Joan Trimble ‘The Green Bough’: A Tranquil Duo

Good afternoon classical music fans! We are on the penultimate day of my Female Fortnight Challenge *sad face* but I promise you these last two female composers are such a treat. Today’s blog is on a composer who I like very much indeed and that is Joan Trimble. For this blog I’m going to be delving into her work The Green Bough which is scored for two pianos. I hope you can become as fond of Trimble as I am – her music is definitely worth it!

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 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 Green Bough was composed in 1941 and it is a composition for two pianos. Trimble and her sister premiered the piece in 1941, and I for one think it is one of Trimble’s best piano duets. You can clearly hear the definition of different styles coming together, with some Irish melodies being presented in an impressionistic manner. This work is elegant and well-written, and with it lasting no longer than five minutes, it is quite intense, but very rewarding. The music is very friendly 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 here the impressionist flare 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 main melody is so warm and it gives me chills every time I listen to it.

The two pianos bounce 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 in general is absolutely full of musicality, colour and a mix of simple and complex passages. 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 very friendly 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.

I forgot how much I love this work until I found it again for this challenge. Joan Trimble wrote some absolutely fantastic works in her lifetime, and it is a shame she didn’t write more! Her music is earthy, traditional (although always with a twist!) and it tuneful and accessible to a lot of people. The Green Bough is a beautiful piece which is based around the idea of a tree. The music essentially uses the theme of nature to put across the scene that Trimble had in mind. An absolutely wonderful piano duet – a perfect fit in my Female Fortnight Challenge! I hope you can all relish in the delight that is Joan Trimble, she is genuinely brilliant. Tomorrow is the final day in my Female Fortnight Challenge and I have a very special composer and work for you all to enjoy!

Happy Reading!

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