For Whom the Bell Tolls

for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, and two pianos

Program Note

"Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." -John Donne

For Whom the Bell Tolls is an exploration of themes from John Donne's Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. The piece is a single, unyielding expansion towards the end, which at its climax directly engages the listener with Donne's message on the interconnectedness of humanity.

From the beginning, a simple and elegant repeating figure sounds in the pianos. Throughout the piece, this motive grows and sounds with ever-increasing urgency. The strings and winds enter placidly on simple long tones, which eventually give way to fragments of the ultimate melody. The fragments begin to sound more frequently until all the instruments are playing simultaneously, and the piece culminates in a unison statement of the melody by the clarinet and strings across four octaves. At this moment, the pianos, which had been playing in G for the entire piece, land on C, so the piece as a whole is one massive cadence from G to C.

After the clarinet and strings complete the melody, they too arrive at C-major, and the pianos continue to push out even further into the overtones of the harmony. In this section, the listeners finally recognize the pianos as the bell, which has been tolling since the beginning.