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Recital Repertoire

Baroque, Romantic and 20th Century Transcriptions

Baroque, Romantic and 20th Century Transcriptions

Bach on Marimba

J. S. Bach, trans. Stevens

Publisher: Original music - Public Domain, this transcription - Marimba Productions

Six Suites for Marimba, BWV

(Original: Six Suites for Violoncello)

Chorale: Christ lag in Todesbanden

(Reimenschneider #371)

Prelude and Fugue in C Major

W. T. C. Volume I, No. 1

Prelude and Fugue in B flat Major

W. T. C. Volume I, No. 21

Preludium in G Minor

(Original:  Preludium in C minor for Lute)

Two part Inventions

No. 1 in C Major
No. 4 in D Minor
No. 8 in F Major
No. 14 in B flat Major

Sonata in A Minor, BWV 1001

(Original:  Sonata in G minor for Violin Alone)

Sonata in B Minor, BWV 1003

(Original:  Sonata in A Minor for Violin Alone)

In my somewhat prejudiced opinion, the marimba is a superb instrument for the performance of polyphonic baroque music. Imagine a piano with moveable hammers – one that allows the performer to adjust where the hammer strikes the string. Imagine further that the performer could change hammer hardnesses and materials at will – perhaps even control which types of hammers play each voice. Now remove that mechanical contraption that separates the player’s hand from the piano’s hammers and put the player directly in control by having him actually hold the striking implements. Make one last “minor adjustment” to the piano by substituting rosewood bars and resonating tubes for the strings. Our “improved” piano is, of course, a marimba.


Mr. Stevens has a large repertoire of J.S. Bach music, including Sonatas and Partitas for Violin, Cello Suites, Preludes and Fugues, Inventions and Chorales.

Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Major
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Two-Part Inventions - In F Major
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The Great Albums For The Young

trans. Stevens

Publisher: Original music - Public Domain, these transcriptions - Marimba Productions

Debussy - Children's Corner

5 movements

Khatchaturian - The Adventures of Ivan

6 movements

Tschaikovsky - Album For The Young, Op. 39

12 movements

Schumann - Album For The Young, Op. 68

8 movements

Many great composers have written miniature works for piano that were intended for young players.  While some of these pieces seem to deal with child-like musical ideas and sentiments, others are quite adult in their musical and emotional content. This genre of music is particularly well-suited for the marimba for reasons of texture and range.   


Many “adult” keyboard works have thick textures that often contain chords of eight or ten notes sounded simultaneously.  When these textures are scaled down for the four or six mallets a marimbist can handle, much of the massiveness of texture is lost.  In contrast to this, the albums for the young are written with smaller hands in mind, frequently in a four-voiced texture -- perfect for an exact transcription to marimba.  


In their large scale works, composers frequently use the entire seven-plus octave range of the piano for dramatic effect.  When transposed to the marimba's four and a half octave range, some of the color of the these extremes is lost.  Fortunately for players and listeners alike,  the albums for the young usually fit perfectly in the marimba's range. 


The use of various mallet types adds dramatically contrasting colors, unavailable on the piano, and the addition of sustaining techniques can add a true legato to certain movements.


My recording, Marimba When, presents thirty-one musical selections from four such “Albums for the Young” composed by Debussy, Khachaturian, Schumann and Tchaikovsky. 

"Song Of The Lark" from Album for the Young, Op. 39
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"Waltz" from Album for the Young, Op. 39
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Asturias (Leyenda)

Isaac Albeniz, trans. Stevens

Publisher: Marimba Productions

This familiar work of Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz is best known to concert audiences as a piece for guitar.  Rather than base my transcription on one of the many available guitar editions, which appear to be based on each other, (they share many of the same deliberate changes as well as errors of harmony and rhythm), I went back to the original piano work which appears in Cantos de España Op. 232.  One of the benefits of consulting this edition can be heard in the repeated melody in octaves in the middle section.   This tune is usually played as single notes or simple octaves on guitar.  The original version has the octaves separated by two octaves.  This subtle detail restores an eerie, haunting dimension, lost in the popular guitar versions. 


Solo Marimba Literature

Solo Marimba Literature

Reflections On The Nature Of Water

Jacob Druckman

Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes

Reflections on the Nature of Water was a joint commissioning project of LHS, William Moersch and Gordon Stout.  A National Endowment for the Arts grant was received for the commissioning of solo marimba works from major American composers.  The following short comments are from the composer:


“Reflections on the Nature of Water is a small payment toward a very large debt. There were primarily two composers, Debussy and Stravinsky, whose music affected me so profoundly during my tender formative years that I had no choice but to become a composer. It is to Debussy that I doff my hat with these reflections of his magical preludes.”

