Beyond the Notes:

Triptych (2011) is a short work for solo guitar in three movements. Nell Shaw Cohen composed the piece for guitarist Devin Ulibarri, who premiered it in May 2011.

A Form of Visual Art

Triptych (pronounced “trip-tik”) is a term from visual art describing an artwork divided into three sections that are displayed as a group. Triptych structures have appeared in a variety of genres of art, including Japanese woodblock prints like Hiroshige's Setsugekka, and they were especially popular in European Medieval and early Renaissance religious art. European triptychs were usually painted or carved wood or ivory panels connected by hinges for standing or folding, and would have two narrow panels flanking a larger, contrasting middle panel.

Flip through the gallery below to see three examples of triptychs from different genres of art. (Click the little "i" in the upper lefthand corner to see a description of each of the images.)

The Music

"My three-movement piece for solo guitar reflects the structural model of a triptych. The first movement parallels the third in overall tempo, density, tonality, and duration, and contains similar musical devices (e.g., the ongoing use of droning upper strings).

Listen to an excerpt from the first movement:

Listen to an excerpt from the third movement:

The second, middle movement is somewhat longer, slower, sparser, and more lyrical.

Listen to an excerpt from the second movement:

As a former rock guitarist with some (very minimal) experience with classical guitar performance, I chose to compose most of this piece on the instrument in order to achieve a "guitaristic" effect that would take advantage of the resonance of the open strings and explore the full register of the instrument."

--Nell Shaw Cohen