Clarinet-violin-piano trio

A clarinet-violin-piano trio is a standardized chamber musical ensemble made up of one clarinet, one violin, and one piano participating in relatively equal roles, or the name of a piece written for such a group.

An example of a clarinet-viola-piano trio existed several hundred years before the clarinet-violin-piano trio; Mozart composed his famous Kegelstatt Trio in the 18th century, and the Romantic composer Max Bruch composed a suite of eight pieces for this combination, as well as a double concerto for viola, clarinet, and orchestra. Many of these works can be (or already have been) transcribed for a clarinet-violin-piano trio.

Unlike a piano trio or a concerto, there is no standard form for a composition for a clarinet-violin-piano trio: a piece can have any number of movements.

Acoustically, the choice of a clarinet, violin, and piano is characteristic in that most chamber music (and most music in general) contains high (soprano), mid-range (alto/tenor), and low (bass/baritone) parts. However, both a clarinet and a violin play relatively high-pitched parts, making for a less-balanced sound than a trio that contains a more possible range, such as a violin-cello-piano trio. Timbral contrast is provided between the woodwind (clarinet), bowed string (violin), and keyboard instrument (piano).

Aside from its classical use, this combination of instruments is common in traditional Ashkenazi Jewish music.

Early 20th century

There are examples of clarinet-violin-piano trios prior to 1970 by composers including Bartók (Contrasts), Baußnern's Serenade, Stravinsky (an arrangement of his L'histoire du soldat), Milhaud (Suite for clarinet, violin, and piano, Op. 157b), Khachaturian (Trio for clarinet, violin and piano), Berg, Krenek, and Ives.

Bartók's Contrasts

Béla Bartók's Contrasts was commissioned for violinist Joseph Szigeti and clarinetist Benny Goodman and is one of the best known pieces in the genre. Kárpáti[1] describes the piece as possessing "technical bravura and at the same time...poetic versatility". In contrast, E.R.,[2] explains that the "contrasts are "of speed rather than of mood" but that despite this "lack of variety...Bartók's genius consists in gifts of rhetoric so rich that he can spread this one mood, and spread it interestingly, over a score or more of large-scale works".

Seiber[3] considers it "a less weighty, less important work in Bartók's whole œuvre" though the "writing for both violin and clarinet" are "most effective throughout". An article describing a program in which "the standard note on Bartók's Contrasts...was replaced by a sequential, diagrammatic sketch," concluded that, "in fact, Bartók looks as inscrutable as he sounds".[4]

Later 20th century

Trios were commissioned by the Verdehr Trio from composers including Leslie Bassett, Alan Hovhaness, Michael Daugherty, Karel Husa, Thea Musgrave, Ned Rorem, Ida Gotkovsky, Gunther Schuller, Peter Schickele, Jennifer Higdon, Alexander Arutiunian, David Diamond, Scott McAllister, William Bolcom, Betsy Jolas, Bright Sheng, Roberto Sierra, Libby Larsen, Philippe Manoury, Gian Carlo Menotti, Peter Sculthorpe, Iván Eröd and Joan Tower.

Rorem's The End of Summer (1985), which may be found on several recordings featuring his work, features hints of church music. The composer describes the piece's similarities to its direct predecessor, his Scenes from Childhood, in that each of three movements is "suggested by musical works of yore. There are suggestions of Satie, Brahms, hopscotch ditties and Protestant anthems."[5] Rorem says his, Musgrave's, and Dickinson's pieces all "quote literally from the past" and also describes asking "Chuck" if he ever disapproved of Samuel Barber's pieces as Rorem's partner did of Rorem's the evening it premiered.[6]

Schuller's A Trio Setting, in "the classical fast-slow-scherzo-fast form" shows the influence of Bartók but is described as "original...varied, affecting and exciting by turns, and inventive" worth listening to again.[7]

Nathan Currier's Variations is described as "more difficult" and seemingly "too long at almost 34 minutes." It repeatedly quotes as a theme a song from Binchois, "De plus en plus", sounding like a Brahms lullaby. The piece also shows the influence of Bartók's Contrasts.[7]

Husa's Trio Setting [W22], commissioned by the Verdehr Trio in 1981, showcases each instrument in one movement and has been described by William Crutchfield as, "standout...with its sure sense of climax and dramatic variety in the instrumental handling."[8]

Thea Musgrave's Pierrot was commissioned by the Verdehr Trio and first performed in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1986. Consistent with Musgrave's earlier work, such as her Second Chamber Concerto (1966), Clarinet Concerto (1967), and Space Play (1974), Pierrot is highly programmatic and the score contains indications for stage locations, lighting plots, and movements.


Clarinet-violin-piano concertos have been commissioned by Verdehr from Buhr, David, Ott, Skrowaczewski, and Wallace. They have also commissioned violin-clarinet double concertos from James Niblock, William Wallace, Dinos Constantinides, Paul Chihara, Ian Krouse and Richard Mills.

Composers of clarinet-violin-piano trios

(This is an incomplete list.)