Suite For Marimba

Alfred Fissinger

Publisher: Marimba Productions

Suite for Marimba was composed in 1950, making it one of the early "classics" of the original marimba repertoire.  Composed in a multi-voiced style, it is certainly the first polyphonic work for unaccompanied marimba.  This work "caught my ear" the first time I heard it because of its unusual tonal language – a combination of "tertian" harmony (traditional chords used by composers for hundreds of years) and "quintal and quartal" harmony (based on "stacked" perfect 4th, 5ths and their resultant major and minor seconds).  To my young ears then – and even today – this is a work rich in harmony, inventiveness and deep feeling.  Although this work was performed for decades with a traditional approach to the marimba, it also responds to many rolling techniques I developed in the 1970's.


Alfred Fissinger was an infantryman in Europe during World War II.   Shortly after his return to the USA at the end of the war, he began composing the Suite.   Each movement depicts a specific incident or place he experienced – from the beauty of the early morning mist, to a nighttime patrol in the mountains of Luxembourg; from the exquisite snow-capped mountains and tiny houses of the village Esch on the Sure River, to an emergency mission to meet a sudden German attack.


II. Rendevous In Black
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Grand Fantasy for Marimba

Raymond Helble

While I was a student at the Eastman School of Music, one day I heard some music being played in a practice room down the hall from me.  Someone was playing a late 19th Century piano work (very badly as I remember!).  The music really held my attention, but I couldn't identify the piece or composer.  As I listened I realized that this was almost too prototypical of the style to be original.  It was filled with happy, tuneful clichés and key changes that only a theory teacher (or musical prankster) could appreciate.  I knocked on the door and discovered that the performer was my composer friend, Raymond Helble. The same composer who usually wrote wild, atonal modern music was releasing some musical tension by improvising in the key of C.   Negotiations ensued.  Tongue firmly in cheek, pen loosely in hand, Grand Fantasy for Marimba was completed a few months later. 

Publisher: Marimba Productions

Toccata Fantasy for Marimba

Raymond Helble

Commissioned and composed a year earlier,  Toccata Fantasy in E flat minor was premiered at my New York City debut concert in Town Hall in 1979. At the time of its composition, many composers and other musicians considered its “neo-baroque” texture and its “neo-romantic” harmony to be old fashioned.  But a few years later, tonal, tuneful music was starting to come back into fashion through the quasi-pop efforts of the minimalists such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass.   While Toccata Fantasy is by no means a minimalist work, it is in my opinion, a far-sighted precursor to the return of the esthetics of an older generation of composers: beauty, excitement and formal comprehensibility.  

As in J.S. Bach's unaccompanied violin Chaconne, the performer is given great freedom in the figurations, patterns and arpeggiations of certain sections of block chords. These sections have recently been refigured to take advantage of the extended range of my new marimba.

Publisher: Marimba Productions

Preludes For Marimba

Raymond Helble

During my first year at the Eastman School of Music (1971-72), I worked to expand the new techniques, sounds, rolls and textures that grew out of my accidental “invention” of the “one-handed roll” as a high school student. Unfortunately, there was no marimba repertoire that utilized these ideas. Raymond Helble, a fellow student at the Eastman School of Music, was the first composer I commissioned to remedy that problem. If I remember correctly, the price of the first Prelude was cocktails and dinner. Though inexpensive, Prelude No. 1 was historic. In the very first measure, two of my new techniques were used: a one-handed roll and reverse-sticking (e.g., placing the inside right mallet on a higher pitch than the outside mallet in order to play otherwise unreachable chord combinations). A more expensive second set of Preludes was commissioned in the mid 1970’s and a third set of three was completed in the early 1980’s.

While few students or artists performed Helble’s Preludes, many studied their new techniques, and along with Gordon Stout’s Two Mexican Dances (1974), they were passed around to other potential marimba composers as examples of the new textures and the limits of what could be played. In my opinion, the combined impact of this handful of works on marimba composition today cannot be overstated.

Many of the pitch combinations found in Helble’s marimba music require what I refer to as “pretzel poses”. His music is based on tightly-structured motivic development and his contrapuntal style is quite the antitheses of today’s “minimalism”. In these Preludes, spanning more than a decade, you can hear the tonal language “progress” from 12-tone (“atonal”) in the early Preludes to a far more tonal feel of the later works. Raymond Helble has composed a substantial body of works using the marimba including Concerto for Orchestra and Marimba, Duo Concertante for Violin and Marimba, Two Movements for String Quartet and Marimba plus numerous unaccompanied works for marimba.


Publisher: Marimba Productions

Time For Marimba

Minoru Miki

This 10-minute work holds a special place in the history of marimba repertoire. It was one of the first serious compositions commissioned for marimba artist Keiko Abe. Until the late 1960s, Abe performed popular and folk music arrangements on live radio and TV with her Xebec Marimba Trio, exposing the marimba and xylophone to millions of young Japanese.

