Alliances (1985)

for string trio

Program note by Perry Goldstein, for Speculum Musicae, 1986

Alliances, composed in 1984 and revised in 1985, received its New York premiere last spring by Speculum Musicae and was performed at the Marlboro Festival this summer under the direction of John Graham. As the title suggests, the work is conceived as a musical drama which casts the three instrumental protagonists as characters in constant, albeit constantly changing, interaction. Throughout the work, pairs of instruments form a momentary alliance that either supports or undermines the lone instrument. The range of interactive possibilities is explored as the piece progresses; sometimes the single instrument dominates, at other times a duo rises up to subdue the third, and at still others there is an uneasy equality between the two musical forces. The music’s continuity, even its gestural, rhythmic, and dynamic language, is derived from the dramatic pretext of these relationships among the instruments.

As this scenario suggests, there is a high level of tension throughout the work. The counterpoint is often dense and complex. At the same time, long, held notes, heard in the viola at the outset of the piece and recurring frequently throughout it, create a sharp contrast to and relief from the notey counterpoint swirling around them, sometimes suggesting a cessation of “hostilities.” Moments of rest, which surface toward the piece’s end in the form of long-held harmonics played by all three instruments, are the ultimate consequence of these long notes played by one instrument at various times throughout the course of the piece.

In discussing his influences, Gibson writes: “My music reveals a debt mostly to Berg for its harmonic flavor and phrasing, but I bet that my background as a jazz guitarist has more of an influence than I realize. Often the rhythmic language evokes the swing of New York rather than the lilt of Vienna.”


  • Speculum Musicae, Wave Hill, New York, 11/16/1986
  • John Graham, Peter Wiley; Marlboro Festival, 7/30/1986
  • Speculum Musicae, Merkin Concert Hall, New York, 1986
  • Carol Zeavin, John Graham, Charles Curtis; Princeton, 12/8/1985
  • John McGrosso, Susan Chan, Käthe Jarka; Princeton, 5/19/1984