Trio Cocteau



Additional Information

Trio Cocteau has a conventional fast/slow/fast three movement structure but the music contained in this structural vessel is like a mosaic; there is no development, organic growth, or tense musical discourse. In the background of some fragments there are echoes of non-classical styles such as tango, flamenco, Parisian café music, or Venezuelan waltzes.

This process means that each fragment relates to its neighbours in a way that is playful, surprising, and sometimes unsettling; the music opens up into different worlds, never resting in one place. These qualities are also evident in the work of Jean Cocteau, and his literature, art and films, have been an influence on me; hence the title of the piece.

At the time I started writing Trio Cocteau I was reading Calvino’s ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium‘. The first of these is on ‘lightness’, and along with the work of Cocteau it also gave me the insight I needed to structure the music. At one point Calvino compares the poetry of Cavalcanti and Dante, and quotes a sonnet (his translation) by Cavalcanti;

Beauty of women and of wise hearts, and gentle knights in armour; the song of birds and the discourse of love; bright ships moving swiftly on the sea; clear air where the dawn appears, and white snow falling without wind; stream of water and meadow with every flower; gold, silver, azure in ornaments.”

He compares “and white snow falling without wind” to a line from the Dante’s Inferno;

As snow falls in the mountains without wind.”

In Dante, Calvino explains, the line creates a metaphor within a sense of place; it is weighted. In Cavalcanti the word ‘and’ puts the snow on the same level as the other images. This levelling of all these beauties of the world allows them to float up – equal, light and free. It was the effect I was looking to create in Trio Cocteau, as no aspect of the musical material dominates, or is generative of other ideas: everything is balanced, and the tension is in the sprung plasticity of movement and the expressive content of each fragment, rather than a weighted musical argument.

In Orphée (Cocteau’s reworking of the Orpheus myth, set in post war France) the path to the underworld is through a bedroom mirror. I rather like this curious moment, and wanted Trio Cocteau to have an entry and exit point. In order to do this I had to find a musical ‘object’ that stood outside the rest of the piece, so I randomly chose some chords from a Debussy song, which I then completely re-shaped. These appear at the start, after the cello pizzicati, and again at the end as the piece exits into silence.

The piece was premiered by the Mediterranea Trio in London in 2015.



Composers Edition
Score file


Live recording
Date published
Mediterranea Trio
Trio Cocteau