Harold Shapero: String Trio


Harold Shapero (1920-2013) was an American composer hailing from Lynn, Massachusetts. A fine pianist, Shapero studied at Harvard where he studied under Walter Piston, Paul Hindemith and Leonard Bernstein. Whilst studying at Harvard and Tanglewood Music Centre, Shapero met some of the leading composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland and Nadia Boulanger. Shapero’s music has recently had a surge of interest due to some new recordings by the LA Philharmonic and the Lydian String Quartet.


The Music

String Trio was composed in 1937, and is one of Shapero’s oldest dated works. Composed a year before he went to Harvard, Shapero composed this work under the guidance of Ernst Krenek. The trio was supposedly composed in just under a week after Krenek asked Shapero to listen to Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite. One can certainly hear the influences of Berg in Shapero’s earlier music, as well as the influence of Krenek himself. The trio highlight’s Shapero’s first steps into serialism.


Movement I – Allegro risoluto

The angular opening sees all three voices abandon one another and go in different directions. Shapero’s virtuosic writing for the ensemble is heard right from the start, with the constant flow of writing becoming more intense. Adding in pizzicato interludes, the more lyrical central section takes on a different character. There is no leader per se here, but three voices that are pushing to be heard first. The bold dynamics pay dividends when the ensemble unite for the final few tutti bars. 


Movement II – Adagio

The slow middle movement, also the longest of the trio, begins with the upper strings taking the lead. The feeling of emptiness is heard with Shapero experimenting with the texture. A string of call and response figures play out before the dynamic drops so the pizzicato can be heard. There is a sense of the music lamenting in this movement, although the air of mystery and the character that Shapero has chosen for this music takes us away from that idea. The movement concludes quietly.


Movement III – Allegro

The bold opening sets the tempo for the movement, with the cello taking the lead to begin with. Big dynamic changes paired with the quick tempo creates excitement around this finale movement. There is a distinct urgency in the playing in this movement with all voices frantically adding their kernels of themes into the mix. Shapero pushes the instruments to their very upper and lower rangers which creates a big space between the voices at times. Big slides and tremolos add intensity to the music, which culminates in a chaotic final few bars. Shapero’s String Trio concludes with a pizzicato phrase that leaves the trio feeling somewhat unfinished. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns 

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