Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Classical Music of Ireland: Joan Trimble

Are you familiar with 20-century Irish composer Joan Trimble (1915–2000)? Today on Clef Notes, we’re going to continue our look at the classical music of Ireland by discussing this woman who, though she spent much of her adult life outside of Ireland, was greatly influenced by the Irish idioms that surrounded her childhood.

Born to musical parents, Joan Trimble and her sister Valerie were encouraged to take lessons at a young age. Joan eventually went on to study music in college where she developed a special liking for the work of Debussy, Ravel, and Bach. In the mid-1930s she moved to London where she joined Valerie at the Royal College of Music. There she met Arthur Benjamin, Herbert Howells, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and was encouraged to try her hand on composition.

Composing came fairly naturally to Joan. She wrote in a variety of genres but one that she particularly enjoyed was song, due to her love for poetry. Her first song, “My Grief on the Sea,” is a setting of a Connacht love song translated by Douglas Hyde:

My grief on the sea,
How the waves of it roll!
For they heave between me
And the love of my soul!

Abandoned, forsaken,
To grief and to care,
Will the sea ever waken
Relief from despair?

My grief and my trouble!
Would he and I were
In the province of Leinster,
Or country of Claire.

Were I and my darling—
Oh heart bitter wound!
On board of the ship
For America bound.

On a green bed of rushes
All last night I lay,
And I flung it abroad
With the heat of the day.

And my love came behind me—
He came from the south;
His breast to my bosom,
His mouth to my mouth.

Much of Joan’s music has an Irish idiom, drawing from the music she grew up around in Ireland. Joan did not have an extensive compositional output due to other musical activities that took up her time. These included teaching at the Royal College and performing in a piano duo with her sister Valerie.


The piano duo even had a BBC series called Tuesday Serenade that ran for over ten years! Once Valerie began to struggle with her health later in life, Joan decided to move back to Ireland where she took care of the family newspaper business.


Join me next time as we explore Charles Stanford’s Irish Rhapsodies.

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