Through the Digital Door: Piano Trios in CMC's Library

This week's Through the Digital Door features works for piano trios. CMC's catalogue holds over 100 works for piano trio, with a small number also including electronics. CMC's Library Co-ordinator Susan Brodigan looks through a small selection in this week's feature.

Adam McCartney A Way After the Fox's Backbone (2016-2017) 28'

This work was premiered by new-music piano trio Longleash in Vienna in October 2018. ​

This work explores the transmission of sound across gulfs of time and history. Inspired by the luminous painting technique and innovative composition of Flemish Renaissance painter Jan ven Eyck, McCartney also draws on references to traditional Middle Engish poetry and folk song.

Joan Trimble: Phantasy Trio (1940) 11'

This work was premiered in April 1943 in London, at the Society for the Promotion of New Music. This work was performed and recorded as part of RTÉ's 2016 Composing the Island celebration.

This work was written whilst Joan Trimble was studying at the Royal College of Music in London, and won the prestigious Cobbett Prize for chamber music in 1940.

Ruaidhrí Mannion: (W)Edge (2015) 15' for piano trio and electronics

This was premiered at Cully Classique Festival in Switzerland in 2015.

The overall form of (W)Edge is one of constant expansion. Each section becomes increasingly slower and quieter than the last as the instruments emerge and impact their surrounding electronic environment, creating an interplay of immersion, space and distance. The piano trio is in a sea of bubbling and gliding sine waves, that drift from one harmony to the next. Constant and expanding shapes, or ‘wedges’ repeat throughout the piece: each electronic glissando towards a new harmony is framed by a crescendo in the violin and cello, the piano strikes at the arrival of this new chord, and the strings colourize the decay of the piano back into the electronics before the next wedge begins.

Ruaidhri Mannion - (W)Edge (for piano trio and electronics)

Amanda Feery: blood under winter-white skin (2014) 9'

This work was premiered by Fidelio Trio in Princeton University in New Jersey in November 2014.

In retrospect I think the title of my piece is possibly in danger of carrying some emo-band/Emily Dickinson vibes but anyway. It's actually a lovely thing Dorothea Tanning said about her painting, A Mi-Voix. She says of the painting, "I just wanted to paint a white and grey picture that would still have colour in its veins as we have blood under our winter-white skin." Before I sat down to write the piece I improvised a rough piano part. This improvised piano material, for the most part, quickly alternates between the left and right hand, similar to the hand motion you might adopt when playing a percussion instrument (like a bongo drum). I think this gesture is slightly restrictive in terms of the technical and emotional possibilities a player can express, but I decided to see how much life and expressivity I could coax out of it. The result is that the piano acts like a gossamer layer over the strings, but changing in light, shade, and expressivity within the idea of the gesture. The strings in the piece act as the fluid underneath because they can. They're free from the boundaries of the set gesture as well as the set tuning of the piano.

Listen to more about Amanda Feery in CMC's 2016 production Cross Currents, a landmark music documentary series exploring contemporary Irish composers and their work. This series was produced by Athena Media in association with CMC and RTÉ lyric fm.

Linda Buckley: Galura (2008) 9' for piano trio and optional electronics

This work was premiered by Fidelio Trio in March 2008 at a Composer's Choice concert in the National Concert Hall, Dublin. The electronics, if used, are triggered live with cues throughout the work.

The title Galura signifies 'turbulence' and 'emotion' in Javanese - the work has also been inspired by many years of performing Javanese Gamelan music.

Stephen Gardner: The Mayfly (2010) 6'

This work was commissioned by Moving on Music with support from National Lottery funding through ACNI. It was premiered by Fidelio Trio in Queen's University, Belfast, and features on CMC's promotional release new music::new Ireland one.

This work is a lively and spirited homage to the aviation pioneer Lilian Bland. She was the first woman to fly a self-constructed plane. After fellow LB - Louis Bleriot - had turned down a request to let her be a passenger in his plane, she decided to build her own, as you would. The first flight took place in 1910 at Carnmoney Hill (I grew up beside this and had never heard of this - curious). After an engine was fitted, another successful flight occurred at the more expansive Deerpark in Antrim. Unfortunately, Lilian couldn’t get financial backing to advance her experiments in flight. I’m not surprised. She smoked, wore trousers (heaven help us), was a ju-jitsu expert, a good markswoman, and, worst of all, she cursed. She lived until she was 92. The plane was called The Mayfly. One story goes that it was named after the annoying buzzing of a fly in Lilian’s ear whilst she was constructing the plane. The one I prefer is that she claimed that “it may fly and it may not”.

Donnacha Dennehy: Bulb (2006) 20'

This work was commissioned by Fidelio Trio with funds provided by the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon and is published by G Schirmer Inc.

It takes as its basis the overtone series built on a very low G, and it grows outwards from a small band of these overtones by means of pulsing glissandi (in the violin and cello). Well, in fact, these pulsing glissandi are for the most part made of 2 notes (one moving, the other providing a reference drone by its repetitions). By the end, the violin and piano have swapped registral places. It’s an artificial vandalism of a natural phenomenon (the overtone series), like the way electric lighting is of the visual spectrum, or the paintings of Bridget Riley are of various natural perceptions.

Donnacha Dennehy: Bulb (Live)

Rhona Clarke: Piano Trio No. 3 (2002 rev. 2015) 9'

This work was first premiered by Concorde in 2002 in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. It was commissioned by Concorde for a special concert to mark the eightieth birthday of James Wilson.

The piece is dedicated with love and gratitude to Jim, who as a composer and teacher has influenced so many of us. The first movement is reflective in mood and chordally based with lyrical melodic lines. The second is spikey and rhythmic; developing the initial idea throughout.

This work is one of several piano trios by Rhona Clarke, and features on an album of piano trios recorded by The Fidelio Trio in 2017, entitled A Different Game.