Rachmaninov’s “The Bells”: A Choral Symphony Inspired by Poe

During a vacation in Rome in 1907, Sergei Rachmaninov received an anonymous letter which contained an intriguing text. It was Edgar Allan Poe’s 1849 poem, The Bells, freely translated and adapted by the Russian symbolist poet, Konstantin Balmont. Included was a note from the mysterious sender which suggested that the verses were ripe for a musical setting and that they were well-suited to the composer’s temperament. After Rachmaninov’s death, it was revealed that the …

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The Bells of Zurich

Today’s post is in honor of the German-American musicologist Karl Haas, whose nationally syndicated radio show, Adventures in Good Music, aired from 1970 to 2007. Haas’ Christmas episode, The Story of the Bells, documented the distinct sounds of church bells throughout Europe, from the mighty cacophony of Zurich, to the pastoral serenity of the Alpine village of Arosa, to the highly ordered change ringing of Westminster Abbey. Here are the bells of St. Peter …

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The Bells of Strasburg: Liszt’s Forgotten Cantata

In Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1851 poem, The Golden Legend, a storm rages as Lucifer and a host of demonic spirits (Powers of the Air) try to tear down the cross from the spire of Strasburg Cathedral. Ultimately, Lucifer is defeated by the ringing of the Gothic cathedral’s bells, which summon saints and guardian angels. This dramatic poem was the inspiration for Franz Liszt’s 1874 cantata, The Bells of Strasburg Cathedral. The work for baritone …

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