Star Bells by Jeffrey Prater
A Musical Suite for Carillon and Symphony Orchestra
comissioned by the Stanton Memorial Carillon Foundation in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Bells of Iowa State.
Star Bells is a ten-minute musical work for carillon and symphony orchestra composed by Jeffrey Prater, Professor of Music at Iowa State University. Although Star Bells is performed without pause, it divides into three major sections, each with a different focus, form, and musical character. The three major sections of the work have their own descriptive subtitles- I. "Bells of Contention"; II. "Bells of the Dance"; III. "Bells of Celebration." Despite the differences in style and role among each of the three sections, all share the use of specific musical motives that help to bridge the diversity between the sections and to unify the entire work.
The initial inspiration for the work and its title was visual. One day the composer chanced to observe a festive decoration made of small, flat-faced metal bells (imagine small square cowbells) with five-point star openings cut into each face. Ten bells were strung together with a small twisted wire cable that supplied electric power to a tiny light bulb inside each bell. As Prater looked at and studied the visual affect of this simple decoration (especially how it was hung in several swags, and the play of light and shadow created in the space by the bells), his imagination wandered through a succession of life scenarios. The composer then began to imagine bell-like sounds that seemed closely associated with the imagined scenes. Star Bells is a musical distillation of some of the ideas that came to him while looking at that set of decorative bells.
"Bells of Contention" employs strong punctuated dissonances, rhythmic and metric syncopation, and a modified five-part rondo form, where a refrain-like musical texture is alternated with contrasting materials, textures, and instrumental forces. There is a constant tugging back and forth of musical materials, analogous to the emotions one might experience during a disagreement or quarrel. "Bells of Contention" closes with a codetta employing long descending melodic lines in the strings and woodwinds, ending on a simple E-flat major chord. Perhaps one can hear in these closing sounds a bleeding away of harsh contentiousness and maybe even the possibility of reconciliation.
"Bells of the Dance" is a scherzo-like musical caricature of many typical Baroque dance forms (dance-trio-dance). The dance and its repeat which produce the outer framework for this section features the carillon against a background of pizzicato strings, whereas the lighthearted central trio features playful woodwinds accompanied by orchestra bells and triangle (without the carillon!).
"Bells of Celebration" is composed in a two-part form. Three well known hymn tunes- "St. Anne (O God Our Help in Ages Past), "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star), and "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" (Sleepers Wake) provide the melodic basis for much free variation and melodic mixture in this section. The first part of the finale has a strong and regal character. The second part, emerging directly from the close of the first, is an exuberant jig. Leaving behind the strife which characterizes "Bells of Contention", and the coquetry found in "Bells of the Dance," "Bells of Celebration" begins with power and majesty and then proceeds to dance for joy, staying close to the bright and traditional key of C major throughout.
Star Bells was commissioned by the Stanton Memorial Carillon Foundation at Iowa State University and was completed in September 2002.