Joan Trimble: The Green Bough


Joan Trimble was born in 1915 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. She, from a young age, learnt to play the piano, read music and then compose her own music. She studied piano with Annie Lord at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin. She continued her studies at the Royal College of Music, where she studied piano and composition with the likes of Herbert Howells and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Joan and her sister Valerie performed as a piano duo, where they won numerous prizes and recognition for their performances. Trimble also composed frequently alongside her performances.

The sisters played together until 1970, and during this time they performed works by Stravinsky, Bliss, Benjamin and many more. Trimble married and had children by 1942, which hindered her composition output for some time. However, in 1957 her opera Blind Rafferty was commissioned by the BBC and was the first TV opera composed by a woman. Trimble spent a lot of time in both England and Ireland, where she taught piano and composition at the Royal College of Music until 1977.

Trimble’s music is said to be conservative for her time as she often combined impressionism and traditional Irish music. Her music is very rewarding for both performer and audience, which makes Trimble a very special kind of composer. She has composed in a range of different styles including operas, orchestral works, piano duos, songs and chamber music.

Trimble has also won awards for her music, such as the Cobbett Prize for chamber music for her work Phantasy Trio (1940). In the late 1970s, Trimble and her husband moved back to Enniskillen, where she cared for him as he was severely ill until 2000. In the 1990s, Trimble gained some more recognition after being commissioned to compose a new piece for a chamber ensemble. Trimble died on 6th August 2000, only two weeks after the passing of her husband.


The Music

The Green Bough was composed in 1941, and it is a composition for two pianos. Trimble and her sister premiered the piece in 1941. You can clearly hear the definition of different styles coming together, with some Irish melodies being presented under the guise of impressionistic music. This work is elegant in style, and with it lasting no longer than five minutes it is quite intense. The music is very friendly and accessible and the communication between the two pianos is clear upon listening to the recording.

The piece begins with a fast scalic passage, with a pedal note acting as the foundation. You can hear the impressionist flair in this introduction, which smoothly leads onto the main melody, which is derived from a traditional Irish folk song. The music itself goes between tonal and atonal sections, which brings a lot of harmonic colour. The melodies used throughout are warm and inviting, making this a real family affair.

The two pianos bouncing off of each other creates lots of suspensions, which are full of harmonics and overtones. Sometimes the melody resolves where you think it will, which marks the tonal sections. At other times, the music goes somewhere slightly different, usually marking the atonal sections.

The piece is absolutely full of musicality, harmonic colour, and intriguing texture choices. There is a slightly faster section where the pianos play fast-paced scalic lines, which sound like glissandos. Every time the music veers away from the main theme, it always ends up returning to the melody, which creates a nostalgic sort of familiarity within the music. Whilst one piano plays the main theme, the other piano plays a second counter-theme. The piece ends quietly, with both pianos finishing with a part of the main melody.


Final Thoughts

Trimble commented that the inspiration for The Green Bough was taken from trees, the way they grow, and the landscapes around them. This gives the work a rural and earthy edge, which counterbalances with some of her other much more ‘traditional’ works.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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