Piano Trio No. 7: Wintergreen
Piano Trio No. 7: Wintergreen
For Violin, Violoncello, and Piano (2019)
Premiere: 10 July 2019 / The Wintergreen Music Festival, Wintergreen, VA / The Gale-Kapps-Marshall Trio
Dedication: Commissioned by the Wintergreen Music Festival for Sharan Levanthal, Sarah Kapps, and Peter Marshall
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Program notes are tricky things. Music, being an abstract art, “means” nothing; on the other hand, it can get at truths deeper than words. On the one hand, music “means” whatever the listener (usually a music critic takes it upon themselves to explain how the composer failed, but sometimes a composer hurls themselves off this particular cliff) says it does—or nothing at all. It is one of the reasons that program notes are dangerous and, as Virgil Thomson once noted, often high-, middle-, and low-gossipy things. At best, they can give a glimpse into the intent of the composer; at worst, they are the composer’s attempt at marketing the piece. People hear what they want to hear, ascribe whatever motivations to the composer they want and need to; they cannot help but project their own expectations and requirements on an unfamiliar musical work.
My seventh piano trio is inspired by mythical dragons. Each movement is given the name of one. I share that source of inspiration and the notes that follow, but, in light of what I said in the previous paragraph, I also invite the listener to put this program note down at this point and to listen without them. Commissioned by the Wintergreen Festival for premiere there by its dedicatees on 10 July 2019 by Sharan Leventhal, Sarah Kapps, and Peter Marshall, the piece is 19 minutes long, and consists of four movements, with a brief intermezzo between the third and fourth.
The first movement is a fast rondo—a form which alternates two relatively contrasting ideas and often (as in this case) introduces a third somewhere along the line—that begins with a pan-diatonic chorale that serves as an idée fixe throughout the trio as a whole. The first idea is diatonic, and the second idea is chromatic; the chorale serves as the third. Each time material returns it is subjected to new compositional procedures. The second movement consists of a theme and three variations. The tune comes from a tender, A-flat major setting of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Ample Make this Bed” that I made “from 9-10 AM on February 13th, 1989” according to my sketchbook, in a walkup I used to rent on St. Mark’s Place in the Village. The third movement begins with a restatement of the idée fixe before launching into a second rondo. This one consists of a fistful of musical ideas that are subjected to “cellular” development—that is, they are superimposed, re-contextualized, alternated, and blown apart very quickly and reassembled in new ways before ending, once again, with the chorale. After a brief return of the Dickinson theme, the finale, comprised of three musical ideas—a rhythmic cell, a skein of running sixteenth notes, and an ostinato—continues the quick anagram-like reshuffling ideas begun in the third movement. The form is that of a tightly-constructed “quodlibet,” where all of the themes of the trio are combined in turn.