Extraordinary Music - 3 is the Magic Number

Click HERE for our brand new PIANO TRIET RESOURCES page!

CALL FOR SCORES - new Piano Triets - ongoing

Following the great success of our first bi-annual (or should it be tri-annual) concert of contemporary music exclusively for piano triet by living composers in April 2012 in the Colston Hall 2, concert number two was on Saturday 21 June 2014 www.colstonhall.org/shows/piano-triets

We issued a call for scores here and received a number of entries, and the final programme is here.

But, we're now hooked on new triets - so please get composing! If you are considering writing something for us, please read the performing and composing tips below!

Please email scores to John at severnsidecomposersalliance@blueyonder.co.uk.

This amazing piece by German composer Armin Fuchs could be inspiration!



How to compose a Piano Triet - tips from those who've gone before!

Triets have the potential to be thoroughly new-sounding, in that the format makes possible textures and harmonies not generally available to piano solo or duet. However, it isn't plain sailing. If getting a duet to play really together is twice as hard as a soloist getting both hands together, three people playing together is at least half as hard again! Then there's the physicality of it - the more amply-reared person may struggle with the medium. Even for thinner players it can be something of a squeeze, and sitting in an unusual position you may find yourself hurting in places you wouldn't expect. So, would-be triet-composers, please read the following tips for performers, before reading the tips for composers!


1) Once you have allocated out your parts, when you practise on your own make sure you are sitting in the right place - ie either right to the right, or right to the left, or dead centre. There is no point learning the notes sitting in the wrong position - it feels completely different if when you rehearse with your two partners you suddenly find your hands having to stretch in a completely different (and potentially uncomfortable) direction and position!

2) Make sure your elbows stay right by your side at all times while practising! You won't have any spare room with someone right next to you. You may wish to practise using a scarf or large belt, placing it around your body and arms above the elbows.

3) Practising on your own - when you are sure you are sitting in the correct place and that your arms won't be in anyone else's way, find a way to make sure you are comfortable. Don't sit for too long in an uncomfortable position - get up and move around every so often.

4) Rehearsing with the other two players - really listen for balance. As a rule, play more quietly than you might otherwise. Make sure each line in the music is clear. Make sure you all understand the role of each part of the texture. Player three in the bass may find that the left hand is on average generally lower than most piano music, and therefore needs to play up and with more definition. Work on getting the overall timbre right, in each part of the piano. Spend some time on just this. Might be worth recording/videoing yourselves to see what the overall effect of what ypu are doing is.

5) Rehearsing with the other two players - even more than on your own or as a duo, playing absolutely together is unexpectedly hard in a triet. Don't be embarrassed to go dead dead slow as a triet, and only very gradually speed up.

6) Sort out your page turns - who is doing them and when and with what hand.


1) Read and absorb the tips for performers above!

2) Make sure you've got a good reason for writing specifically for triet rather than duet. Without wanting to sound poncy, what is your piece's raison d'etre? What are the textures/harmonies you are exploring? Do something that you couldn't do with two players (or else what's the point?).

3) Have a clear idea of the kind of textures you are using. Get some mates round, open a bottle of wine and get them to help you try out individual ideas, before you get too far inthe compositional process. More than other genres, you need to try it out physically!

4) Triets are hard to put together. The overall difficulty is not the same as the technical difficulty of the individual parts taken on their own, but significantly higher if you want a good performance. Bear this in mind - keep things as simple as you can to get the effect you want. Are there simpler rhythms / fewer notes that would achieve the effect you want?

5) Physical considerations are at surprisingly important. For example it is extremely uncomfortable for the player at the bottom to play anywhere above the bottom third of the keyboard, or to have to operate the sustain pedal. When composing for player one at the top of the piano, make sure you are sitting in that position, and not in the middle of the piano. Imagine a person with big elbows sitting in the middle, and make sure you can play the notes you are writing from that position at the far right. This is really important. Something that is easy to play with your arms in the normal position might be much harder at an angle and with your wrists turned to one side. If necessary, put a large box on the piano stool in the middle. Obviously, same for notes for player 3.

6) It's a good idea to carefully map out the keyboard 'territory' occupied by each pianist - dividing the keyboard into 'zones' of 2+ 8ves per player isn't a bad idea. Keep the performers as much in their own areas as possible - overlapping and scrunching together is very uncomfortable. The performers will thank you for it.

7) Think balance - generally put a lower dynamic than you think necessary, and really think through (and try out with those mates mentioned above) the overall effect of the texture you've built up. Think through precise dynamic markings for each hand/layer.

8) Don't use six hands all the time. Vary it! Think clarity of texture (as with any ensemble not every part - ie hand - has to be going all the time).

9) Think how it looks. We did a live projection of the players' hands on the piano keyboard onto the wall behind the piano (see the youtube videos above) - it made the whole concert much more engaging, and the dance-like physicality of the hands interweaving and moving together or independently (and different combinations) is intrinsically interesting, and adds another dimension to the music.

10) Give your players rests - and give opportunities to move/change position - eg: stop playing for enough bars to sit straight and relax the muscles.

11) Any chord or cluster played by pianos 2 and 3 is going to create harmonics, and with a third player up top this opens up new possibilities. Any resulting harmonics can be reinforced by piano 1 in the upper register even if there is an imbalance between the upper part and the other two. Furthermore, if pianos 2 and 3 release their chord/cluster, and leave the upper part sounding, the effect can be very interesting, albeit quite quiet. It might be even more interesting if piano 1 plays its chord silently. FH suggests that the kind of effect that Schumann uses at the end of the Paganini movement of Carnaval, and that Schoenberg uses in the first of his Drei Klavierstucke Opus 11 Nr. 1, could be very effectively expanded by the triet combination.

12) Turning pages is potentially very hard both for performers and for a page turner. So it is worth putting some thought into how this can be managed - eg: specifying which pianist is to turn any given page turn, and making sure they have in fact got enough time and physical space to do it! If anybody can invent a way of allowing performers to page turn easily that would be extremely useful! One possibility is designing things so that one of the outer players can play off their own score while the other two players share a score, which could be turned by a page turner if necessary.

13) From a musical point of view it is often hard for the outer players to hear what each other is doing. So allowing them to link up via whatever the middle player is doing is very helpful.

14) more tips coming soon

Thanks to Daniella Acker, Andre Shlimon, Brian Inglis and Frank Harvey for their contributions to the above!

John Pitts
August 2013

Piano Triet - one piano six hands


Piano Triets - chances are you heard them here first...

In 2012 the SCA put on what was probably the first concert of its kind in the UK. This collection of music is as stunning as it is rare - extraordinary contemporary music exclusively for three pianists at one piano. The concert programme spanned the whole gamut of the genre – from simple tunes for beginners to displays of breath-taking virtuosity, all by living composers (with the exception of Schnittke who died in 1998).

The concert at the Colston Hall 2 comprised triets by: Alfred Schnittke, Tomislav Baynov, Jacques Castérède, Paul Robinson, John Pitts, Frank Harvey, Roger Boutry, Dionysis Boukouvalas, Kaja Bjornvedt, Brian Inglis and Christopher Scobie, Jolyon Laycock and Andre Shlimon.

Read a review of this concert here.

All material copyright (c) 2013 Severnside Composers Alliance  0117 904 8902  severnsidecomposersalliance@blueyonder.co.uk