Of Numbers and of Bells (1983)
for Two Pianos
Duration: 13 min.
Dedication: to Terri and Robert Hope
Recording: Albany TROY163
Premiere: 2002; Duo Turgeon; Lark Ascending; New York, NY
A major work in the repertoire for two pianos is Of Numbers and of Bells, completed shortly after New Year’s Day 1983, as Rosner’s Opus 79 and dedicated to his close friends Terri and Robert Hope. Possessing an enormous dynamic range, this work moves from a delicate filigree of tintinnabulation to massive, bell-like sonorities of symphonic—one is tempted to say cosmic—proportions, all within its 15-minute duration. Its direct emotional appeal derives from its uncanny evocation of time suspended like a glittering crystal of frozen light, then released—suddenly and inevitably—as a torrent of sound. In writing about the work, the composer had this to say: “When I started work on what would have been my fourth piano sonata I conceived a first allegro theme which was fine to listen to and easy to play once or twice, but which dwelt on the weaker fingers of the right hand so much as to make it downright painful to play repeatedly. As I thought the tune would bear some restatements, it occurred to me to convert the piece into an essay for two pianos. This entirely pragmatic solution lead to some technical and even spiritual directions, as the title Of Numbers and of Bells may suggest. I decided to make extensive use of cross-rhythm, generally much easier for two players than one, although some passages in the finished work still involve extremely difficult ensemble. Several sections or tableaux are built on conflicting steady rhythms, which I tried to differentiate and clarify by wide spacing of tessitura and stereophonic distance between the keyboards. To codify just one example, about 6 minutes into the piece, the first piano right hand plays a line in flute range in straight 4/4 meter consisting of mixed 8th and 16th notes. The left hand is in baritone range in unvarying 8th notes, but the melodic and accent pattern amount to 11/8. The second piano uses both hands to play a modal chorale in mid-range in notes precisely 5/16 long. The listener is not expected to perceive these algebraic relationships and would probably be distracted from the music if he tried. I hope some mystical and pleasantly complex overlays may make themselves felt in a directly emotional way.” (Notes by John Proffitt)