for Violin, Cello and Piano

Written: 1995/rev. 2008
Duration: 40'
Instrumentation: violin, cello and piano
Written for Helen O'Brien on the occasion of her 98th Birthday
Sunset: Winner of the First Annual Finger Lakes Chamber Ensemble New Music Competition
World Premiere: Ming Tsu, piano; Lorenz Gamma, violin, and Mark Tanner, cello, Boston Court Theater, Pasadena, CA, October 19, 2008.
Premiere (Mvts. II and III): Aspen Music School and Festival, Harris Concert Hall, Aspen CO, August 11, 1995.
New York State Premiere (Mvt. II): Finger Lakes Chamber EnsembleLodi Historical Society Building, Lodi, NY, June 10, 2001.
PublisherBill Holab Music

View Score | Buy Sheet Music | Buy Audio

Program Note

Sun Trio originated when I first started the film score for a documentary entitled Journey Into Courage. After writing opening music to the film, director Bess O’Brien and I concluded that it was best to change some parts in order to properly compliment the film. The theme was kept, but some of the other sections were changed and/or edited. I never discarded the original sketches, even though much of it remained on the cutting room floor. Thankfully, it came to good use later in this work.

The first movement, Sun Day, begins with the theme from the Journey Into Courage introduction. This movement is meant to evoke the feelings you get when summer, mid-day sunbeams appear from between the clouds and warm your skin.

Sunset, the second movement, was inspired by Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont and my wife Victoria. I envisioned us embraced, doing a Tango–like dance under a multi–colored sunset—at times, to themes from Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat. Victoria is a much better dancer than I, and in this movement, she teaches me the steps. I fumble around and finally get it right, and then the sun sets.

The third movement, Absence of Sun, is connected from beginning to end by one long melodic line. The cello melody is modeled after a classical Indian Sitar raga, specifically the traditional, slow introductory section of a classical Indian composition. The bass piano part supplies the drone while a high-pitched tone row supplies a "starry night" texture. This texture gradually melds into a wind chime accompaniment. The movement peaks in the middle with an intense cello line. At this point, the violin intervallically supports the cello line. Each instrument—and in the case of the piano, each stave—represents a specific, individual texture. This movement intended to sound somewhat improvised.

Sunrise, is meant to evoke the feeling you get when watching the sun rise. There is a "Sun" peak of an octave, a bright yellow ‘E’, symbolizing the first, intense, bright sunbeam peaking over the horizon. In the middle of the movement, a string of rising chords mimics a "fast-forward" of the sun rising in the sky. Later in the movement, the violin and cello play decelerated bird motives. I wrote the bird songs down on the morning of April 17, 1995, while watching the sun rise behind the University of Vermont music building. I use the "mystic chord" by Alexander Skryabin as melodic and chordal material for the anticipation of the rising of the sun. While I was waiting for the sun to rise, I watched the mountains intensely. I finally was about to give up, thinking that the sun tricked me and rose behind some clouds when I wasn’t looking. As soon as I turned around to walk away, I felt an intense heat hit the back of my neck. I turned around and there it was! The sun was there, in all of its glory and splendor, lighting up the mountains. As well as evoking a sunrise, this movement also uses themes from the previous three movements.

The sprightly Sun Dance is a closure movement written to provide a vibrant contrast to the other four. The initial piano motive is taken from Five Movements for string quartet by Anton Webern. The first section introduces the themes, motives and patterns which are then used in subsequent sections. The second and fourth sections are percussive, while the third section is more placid and melodic. The finale is hard and driving, utilizing both snap pizzicati (plucking the string so it bounces against the fingerboard) and loud four-note chords in the strings.

Sun Trio was commissioned by Dennis O’Brien to commemorate the 98th birthday of Helen O’Brien.

Program Note (Movement II Only)

Although Sunset is part of a larger work I wrote called Sun Trio, this movement can also stand on its own as an individual piece. This work was written in Burlington, Vermont, where I lived for two years with my wife Victoria. Sunset is strongly inspired by the beautiful pastel-hued sunsets I often witnessed out across Lake Champlain through our living room window and while taking bike rides and walks around the lake.

Sunset is in an arch form, with the beginning material cycling back at the end. Arcs also appear throughout the work as ascending and descending phrases in the piano part. The cyclical nature of this piece reflects both the expansive view of a slightly earth-curved, panoramic sunset, and in a more abstract sense, the dad-to-day rise and fall of the sun.

This work begins with a gentle vision of a colorful sky as the sun is setting. In the middle of the piece, I imagine me and Victoria embracing and attempting a Tango-like dance under this multi–colored sunset (at times, to themes from Stravinsky’s Tango inL’Histoire du soldat). Victoria is a much better dancer than I am, and during the middle of this piece, she patiently teaches me the steps. I fumble around and finally get it right, and then the sun finally sets.

Sunset is most likely one of the saddest pieces I have written. In an abstract sense, I view this work and sunsets in general as a metaphor for dying or reaching the end of one’s life.

Sun Trio was commissioned by Dennis O’Brien to commemorate the 98th birthday of Helen O’Brien.

Press Quotes

“Sunset” was the most affecting music so far on this disc, a touching, evocative piece beautifully executed... “Absence” is not only quiet music, it is also melancholy and lonely, whereas “Sunrise” is both busy-sounding and a bit ominous, as if the coming of the sun also portends the arrival of stranger or more sinister things. The last piece, “Sun Dance,” is the most rhythmically animated piece on the album, quirky, bitonal but curiously attractive...
— Lynn René Bayley, Art Music Lounge
I continue to enjoy your delicious CD—really wonderful performances and terrific pieces. I was just sorry it didn’t include “Sun Trio”, which I think is one of the best piano trios of the last 25 years.
— Carson Cooman, Composer and Organist, Composer-in-Residence at The Memorial Church, Harvard University
[Sunset from Sum Trio] is a delightful tone poem.
— Gramophone