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John Harbison

Publisher: AMP

String Trio (2013)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
String Trio
Year Composed
25 Minutes
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Programme Note
John Harbison String Trio (2013)

Movement IV: Variations; Camerata Pacifica
Cmoposer note:
I was sixteen years old, in 1954, when I made my first attempt at writing a string trio. (I had been performing the Mozart Divertimento, K563.) After my first ten measures, I gave up, I understood I was not ready for this difficult medium.

Fifty years later I knew I was: String Trio (2013) takes up in spirit from my first attempt. I have long been aware of the practice of modeling a piece on an admired piece by an earlier composer, more prevalent in the classical period than recently. Two Beethoven responses to Mozart, his A major quartet opus 18 and his C minor piano concerto, have always been fascinating to me, but I never (consciously) tried it until this String Trio, which shadows the Mozart Divertimento, K 563 in ways both plain and hidden.

Mozart's piece hides under its title, but we are not fooled: it is one of his most ambitious and comprehensive pieces. It contains stretches of great learnedness and patches of casual geniality. It re-examines the "highest" symphonic structures and the "lowest" popular dances. Rather than mask the difficulty — the leanness of the texture — Mozart disdains orchestral effects; he writes few multiple stops, exults in the sufficiency of two or three voices. The players find their parts pleasurable, grateful, demanding and unforgiving. Virtuosity happens, it is never obligatory.

When I mentioned to some friends that I had written a string trio, they said "Does it have too many movements, like the Mozart?"

The String Trio was commissioned by a consortium of Camerata Pacifica audience members: Peter & Linda Beuret, Bob Klein & Lynne Cantlay (in memory of Michael Benjamin Klein), Roger & Nancy Davidson, Stanley & Judith Farrar, Ann Hoagland, (in memory of her husband Stephen C. Hoagland), John & Susan Keats, Jordan & Sandra Laby, and Alejandro Panchart (in memory of Milton Babbitt).

— John Harbison, November 2016

  • Ensemble
    Camerata Pacifica
    Harmonia Mundi:
The thematic material has the most extraordinary dramatic role-playing between instruments, and never shies from giving the viola star time... The most thrilling aspect was to hear counterpoint in dissonance and have it be sweet-sounding and agreeable.
Tony Frankel, Stage and Cinema,27/09/2017
…Harbison's half-hour Trio is in six movements, but their thematic material is derived from musical spellings of Lionel Messi's name (he is, says Harbison, the "Mozart of soccer"), and the way that the three instruments relate to each other in an almost theatrical way, with the viola finally coming out on top, has more than a hint of the instrumental roleplay that is such a feature of Elliott Carter's string quartets. Harbison's string writing is generally less dense and confrontational than Carter's, though, and as played by the three members of Camerata Pacifica for whom it was written, his Trio is wonderfully elegant and clear, and seems a major addition to the string trio repertory.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,25/09/2014
This is a major addition to the tiny string trio repertory.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,17/09/2014
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