About this work
Although Terry Riley's works from the early '60s -- essentially, those that predate his famous minimalist masterpiece In C from 1964 -- are hardly known and rarely if ever heard, they hold the seeds of some of the later techniques that would define his style and help determine the character and sonority of the early minimalist movement. Likely composed as part of his undergraduate studies at Berkeley, the String Trio demonstrates Riley's nascent interest in static harmonies and rhythmic pulse, both staples of later minimalism. At the same time, there is a kind of constructivist quality that recalls neo-Classic Stravinsky (as in the Pieces (3) for string quartet). The piece builds its texture around a gravitation toward A major, which forms a fairly consistent strand throughout (in the form of repeated chord tones or ostinati) but is somewhat challenged by various chromatic or diatonic inflections that appear as angular, repeated protests or sustained dissonances. Although nearly forgotten, and hardly as influential as In C from three years later, the string trio presents an idea that is at the heart of the later and more well-known work: a persistent tonality that is occluded to varying degrees over the course of a piece before finally holding out to the end.