PROGRAMME NOTES

American Trio

American Trio (Hymns, Rags And Blues) (1985)
Violin, clarinet and piano

The American Trio (Hymns, Rags and Blues) was commissioned by the Verdehr Trio of Michigan State University and first performed there on 15 July 1985. They have since recorded it on Cristal Records CD744 and played it widely on their international tours. It is one of a number of pieces in which I have explored American popular idioms, often in a light-hearted way. These include the Blue Rose Variations for organ (Proms 2009), the Piano Concerto (Proms 1986), and London Rags for brass quintet. The American Trio began with three hymn-tunes – two were remembered from my childhood and the principal one was invented. These were converted unrecognisably into blues – one for each of the three instruments involved – and the hymn-tunes also form the basis of a three-strain classical rag. The rag style is closely modelled on that of Charles Hunter (1876-1906) the blind white player born in Tennessee.

The layout in continuous sections is easy to follow:

1. A slow prelude announcing the main hymn
2. Rag No. 1: violin and piano against the piano’s own blues
3. Cadenza No. 1: against the first half of the main hymn in loud chords on the piano
4. Blues No. 1: clarinet and piano against high violin
5. Rag No. 2: clarinet and violin against the piano’s variation on the main hymn in widely spread chords
6. Cadenza No. 2: against the second half of the main hymn in loud chords in the piano
7. Blues No. 2: violin and piano with clarinet increasingly disruptive into its own cadenza
8. Rag No. 3: piano, with interpolations from both clarinet and violin gradually winding down quietly to agreement with the G major rag.

The American Trio was recorded by the Verdehr Trio on The Making of a Medium Volume 4, Crystal Records CD744 (1995).
See also ‘The Verdehr Trio – an astonishing legacy’, Musical Opinion, July/September 2016.

© 2008-17 Peter Dickinson

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