Trio Casals performing at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, May 2018



Three for Three for violin, cello, and piano (2018)

As the title suggests, this work comprises three short movements for Trio Casals – violin, cello, and piano. Each movement is dance-like, a reflection on the classical suite.  They are “Jitterbug,” “Pastorale,” and “Scherzo.”


I first composed these pieces as piano preludes. I then arranged and extended them for piano, two trumpets, and trombone, for a recording made by PARMA in 2012. Now in 2018 that version has been arranged for this trio.


The “Jitterbug” refers to a variety of energetic swing dances which were popular in the United States in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I remember learning the Lindy when I was in junior high in the 1950’s. There is a lot of energy in the piano part of this “Jitterbug” movement.


The “Pastorale” is a traditional form in slow triple meter.  It exhibits a characteristic rhythm–dotted-eighth / sixteenth / eighth.  This gives it a lilting feeling. Traditionally the music has simple melodies and harmonies in thirds, evoking bucolic images. My “Pastorale” starts simply and becomes more agitated and complex in the central climax.  A recapitulation returns to the original feeling in a new key.


The “Scherzo” is a form often found in sonatas and symphonies. It is fast and usually in triple meter. Its form is an exposition in two parts, followed by a Trio also in two parts, shorter and contrasting to the Exposition. Finally, a recapitulation reprises the opening material.  In my composition, the two parts of the exposition are a repetition with some different connecting material that uses the piano in a gradually slowing tempo. The Trio is distinctive in a driving triple meter with punctuations between the strings and the piano.  It has a short first part, repeated, and a short second part, repeated. The connecting material from earlier in the piano returns to transition to the Recapitulation in a new key.


The overall structure of Three for Three is thus fast-slow-fast, with the final movement being the most intense. — David Nisbet Stewart



DARK RADIANCE for solo cello

In much of my writing I am constantly drawn to playing with the contrast between light and dark and Dark Radiance is a continuation of these attempts.


Historically, light, rather than darkness, has been attributed to the trumpet, with angels having bird-like wings on their back, halos, trumpets, and various other forms of glowing light. In Greek philosophical writings light is regarded as a metaphor for Truth and, in the Renaissance era, Fire and Light correlate to vision. These attractive comparisons are partly why I am drawn to the sonority of the clarino register of the trumpet and often try to emulate it in my writing for other instruments.


In this piece for solo cello I have drawn on the trumpet's associations with light as a creative tool in my writing to explore the full register of the instrument; at times this 'light’ is muted and almost intangible, whilst other passages, in the highest register, create piercing and powerfully penetrating ‘shards' of radiance. The fantastical narrative of Dark Radiance is embodied by a journey between these abstracted forms of light and requires the cellist to play with varying degrees of bow pressure throughout; textured yet ethereal, dark yet radiant, organic yet artificial, evocative yet impenetrable. — Emma-Ruth Richards




Duration: c.6 minutes


First performance:

31st May 2017, Southbank Centre, London

Tim Gill (cello)

Commissioned by the London Sinfonietta with the generous support of Sally Taylor


Further performances:

18th August 2018, Stoller Hall, Manchester, Jonathan Pether

April 2019, Carnegie Hall, New York, Ovidiu Marinescu

June 2019, Duke's Hall, Royal Academy of Music, Sheku Kanneh-Mason

April 2020, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Marino California, Ani Aznavoorian



Piano Trio No. 2

The solo piano opening of Piano Trio No. 2 is an invitation to tune in and listen to my musical tale—one that alternates a languid, melancholy, descending chromatic theme with bold, angular themes and fiercely agitated rhythmic motion. Changes of ‘scene’ are often prepared by trills or repeated notes. These recurring moods and tempos suggest a modified rondo form.


There are three main themes: the languid theme, which initially set the piece in motion, is based on descending minor thirds and chromatic notes and is usually accompanied by three repeated notes; an angular melodic theme, taken mostly by the cello and the violin; and a fast, energetic motive-theme that is not strictly melodic. Motives from all of these ‘themes’ are transformed, varied, and intertwined throughout the piece.


One could say this music is an expression of angst and the struggle to overcome it, with assertive, questioning cello themes, a flowing melodic passage for the violin and piano, and sheer rhythmic energy, while recurring motifs such as three repeated notes and trills echo in the background. The reprise of the descending theme, softened by harmonic mirroring, may be taken as a fleeting resolution of the disquietude.


The characterization of feelings in the foregoing notes is like a map compared to the ‘musical’ notes themselves and may be ignored at the listener’s discretion. Claude Debussy once said, “Music is not the expression of feelings, it ‘is’ the feelings.” — Joanne D. Carey



Since Then

Since Then was originally composed in the mid-1980’s for a trio comprised of my fellow graduate students. The trio consisted of a clarinetist, a cellist, and a pianist, which is not a common grouping. When they first asked me to write for them, they had been an even less common quartet. Just when I began to work on the piece, there was a break-up within the group and the fourth person left. The remaining three were shocked and saddened, and their sense of loss was great. This sadness and loss became the impetus for the piece that I wrote for what had suddenly become the trio. Since Then literally refers to the new version of the ensemble and to their loss of a member, loss of the music they planned to play as a quartet, and also to their reactions: mostly sad and wistful with a few expressions of anger.


