Piano Trio (2013)
(15 min)

Boosey & Hawkes Berlin

First performance
Trio Steuermann, Paris, France, November 24th, 2013

Johannes Boris Borowski in conversation with Anne de Fornel (2015):

What reasons led you to write a piano trio?
The impulse to write a piano trio was initially motivated by the instrumentation itself; the latter allows for a complex richness of sounds and expressions, as well as difficult but also challenging limitations, given the different kinds of articulation and intonation in the piano and strings. The genre “piano trio” was traditionally used as an expression of personal emotional experience and served as an experimental base for new ideas. In fact, many composers assigned the trio a distinctive place in their own oeuvre (Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Smetana, Shostakovich, etc).
After 1945, composers distanced themselves from traditional genres as a way of likewise departing from conventional gestures. Musical progress was meant to be directly connected to the musical material. This led to the assumption that changing concrete material (such as sounds, noises, but also instrumentation) would also alter traditional relationships. Contrary to this position, I decided to trust the microcosm of sound without completely destroying the “history” of the musical material. The innovation and development of music results not only from the material as an isolated component of music, but much more from the way it is connected and developed. In this manner, I have met the challenge and enjoyed returning to an apparently “traditional” genre, all the while revealing it to be an actual expression of our times.

Your piano trio is written for the Trio Steuermann and also dedicated to the three musicians. Did their individual personalities influence certain compositional choices?
I already knew of the musicians of the Trio Steuermann through their different musical projects. In fact, when I heard the Trio had started up, I immediately formulated the desire to write a piece for them, impressed by their elaborate performances, their insightful approach, and especially, their invigorating and intrepid way of programming and communicating music.
Their personalities complement one another, but are likewise able to add something that is quite individualized which in the end becomes more than just contributory. Here was one important element of inspiration for my piece: not only to serve and activate particular skills of the musicians (which, of course, I did and took pleasure in doing so), but to have them confront new situations with their own technical and artistic dimensions. I developed the dramaturgical idea of creating moments that might be unfamiliar to the trio and make demands on their different individualities. I was looking for dialogic structures wherein the distinct instruments could gradually change their personalities (e.g. by interchanging gestures).

Your piano trio is structured in one movement. Could you describe your formal ideas?
There are more or less two main parts to this piece. These sections are very different in their emotional gestures, density and expression, yet, more importantly, I wanted to provide another way of building form and similarly of giving the audience an alternative model of perception.
In the first part, I focused on the details, objects, and motives with the point in mind of connecting or separating them, as well as developing and transforming them at various levels. When you start to compare elements and parts, one is not only looking for similarities or differences. To connect some elements, one can sometimes concentrate only on a certain aspect (like articulation, harmony, etc.), and find the same aspect but within a totally different element. Thus, background information is brought to foreground (and vice-versa). Therefore, a very active way of listening becomes necessary.
In the second part, it is quite the contrary: here I concentrated on losing details through a very clear harmonic process. This progression of intervals is so strong that the elements no longer have the power to develop or to change anything. In fact, even if the elements are the same as in the beginning, their capabilities are absolutely different (because of their integration into a clear harmonic progression).
I can compare this situation to real life: the same people are not the same anymore when they suddenly change their context. So, here the music addresses the issue of personality and identity, as I remarked beforehand.

What are the essential aspects of your musical language?
Every aesthetic position carries the risk of limiting an inventive openness to new artistic experiences. Therefore, any statement can only be a momentary inventory and will be supplemented or even invalidated with every new piece. Of course, there are some general features in my work, some overriding questions, which recur in different ways over a longer period of time, independently of the individual questions in the particular pieces.
The most important aspect of my musical language is the idea of rendering the compositional process visible. When listening to music myself, I always have the desire to watch not only the musicians, but observe the composer working and experience how he is deciding, developing, succeeding or failing. To make this possible, I have to choose the specific work method that is likewise contingent on the ideas and intention of the piece (that can change very spontaneously in its unfolding). The development of this image is also connected to the audienceĀ“s imagination: to be capable of and open to communicating through a very abstract material such as music.
This idea of communicating with the composer is a poetic image and, at the same time, a technical and structural idea.

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