The Trio for violin, cello, and piano was commissioned by Hyeyung Yoon and Gregory Beaver in 2019. The composition of the trio had many starts and stops between 2019 and 2021. A combination of creative uncertainty along with anxiety caused by the politics in the country and then the beginning of the pandemic led to the completion of this work to be delayed.
For many years, I have been interested in writing chaconnes and experimenting with how I can use the repeated chord progression in ways that go beyond the traditional approach. I often will modulate to various tonal centers in my chaconnes (not something traditionally done), and the new tonics will reflect the root of the chaconne progression. In other words, the chaconne progression is expressed both in the moment to moment chordal changes as well as the larger scale structure. For the trio, I wanted to experiment further with chaconne variations. In an earlier work, Broken Cycles for percussion and piano, I started with one harmony, and added to that in each variation so that towards the end the listener finally hears the entire chaconne progression. The first movement, “Disappearing Chaconne”, is essentially the opposite of that. It is a very long chaconne in which one chord is eliminated with each variation until only one harmony is left, after which is one last statement of the entire progression at a faster tempo before the music evaporates.
The second movement, “Nocturne, Variations, Coda”, takes a bit of formal inspiration from Saint-Saëns, particularly in works like the Symphony No. 3 and the Piano Concerto No. 4 where he combines two movements into one continuous movement. The musical material is mainly derived from Hyeyung’s, Greg’s, and their children’s names. The majority of the pitch material was generated using a “French” method (purely diatonic) of spelling of the children’s names in a method similar to what Ravel used in Minuet sur le nom d’Haydn. The secondary musical idea, first introduced in the piano, is all that remains from the original four movement version of the trio. The rhythmic material was generated from the Morse code rhythms of Hyeyung’s and Greg’s names. This decision was influenced by pieces that also use Morse code to generate rhythmic material: Greg’s own music and Boulez’s Messagesquisse. The movement starts slowly and gently, and progressively gets more energetic before ending quietly again.
The work lasts approximately 15 minutes.