Landscape With Portraits
Portrait 1
Portrait 2

This string trio was commissioned by Chamber Domaine, and premiered at the 2004 Cheltenham Festival.

The design of this piece is closely related to that of my string quartet Driftwood On Sand, whose title expresses the same idea using a different metaphor. In both works, the individual moods of a few ‘snap-shot’ miniatures are positioned around a longer ‘narrative’ piece, or pieces, that unfold contrasted events. For this string trio, I describe this duality in the contrasted printing formats of ‘landscape’ and ‘portrait’ – offering as it were a tension between panoramic and specific viewings.

The two short portraits of this trio are therefore arranged around a central movement. One portrait is turbulent and active, the other more reflective. Portrait 1 presents a central melodic line, passed busily around the voices, while the remaining instruments accompany with secondary fragments; Portrait 2 uses an unusual drone effect in the outer parts to accompany, again, a central melody, this time confined to viola. In between them, meanwhile, Landscape tells a narrative that begins in stillness, moving into a swaying Barcarolle for cello before becoming more assertive; after a brief moment of stillness and concerted playing at the climax, it concludes as a frantic chase. I have a particular liking for the formal principle of progression, wherein a movement travels from a starting-point to very different territory; yet the helter-skelter conclusion of Landscape is, in a way, just its opening in disguise.

It is worth considering that chamber music is inevitably an exercise in the working of new permutations and instrumental relationships, so that the true subject matter of this trio is the endless interaction between the three voices.

c Piers Hellawell 2004