more nebulous intentions for a large-scale choral work.

Bells have always seemed to me to be the sound of civilisation. Almost every country has bells of some kind imbedded in their culture, to the extent that the sound of bells can seem almost like a natural, primal sound. Certainly in this piece I thought of bells as a kind of sonic symbol for humanity, embodying human activity and experience. The sound of bells reflects more than just a forging of cultures however, and in writing this music they came to mirror more contemporary themes, most notably the prevalence of religious fundamentalism and the attack on innocence all too common at the time.

The manner in which bells often begin as a clear, defined, even optimistic statement, before gradually descending into a clamorous and overbearing celebration of chaos and obsession, suggested an apt analogy for how religious ideology can move from love, clarity and a generosity of spirit, through to dogmatic control and blind acts of violence. I had this analogy loosely in mind before deciding on the text, and on reading it found that the poem moved in the same direction, from innocence towards destruction and loss. As soon as I’d read the poem through I knew this was the vehicle I needed to give structure to my ideas, and almost as immediately decided on the instrumentation.

The music is ultimately a setting of Poe’s evocative poem, however the effect of various fundamentalist sensibilities and terrorist acts at the time made its mark on my approach to the text, most notably perhaps in the way the Soprano solo from the bright and innocent first movement is restated and bludgeoned into extinction at the raging climax of the third movement. This and other aspects of the work may be seen to reflect contemporary events, however at its heart this piece is a celebration and exploration of the sound of bells, albeit with an unresolved and somewhat pessimistic edge.