My Appassionata Recital and Transcendent Trills

Trills and transcendence.

We usually experience trills—the quick alternation of two adjacent notes—as embellishments or decorations to a melody. But composers see a deeper potential, that trills can be powerful generators of musical energy. Unlike a piano, a harpsichord has no sustain pedal, but a trill creates the illusion of a sustained a tone for any length desired. That quality of sustain is a convention in concertos, when the cadenza ends with a trill, gathering all the soloist’s virtuosity into an energetic “holding pattern” signal for the orchestra to begin playing again.

Trills also provide important “clues” that portend a future acceleration of energy. If we hear a trill near the beginning of even a slow piece of music, that spark of energy will often trigger a process that increases the energy of the entire piece as it develops. An outstanding example of this is the soft low trill in the gentle beginning of the great B flat piano sonata by Franz Schubert. That trill is a prophecy for the drama that will eventually be unleashed.

Trills may be used as even more than embellishments or as musical energy “batteries.” They may lift a piece of music into a transcendent realm. Spend any time listening to Beethoven’s later string quartets or piano sonatas and you become aware that the trills are a musical idea in their own right, as important as melody. Beethoven discovers new sonorities and resonance in their energy that places this music in a realm we often simply describe as spiritual. 

Each of the three pieces on my program explore these qualities of trills—as melodic decorations, as energy generators, and as creative resonators that seek to lift music into a transcendent realm.

Listen to a preview from my upcoming piano recitals entitled Appassionata:

Bach’s Organ Sonata No. 2—end of the 1st movement, where trills accumulate in an impassioned circle of fifths;
Steinberg Water Rays—last two pages where trills and resonance accumulate in the upper register of the piano to create an aural halo;
Beethoven Appassionata Sonata—end of 1st movement where chords between the two hands violently alternate—literally pound—creating a rough trill themselves, and eventually accumulate into a fast tremolo that gradually fades away into nothing—(with a glorious slow movement that follows, which itself is destined for transcendent trills).