Adding a third instrument to piano and guitar changes the entire dynamics. At our first trio rehearsal, I was amazed at the sound of the violin.
It was loud and flamboyant, which meant I could be equally loud and flamboyant. I could finally bring out the grandness of the mighty piano, no longer straitjacketed by the obligation to kowtow to the soft sounding guitar.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. The guitar could be loud, too. But most of the time, it sounds best plucked gently, producing the sort of intimate music you want to fall in love with or fall asleep to.
The guitarist has always pronounced that the guitar possessed far more potential than the piano. It is capable of producing more colour, texture, and differentiating qualities of sound than the piano which consists basically of hammers that produce 88 pitches, unless you dare venture inside the piano to pluck its strings. The guitarist needs two hands to make a tone while I need only one finger to make a sound on the piano.
The difficulty of making a sound (according to this guitarist and his friends) makes the guitar more superior, in other words. Perhaps that explains why there are many more virtuosic pianists than virtuosic guitarists….. but performance virtuosity does not necessarily mean that it’s easier to master the piano.
The violin also requires two hands to make a sound. In fact, it requires a bow most of the time. I had tried teaching myself the violin so that I could compose for it. I gave up after 5 minutes because my body ached from the awkward positions of holding the bow in one hand and the violin on the other, not to mention the contortion of holding it in place between my chin and shoulder.
Early in my conservatory education, I asked a fellow classmate to give me violin lessons. At the first lesson, she spent over an hour showing me how to hold the bow with my right hand. Two weeks later, she spent another hour showing me how to hold the violin. I complained that I just wanted to make a sound so that I could read the notes and produce some music. To my disappointment, she said that I was lucky to already learn how to hold the violin and bow in just two lessons. She spent the first year learning just that!
Thus it was most magical to hear the violin being played less than a meter from where I sat at the piano. For such a small instrument, it was capable of producing all kinds of sounds and effects: the familiar bowed sound, the plucked sound of pizzicato, the staccato sound of the bow bouncing on the strings like tiny stones skipping on a lake, bowing on the neck, bowing near the bridge, muted sound, and far more effects in virtuosic contemporary pieces.
Paul Richard’s “Falling on Lobsters in the Dark” gave me the opportunity to hear such effects, especially the different ways that the combination of violin, guitar, and piano could portray different types of fear. We played this piece in two violin recitals, the open day for prospective new students, and the first Chamber Music Marathon concert at Utrecht Conservatory.
For our second Chamber Music Marathon concert, I found a score by the Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis in the public library. “Trio (opus 48a)” was a 1990 commission, first premiered in 1992 by flute, zither, and guitar in Deventer, a city which became popular for the film industry for locations in Arnhem whose centre was destroyed during the Second World War. As Jacob ter Veldhuis as the composer-in-residence for my final year at conservatory had supervised my “Elegy for Ensemble” piece, I decided that it was worth trying this piece.
The score for “Trio” looked simple enough to sightread. The title specified a great deal of flexibility: for flute, alto recorder or oboe; zither or harpischord or piano; and guitar. There was no mention of violin. But why not? By now, I had become accustomed to substituting single-voiced treble instruments for each other. It was easy to do on the music notation computer programme I used to compose my ensemble pieces. As the range of the violin is larger than the flute, it shouldn’t be a problem to manage a reduced subset of the pitch range.
Below are video recordings of our interpretation of Jacob ter Veldhuis’ Trio (opus 48a), performed after our premiere of “Rendering 7.”
Trio I. Allegro
Trio II. Andante
Trio III. Allegro