Category: ensemble with soloist
First performance: Student ensemble, Chris Parsons (natural trumpet) | Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York, UK | 31/05/2012
Commission: Chris Parsons
Publisher: contact me
The sound of ‘early’ instruments has always held a certain appeal to me: an unmatched purity of sound can be achieved, but with a certain instability that could see this crumble at any point: the temperamental tuning of gut strings, the buzz of gut frets, the insecurity of a ‘work-in-progress’ fingering system. With the natural trumpet, a modern player is faced with no valves, limiting them to a harmonic series in one key (very high notes forming a major scale; lower notes picking out the important tonic and dominant pitches). This also makes it difficult to pluck any note out of thin air, leading to idiomatic early trumpet writing involving step-wise movement at the upper register, or fanfares on the lower tonics and dominants.
However, the pure, sweet sound of the natural trumpet is worth these compositional limitations. I have not restricted myself to idiomatic writing, instead using the trumpet’s given set of pitches in my own way: this presents a huge challenge to the player which – all going to plan – will pass the listener by. Certain notes on the instrument can be ‘faked’, giving a less rich and more airy tone. This is particularly prominent when playing an F natural, something which the piece capitalises on, as it is contrasted timbrely and tonally with the ‘usual’ F sharp, producing major/minor melodies, reflected in the accompanying harmony.
This piece tries to reconcile the essentially tonal nature of the trumpet with a more dissonant soundworld in the strings. A useful analogy can be drawn with the restoration of stained glass: with some old piece left, the glazier must fill in the blanks, use their imagination, and inevitably let in some anachronisms. The three short movements of Triptych are three pieces of a restored window, fragments of an overall picture, and we’re not sure if they are original or brand new.