The American Trio (original title: Hymns, Rags & Blues) (1985),
Peter Dickinson: American Trio (Hymns, Rags and Blues) (1985)
Commissioned by the Verdehr Trio and funded by Michigan State University. First performance 15 July 1985, Michigan State University. British premiere 30 March 1987, St John's Smith Square, London.
The American Trio is just what its subtitle (and original title), Hymns, Rags and Blues, suggests and is one of a number of pieces in which I have explored American popular idioms. The work began with three hymn-tunes, two remembered from my childhood and one invented. These hymn-tunes were converted unrecognisably into blues - one for each of the three instruments involved - and the hymn-tunes also form (more recognisably) a section each of a classical rag, called Hymn-Tune Rag, in the pattern A-A-B-B-C-C-A. The rag style I chose is deliberately pre-jazz and follows quite closely the style of the blind, white, Tennessee composer, Charles Hunter (1876-1906).
The layout of the American Trio, with its slowly-developing paragraphs and often comic juxtapositions, can be clearly followed:
1. A slow prelude announcing the main hymn.
2. Rag No. 1: for violin and clarinet against the piano's own blues.
3. Cadenza No. 1: against the first half of the hymn in the piano.
4. Blues No. 1: for clarinet and piano against the high violin.
5. Rag No. 2: clarinet and violin against the piano variation on the hymn.
6. Cadenza No. 2: against the second half of the hymn in the piano.
7. Blues No. 2: violin and piano with clarinet increasingly disruptive into its own cadenza.
8. Rag No. 3: piano, with disruptions from both clarinet and violin but winding down to eventual agreement.
As a chamber piece, the American Trio is very much the outcome of my response to the admirable Verdehr Trio, who - more than any other group of this kind - have pioneered new repertoire for their medium of violin, clarinet and piano and dedicatedly performed it all over the world. The final form of the American Trio owes much to our collaboration and it has been a privilege to work with them.