Early 20th century

Béla Bartók1938Contrasts for Clarinet, Violin, and PianoSz. 111, BB 116
Alban Berg1926Adagio for Violin, Clarinet and PianoArrangement of Kammerkonzert, 2nd movement
Charles Ives1934Largo for Violin, Clarinet and Piano
Aram Khachaturian1932Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Waldemar von Baußnern1898Serenade, for Clarinet, VIolin and PianoIWB 12
Ernst Krenek1946Trio for Clarinet, Violin and PianoOp. 108
Darius Milhaud1936Suite for Clarinet, Violin and PianoOp. 157b
Igor Stravinsky1918Suite from L'histoire du soldat for Clarinet, Violin and PianoArranged by the composer

1949 onwards

Joan Albert Amargós
Alexander Arutiunian
William Bolcom1994Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Charlotte Bray2017Chant for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Jane Brockman1999Nibiru Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
2007Lemuria Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
John Craton2003Sonate pour Violon, Clarinet and Piano, "Trois Petites Filles"
Gustavo Díaz-Jerez2012Exedrae
Donald ErbSunlit Peaks and Dark Valleys
Iván Eröd1991TrioOp. 59
John Harbison1982Variations
Stephen Hartke1997The Horse with the Lavender Eye
Douglas Knehans2002Rive
Alan Hovhaness1988Trio Lake SamishOp. 415
Michael Knopf2014QuasiHelioSonic & Little Worlds
Philippe Manoury1992Michigan Trio
Edward Manukyan2007Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Donald Martino1973Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Gian Carlo Menotti1996Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Denis Pousseur1993Le Silence du Futur for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Manel Ribera2008Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Ned Rorem1985End of Summer
Timothy Salter2017Triptych for Violin, Clarinet and Piano
Paul Schoenfield1990Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Peter Scholes1995Island Songs, Clarinet Trio
Peter Sculthorpe1992Dream Tracks
Juan Maria Solare2008Greek Tales for Violin, Clarinet and Piano
Franklin Stover2011Trialog for Violin, Clarinet and Piano
Octavio Vazquez2012Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano
Johann Baptist WanhalTrio in E flatOp. 20, No. 5

Current clarinet-violin-piano trio ensembles (2018)

(This is an incomplete list.)

The Verdehr Trio1972Elsa Ludewig-VerdehrWalter VerdehrSilvia Roederer
The Ensemble da Camera of Washington1990Claire EichhornRicardo CyncynatesAnna Balakerskaia
Nordica Trio1994Karen BeachamGraybert BeachamMartin Perry
The Kat Trio1998Vladislav GorbichVictoria GorbichJoseph Ross
The Sapphire Trio1998Maxine RameyMargaret Nichols-BaldridgeJody Graves
Strata1999Nathan WilliamsJames SternAudrey Andrist
Pamina Trio2004Beatriz LopezIkuko KitakadoKeiko Hattori
Prima Trio2004Boris AllakhverdyanGulia GurevichAnastasia Dedik
Trio Gaudì2005Alessio TerranovaCardillo GiovanniSilvia Nicola
Meridian Trio2006Helen JamesMackenzie RichardsEamonn Ramsay
Zodiac Trio2006Kliment KrylovskiyVanessa MollardRiko Higuma
Vivezza Trio2010Nicole van JaarsveldInger van VlietAngélique Heemsbergen
Trio Aumage?Maguy GiraudGeneviève MeletAurélie Samani
Tripod Trio?Rié SuzukiTim SchwarzDavid Pasbrig
Aratos Trio2014Mihailo SamoranKatarina PopovićVanja Šćepanović
Luz y Sombra2006Kymia KermaniMiriam ErttmannKatja Steinhäuser
Ducasse Trio2010William Slingsby-DuncombeCharlotte MacletFiachra Garvey
Crescendo Trio2014Fanni FeketeEszter KruchióÁdám Zsolt Szokolay
Trio Pokret2011Miloš NikolićMadlen Stokić VasiljevićMaja Mihić
Ensemble TrioPolis2015Kimberly Cole LuevanoFelix OlschofkaAnatolia Ioannides
Trio Émerillon2017Charlotte LayecElizabeth SkinnerOlivier Hébert-Bouchard


  1. Kárpáti (1981), p.201-207.
  2. E. R. (1943), p. 61.
  3. Seiber (1949), p.28-29.
  4. "Program Notes: Better Unwritten than Unread", Music Educators Journal, Vol. 54, No. 7. (Mar., 1968), pp. 96–97.
  5. Rorem, Ned (2001). Quoted in Gotham Ensemble Plays Ned Rorem, liner notes. Albany Records (2002): Troy 520.
  6. Rorem (2002), p.56.
  7. Max, Stephen (2008), p.1.
  8. Hitchens (1991), p.14


  • Carbon, John. "Pierrot for Violin, Clarinet and Piano by Thea Musgrave", Notes, 2nd Ser., Vol.50, No. 2. (Dec., 1993), pp. 761–762.
  • E. R. (1943) ."Review: Contrasts, for Violin, Clarinet and Piano by Béla Bartók", Music & Letters, Vol. 24, No. 1. (Jan., 1943), p. 61.
  • Hitchens, Susan Hayes (1991). Karel Husa: A Bio-Bibliography. ISBN 0-313-25585-7.
  • Kárpáti, János (1981). "Alternative Structures in Bartók's 'Contrasts'", Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, T. 23, Fasc. 1/4, Centenrio Belae Bartók Sacrum#.
  • Max, Stephen R. "Verdehr Trio 3." American Record Guide 57.n6 (Nov-Dec 1994): 218(1).
  • Rorem (2002). Lies: A Diary: 1986-1999. ISBN 0-306-81106-5.
  • Seiber, Mátyás (1949). "Béla Bartók's Chamber Music", Tempo, New Ser., No. 13, Bartók Number. (Autumn, 1949), pp. 19–31.
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