The following notes are taken from the Minoru Miki website:
Minoru MIKI composed this piece during the summer of 1968 for Ms. Keiko Abe’s first marimba recital. Critics have said that these events were the crucial starting points in modern marimba history. Before that year, Miki had listened to many marimba performances, but the pieces which he heard were arrangements of famous Western instrumental pieces. A six tone series consisting of C,B,Eb,G,E,Ab, along with variable quintuplet rhythm constructions are very important to this composition. However, the general atmosphere through the work should be very free, almost like an improvisation. During the 1960’s, the marimba had a limited range of just four octaves. If the modern performer wants to play tones in lower octaves, the performer should do so carefully and avoid overuse.

Publisher: Ongaku No Toma Sha Corp, Ltd.

Etude Op. 8, No.9 in B Major & Etude Op. 8, No. 10 in C Major

Clair Omar Musser

Publisher: Marimba Productions

Clair Omar Musser was one of the most influential marimba teachers, performers, designers, marketers and composers of the first half of the last century.  His virtuostic "Etudes for Marimba" have been "rites of passage" for every marimbist for more than 50 years.  Composed in a "popular" parallel, block-chord style -- with little concern for "proper" voice leading, -- these little gems from the 1940's and 1950's are undeniably effective and smile producing.   The two on today's program are known more widely by their basic tonal center, ("B-major and C-major"), rather than by their somewhat pretentious Opus numbers.


Preludes For Marimba

Wm. Penn

One of the early pieces I commissioned, while still a student at The Eastman School of Music, was from William Penn, who was on the Eastman composition and theory faculty at that time. This was a period of great experimentation for me: one-handed rolls, separate dynamics in each hand, sequential stickings (using the mallets independently or in numerical sequence to play passages, rather than alternating hands in the traditional manner), various roll textures, new mallet sounds, etc. There were a host of new possibilities that I was developing, but few original pieces composed yet for these techniques and textures. Along with the nine Preludes I commissioned from Raymond Helble beginning in 1971, the four Penn Preludes (1974) are an historical document – almost a catalog of these new techniques and sounds as they were being developed. The first Prelude is a series of accelerandos; the second, a single “melodic” line with interjected chords; the third, a comical odd meter jaunt; and the fourth, a machine gun hail of notes, all over the keyboard. Instead of the traditional slow-fast-slow-fast plan, Penn chose slow-slow-fast-fast.


Publisher: Marimba Productions


Joseph Schwantner

Publisher: Schott Helicon

Cast in a single allegro movement, VELOCITIES is characterized by a continuously changing texture of rapidly articulated sixteenth-notes that unfold in a framework of suddenly shifting meters.  The linear, harmonic and gestural elements presented throughout the work develop from a series of four, five, six and seven-note pitch sets: (E G# C Eb), (Db F Ab C# E), (Ab D Bb B C# G) and (Fb Eb Ab Db C Bb Gb).The first major division marked, “relentlessly with energy and intensity”, opens with a series of aggressive articulations of a repeating harmonic idea followed by flowing wave-like ostinato figures in seven-eight meter.  The second principal division of the work continues with the ever persistent sixteenth-notes. The primary rhythmic ideas in this section emphasize gestures often framed in triple meter.  The last major section re-engages the primary musical elements presented and developed earlier and leads finally to a forceful and spirited conclusion.  It is with admiration that I dedicate Velocities to Leigh Howard Stevens in appreciation of his formidable musical virtuosity and steadfast interest in my music.

-Joseph Schwantner

Night Rhapsody

John Serry

Publisher: John Serry

"Night Rhapsody" was commissioned by Leigh Howard Stevens for his 1979 New York City Town Hall Debut concert.  In it, I have tried to tap all of the seemingly unlimited resources of Leigh's technique.  Two motifs, one chromatic and the other modal, form the basis of the melodic material in the exposition.  Additional motifs (including the thirteenth century Dies Irae) are then introduced and subsequently juxtaposed in the development section.  A two-voiced choral in the left hand, pitted against a modified version of the main chromatic motif in the right hand eventually yield to a full four-voiced choral.  This in turn leads to the recapitulation.

-John Serry

West Side Suite

John Serry

Publisher: John Serry

The idea of attempting to discover a way to bring the music of West Side Story into the repertoire of the solo marimbist was originated by the Metropolitan Opera's principal percussionist, Scott Stevens, who proposed the idea to Leigh Howard Stevens in 1981.  This provocative suggestion was then presented to me in the form of a commission by Leigh, which, when completed, was premiered in Dallas at the end of 1982.


