scoring: violin, viola, cello
composed: 2009-2010 (but see programme note below)
dedication: for Milton Babbitt
published: Novello (see here)
status: on sale (EAN: 5020679006184 score and parts, 5020679006405 cued parts)
The final version of Justin Connolly’s String Trio was completed in 2010, but despite the manuscript’s starting date of 2009, its genesis goes back at least six years earlier. Immediately after the first performance of his Piano Concerto in October 2003, Connolly confirmed with enthusiasm to the pianist Nicolas Hodges that he had started a String Trio dedicated to Milton Babbitt. He was perhaps hoping to complete it for Babbitt’s 90th birthday in 2006, as he had similarly composed his Obbligati I to be played at a concert in honour of Babbitt’s 50th birthday in 1966.
The String Trio exhibits a number of characteristics typical of Connolly’s late music. The span of movements follows an outwardly traditional, classical structure; gestural language (and corresponding use of notation) are more conventional than in many of his more modernist works of the 60s and 70s; and the music proceeds largely by means of tightly argued motivic interplay, with an intensity arising from the compression of complex, fast-moving patterns into relatively short timespans. There is an extraordinary energy and fecundity of invention, which shows no abatement for the entirety of the work’s 23 minutes.
Connolly writes in the score’s performance notes that “the connection between the players is generally more competitive and soloistic in style than would be the case in a quartet”, and this is borne out by a preponderance of polyphonic textures, the three instruments trading gestures and themes between each other, before converging for brief moments of simultaneity, often at climactic points. However, the balance of the musical argument is not always equally distributed.
The viola plays a particularly prominent role: it is often the first to initiate a new section or thematic idea (including the start of the second movement), and is given a number of important solos, including the first in the work, as early as bar 12.
The String Trio was Justin Connolly’s last major work. It remained unperformed at his death in 2020.