It’s pretty safe to say that the Onyx Trio would not exist if it wasn’t for the revolutionary Sonate pour flûte, alto et harpe by Claude Debussy. It was the French master who came up with this incredibly original combination of instruments as part of a cycle of works that, tragically, was never completed. In 1915 Debussy set out to write a series of six sonatas for various combinations of instruments. By this point in his life Debussy was in a dark place: he was bitter, he was dying of cancer, and he was incredibly depressed by the onset of war. Of the six sonatas, Debussy completed only three before his death in 1918: the Sonata for cello and piano (1915); the Sonata for flute, viola, and harp (1916); and the Sonata for violin and piano (1917). What is arguably more interesting are the three final works that were never written: a sonata for oboe, horn, and harpsichord; a sonata for clarinet, trumpet, bassoon, and piano; and a final sonata that combined the instrumentation of the previous five sonatas. We can only guess what these last three works would have sounded like (can you imagine Debussy writing for harpsichord?).
We’re lucky that Debussy’s trio for flute, viola, and harp inspired many composers of the 20th and 21st centuries to write for these unlikely (yet remarkably successful) bedfellows — and Onyx will be exploring some of these works in the coming weeks. On January 21st, 2015, we presented a concert of three incredibly diverse works at Kwantlen Polytechnic University: Garden of Joy and Sorrow by the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina; And Then I Knew T’was Wind by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu; and finally Debussy’s masterpiece, his Sonate pour flûte, alto et harpe. This programme will be presented twice more at the University of British Columbia and at Capilano University in North Vancouver. If you live near either of these areas, we invite you to hear this programme of incredibly beautiful and original works.