Their sadness did not last forever. The people for whom the piece was originally written all went on, successfully, with their paths. The piece is now about anyone’s memories, wistfulness, or regrets. It has been revised for Trio Casals for the standard piano trio of violin, cello, and piano. Their interpretation of this new version is wonderfully sensitive and expressive.  — Allyson Wells



Sunset at Montélimar

I wrote Sunset at Montélimar while visiting with old friends in Montélimar, a small town in southern France. I had wanted for some time to write a piece for piano trio, and that was my original intention for Sunset; but at the suggestion of my musician friend T.R. “Leech” Haven, who was traveling with me, I chose to use a flute rather than a violin for the top voice. The expressive melodic themes are actually well suited to either instrument, and I was very pleased to have the chance to work with Trio Casals again to record the piece, in a return to my original intention. The themes actually appear in all three instruments at various times; the piece is basically in sonata-allegro form, but when the first theme returns at the end, the second theme, now in a compatible key, joins with it in counterpoint.  — L Peter Deutsch




Stone blood -

fossilizes the transparency

wherein innocence prays –



Lost silence -

slowly shatters beneath the snow

still black with remembrance.


What then, sacred void, can transform

black into meaning, identity into religion?


Hollow water -

fills time with darker thoughts,

then returns to frozen wind.


Night scream -

defines unpronounced unity.

Now, self-dormant ones,

I am not we.


— Christopher Brakel, 2000



Day Tripping

Each movement of Day Tripping for violin, cello, and piano was inspired by a cherished day trip during which I experienced the beauty of one of Florida's natural waterways via kayak.


The first movement, “Peace at Dawn,” is evocative of a misty morning paddle at sunrise along a wild section of southwestern Florida's Peace River (called Rio de la Paz on 16th-century Spanish charts) and the joy of experiencing a peaceful coexistence with the wildlife that take refuge there.


Fed by Juniper Springs in the Ocala National Forest, Juniper Run is one of the most pristine of Florida's hundreds of spring-fed streams. It is a narrow, swift-moving, winding waterway set under a dense canopy of old-growth forest with few places solid enough to get out of one's kayak. Likewise in Day Tripping’s "Juniper Run" second movement there are no "getting out" places...just full steam ahead to the "take-out" point.


Day Tripping was premiered on October 16, 2016 at the inaugural event of Zimmermann’s Café Chamber Music in Lake Worth FL, by Dina Kostic, violin; Susan Moyer Bergeron, cello; and Mary Kathleen Ernst, piano. — Clare Shore



Suspension of Disbelief

Suspension of Disbelief is a work for piano trio that incorporates scalar and harmonic materials derived from Japanese and Hindustani traditions. While there is no attempt to mimic the traditional uses of these materials, their incorporation is a tribute to the work of John Patrick Welsh, a highly regarded composer, theorist, koto player, shamisen player, pianist, and painter, to whom this work is dedicated. As a member of the Washington Toho Koto Society for two decades, he composed works and performed the koto and shamisen for the ensemble. My experiences in John Welsh’s classes at UMBC had a huge impact on me as an educator and a composer, and I am forever grateful for having the privilege to study with him. — Keith Kramer




The initial inspiration for Totentanz came from the numerous bleak reports of overpopulation on the earth causing climate change, pollution, endangering animals, etc. I started to think about the fact that I go about my day with little to no thought about what is happening, and started to imagine the effects of everything as time moves forward. It made me think about the old Totentanz traditions, from Pieter Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death and Hans Holbein’s woodcuts to the various musical depictions. I then decided to write a piece that started out as playfully as possible only to slowly but violently destroy all the processes I had set up.


The first step in composing Totentanz was to harmonize the Dies irae chant. I took the first eight pitches of the chant and harmonized each pitch such that I ended up with eight different triads. I then wrote out an eight-note matrix based on the roots of each triad. Around the time I started to compose this piece, I had read about tesseracts, and noticed that the Schläfli symbols used to define various tesseracts were very similar to the asymmetric meters I like to use in my music. I was simultaneously fascinated by prime reciprocal magic squares, particularly the cyclic permutations of six digits that I saw for 1/7. I applied six of the Schläfli symbols to each of the numbers in the magic square to make a matrix for time signatures. Once this was done, I simply went through both the pitch and time signature matrixes by spiraling from one corner of the matrix to the center until I used either all the pitches or all the time signatures for each section.


As the piece moves towards the climax, however, I began to break apart the patterns I set up while gradually and subtly introducing the actual Dies irae chant. As the piece reaches the climax, both the rhythmic elements and the pitches become obsolete to the point of chaos. The piece ends bleakly as the music dies away in the distance.


Totentanz was commissioned and written for Molly Barth, Jeffrey Zeigler, and David Riley. The version on this recording was written for Trio Casals. The piece lasts about 7 minutes. — Matthew Fuerst








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