West Side Suite consists of five classically structured movements, each based on selected and juxtaposed themes and motifs of Leonard Bernstein's engaging and exciting musical score.  Each of the first four movements concerns itself primarily with two sources:  I. Prelude, with the Prologue and the Jets' Song; II. Passacaglia, with One Hand, One Heart and (oops!), Beethoven's Fifth Symphony;  III. Impromptu, with Maria and Dance at the Gym;  IV. Perpetual Motion, with Tonight and America. There are some elements, such as the three note Maria motif that occur throughout all five movements of the work. The enterprising listener will also discover related transformations (i.e. retrograde, augmentation, inversion, etc.), especially in the highly contrapuntal Passacaglia.  For the fifth movement, the four-voiced Chorale, I chose to concentrate on a reharmonization of one thematic source, the deeply affecting ballad, Somewhere.

- John Serry

Beads Of Glass

Gordon Stout

Publisher: Marimba Productions

My most recent composition for solo marimba is a flowing tapestry of tonal sounds for five-octave marimba. The work is about 8 minutes long, and provides the marimbist the chance to showcase the dark, bitter-sweet sounds of the lower and mid-register of the marimba.  It is dedicated to Leigh Howard Stevens, because the music was initially considered as material for a commission from Leigh for marimba solo and percussion quartet. As the work progressed, it became clear that the material was better suited for marimba alone.

-Gordon Stout

Beads of Glass
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LHS Original Compositions

LHS Original Compositions

Great Wall

Leigh Howard Stevens

Publisher: Marimba Productions

Is it true, or a myth, that the Great Wall of China is the only man- made object that can be seen from outer space?  My piece, on the other hand, might not even be heard in the next room.   The Great Wall is almost 4,000 miles long.  My piece, only six minutes.  Is it true, or a myth, that hundreds of thousands of political prisoners worked on, died, and were buried in the wall?  I composed my piece with only a little help from my friends, and as far as I am aware, there have yet to be any fatalities. 


Perhaps the only valid reasons for choosing the name Great Wall are that the piece features an Asian cliché theme harmonized at the interval of a perfect fourth, I have tried to suggest the great mass and expanse of the wall, and both eventually fade into invisibility.


Great Wall
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Houdini's Last Trick

Leigh Howard Stevens

The earliest sketches I have for this work are dated 2006. The fact that it is finally being published in 2019 is further proof, (as if any is necessary), that I am not a prolific composer. For many years, the working title was “Siren Song.” The Sirens of Greek mythology are female creatures that lure sailors fatally close to the rocks near the shore. So in general terms, a “siren song” refers to a temptation given into, that ends badly.

My friend Scott Stevens of the Metropolitan Opera said, “That material isn’t sweet enough for a siren song — it’s kind of sick. It could be the score for a ‘film noir’ about illusionists — like the 20th century’s greatest escape artist and magician, Harry Houdini.” There are a number of “marimba tricks” in the piece, and the expression “the hand is faster than the eye” applies to both magic and the marimba. So the idea of linking the work to magic gradually evolved. I occasionally perform some magic at the end of the work, but that requires just as much practice as preparing this “death-defying” marimba work — so my magic tricks often stay at home.

Musically, the work has only a few kernels of harmonic and melodic material. One type of “musical illusion,” used throughout the work is something I call “faux motion.” It is achieved by passing accents through a sustained chord, producing a false sense of movement and activity, despite the static nature of the harmony, or a slow-moving tune. In the initial presentation of the main material, accents are passed through the harmony every group of nine pitches. Similar material is treated with what appears to be greater energy and speed by contracting the accent pattern to every seven notes, then five, and finally, late in the work, every three pitches. While Houdini was tragically killed “by a trick gone wrong,” (there is much more to that over-simplified myth), I hope you don’t feel like Houdini’s Last Trick ends badly.


Publisher: Marimba Productions

Rhythmic Caprice

Leigh Howard Stevens

This piece was my first attempt at composition for the marimba. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I developed three unusual “col legno” (Italian for “with wood”) effects that eventually ended up being central to the sound of this work.

  1. The birch handle is used on the edge of the bar instead of the mallet head.

  2. The mallet head and the handle are used simultaneously (now players refer to this as a “marimshot”).

  3. The whole length of both handles are used to produce a “splash/cluster.”

While the first of these special effects, “stick click,” was not unheard of at the time — some jazz players might have played a note or two with the handle at the end of a piece — playing extended passages with the handles, especially on the sharps, was fairly outrageous stuff for the time. The other two special effects had never been heard before and drew surprised laughter from “percussion savvy” audiences for years. These days, percussionists in the audience don’t even blink.

The first section of the piece is all derived from a simple descending modal figure first heard in the right hand after the short introduction. In the middle section the new melodic interest is all in the performer’s left hand, while the right hand accompanies with progressively more complicated tics and splashes. The last section is based on a three-note fragment of the motive from the first section.

The very limited melodic and harmonic materials of the piece rhythmically evolve from simple, to complex, to polyrhythmic to driving, to spasmodic, ultimately returning to simple rhythm in the six-measure codetta.


Publisher: Marimba Productions

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