Piano Trio No. 4: Angel Band
Piano Trio No. 4: Angel Band
for violin, cello, and piano (2007)
- Premiere: 29 September 2007 / The Seasons Concert Hall; Yakima, Washington / The Finisterra Piano Trio / Kwan Bin Park, violin / Kevin Krentz, cello / Tanya Stambuck, piano
- Instrumentation: vn.vc.pf
- Duration: 23'
- Dedication: Commissioned for the Finisterra Piano Trio in honor of Joyce Ritchie Strosahl
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- Waltz: the Violinist on the Pont Neuf
- Blue Chcaconne
- Finale: Angel Band
The Appalachian three-stringed Dulcimer and Bluegrass gospel hymn Angel Band was first arranged by William Batchelder Bradbury in 1862, and may be found paired with Jefferson Haskell's 1860 lyric Oh, Come, Angel Band in Bradbury's Golden Shower (1962). It has been reinterpreted by artists as diverse as Jerry Garcia and Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Anonymous 4.
The inspiration for this piano trio is the life story of Joyce Ritchie Strosahl, a violin prodigy whose childhood was spent during the Depression on the Troublesome Creek near the mining village of Hardburly in the back hills of Kentucky, youthful studies undertaken at the Cincinnati Conservatory and at Illinois Wesleyan, years as a young wife and mother spent in Alaska, and mature life pursued as a chamber musician, orchestral player, and prime force behind the idea and execution of The Seasons Performance Hall and Music Festival in Yakima, Washington. The composition's musical protagonist is embodied by the Angel Band tune. The work's emotional through-story begins with Youth, proceeds through Experience, and culminates in Old Age and is musically expressed by an evolving series of harmonic languages, musical styles, recurring motives, and especially, variations on the tune itself.
The first movement, Morning, is about childhood. Angel Band is presented at first with straightforward, bluegrass-flavored pan-diatonic harmonies that grow more complex as the tune is given four variations, setting the stage for the Gallic, insouciant harmonies of the Waltz which follows. The Violinist on the Pont Neuf is sophisticated by experience, nostalgia, and regret. The Rondo increases the level of dissonance, the middle-aged labors to balance and integrate the demands of one's 'outer life' (the march-like first theme, in four) and the poetic 'inner life' (the plangent, song-like second theme, in three) demanding a more rigorous musical rhetoric. The Blue Chaconne strikes a mature balance between the harmonic astringency of the Rondo and the more insipid sanguinity of the Waltz by intensifying the romantic harmonies of concert music with the lowered third, fifth, and seventh scale degrees of 1920's Bessie Smith-flavored blues. The chaconne repeats six times, each time more fervent; it moves through the circle of fifths until it lands on the seventh, at which point the Finale begins without pause as first Angel Band and then the Pont Neuf waltz tune are overlaid on the chaconne. All of the trio's ideas are revisited and combined in turn with the Angel Band tune in the course of the Finale's eight variations. At the end, the original Kentucky Blue Grass flavor of the music returns, celebrating the delights of Youth, the wisdom of Experience, and the grace, force, and fascination of Old Age.
The trio was commissioned for the Finisterra Piano Trio in honor of Joyce Ritchie Strosahl and first performed on 29 September 2007 at the Seasons Concert Hall, in Yakima, Washington, by the Finisterra Piano Trio: Kwan Bin Park, violin; Kevin Krentz, cello; Tanya Stambuck, piano.
(Banner photo: the Finisterra Trio)