Sunday, March 19, 2017

Project 366 - The Trifecta

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.


Over the years, we’ve put together thematic posts having to do with musical numerology, and this month’s chapter of Project 366 explores this idea with an emphasis on the number three.

Three of a Kind

It shouldn’t be surprising that the number three has a special significance in art and art forms. The term triptych comes from the Greek adjective τρίπτυχον (triptukhon) which translates to "three-fold". You Mad magazine fans think of the “fold-in” back page, but that’s not quite what a triptych is.
A triptych is a work of art (usually a panel painting) that is divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. The middle panel is typically the largest and it is flanked by two smaller related works, although there are triptychs of equal-sized panels.

Wait a minute… A single work with three parts; there are many musical compositions that follow that pattern. Concertos and early symphonies are often laid out in three movements. Tick in the box!
It turns out that the “musical triptych form” finds its way not only in pieces in three sections – like Debussy’s La mer or Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain – but also in three works that we can think of as a “trilogy” as they have a very close kinship.

A good example of this would be Antonín Dvořák’s "Nature, Life and Love" trilogy of overtures: In Nature's Realm, Op. 91 ("Nature"), Carnival, Op. 92, (“Life”), and Othello, Op. 93 ("Love").

A better known group would be Ottorino Respighi’s “Roman Trilogy” of three separately conceived orchestral pieces penned between 1916-1928: the Fountains of Rome, the Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals. Same goes for a trio of early Haydn symphonies – the first three symphonies to be composed Prince Nikolaus Esterházy known as the "Morning," "Noon" and "Evening" trilogy.

Il Trittico

One musical triptych stands out, and it is part of our listener guides this month, and it is a very special three-act opera, or should we say a collection of three one-act operas by Giacomo Puccini: Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi. The work, Il trittico, received its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New-York City on 14 December 1918.

Puccini intended that the three should be performed as a set, "I very much dislike Trittico being given in bits", he once wrote. Today, it is quite common to see only one or two of the trittico operas performed in an evening, and sometimes one of them may be paired with another one-act opera by a different composer.

The trittico operas don’t have a true “common thread” – they are set in three different time periods, two are tragic and one is a comedy (Puccini’s only comedy, by the way). Though originally conceived as works inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, only Schicchi has remained true to the original intent. Other than being prototypical verismo operas, the only common ground between the trio is the presence of death – murder in tabarro, suicide in Angelica and a concealed death (and ensuing trickery) in Schicchi.

Your Listener Guides


Listener Guide #82 “Three Mendelssohn Trios”. Mendelssohn Brother and Sister combine for a trio of... trios.  (ITYWLTMT Podcast #180 - 9 Jan 2015)


Listener Guide #83 “Beethoven In Berlin”. Two Beethoven works that suggest the number three, the Triple concerto and the Eroica symphony (ITYWLTMT Podcast #238 - 27 Jan, 2017) 

Listener Guide #84 “Debussy Trilogies”. Carlo Maria Giulini conducts La mer and Nocturnes, two of Debussy’s best-known triptychs (Vinyl’s Revenge - 14 Mar 2017)


Listener Guide #85 “Respighi’s Roman Trilogy”. Charles Dutoit leads the Montreal Symphony in this early-digital recording of Respighi’s three evocative tone poems  (Vinyl’s Revenge #23 - 13 Dec 2016)


Listener Guide #86 “Die Tageszeiten”. Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band perform Haytdn’s Times of the Day trilogy of symphonies (ITYWLTMT #236 - 09 Dec, 2016

Listener Guide #87 - 89 “Puccini: Il Trittico”. Created at the Met in 1918, Il Trittico (The triptych) is a collection of three one-act operas. These performances, introduced by Sean Bianco, were overseen by the Swedish conductor of Italian birth, Lamberto Gardelli conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. (Once or Twice a Fortnight - 9 February 2017)

L/G #87 “Il Tabarro”. [Synopsis and Libretto
L/G #88 “Suor Angelica”. [Synopsis and Libretto

L/G #89 “Gianni Schicchi”.  [Synopsis and Libretto