3 Trains
for viola and piano

John Oliver
John Oliver
Composition Date: 2000
Duration: 00:03:00
Genre: Strings (bowed), + Keyboard, Viola


Instrumentation Set Number 1:
  • 1 x Piano
  • 1 x Viola
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Programme Note:
3 Trains evokes the experience of listening to trains from a distance, from across the valley, across the lake, over the field, rather than the noisy experience of standing near the engines and cars that squeak and grind. If you have ever sat quietly in a park, in your back yard, or on a porch, listening to distant trains, then you are ready to play and hear this piece.

About a month after Ian Hampton invited me to write a work for cello and piano, he called to let me know that he had been listening to trains a lot lately, usually in the wee hours, and that he'd like to fax a page of chords he had jotted down in the middle of the night. And so he did.

I have lived within earshot of trains at various point of my life, and especially during the seven years before writing this piece. So these train sounds were already familiar to me. However, I was particularly taken by the echo that Ian spoke about.

So a few weeks after I started writing the music, I set out to Ian's neighbourhood to hear what he had been hearing. When I arrived at Belcarra Park near Ian's house, it was 6:00 on a chilly summer morning, clouds hugging the horizon to the east where the sun was rising. I could hear and identify most sounds in the dead quiet of that hour. After listening for twenty minutes to birds awaking and the lapping of water, I heard a low rumble, very distant at first, then louder, then, finally, the West Cost Express horn, short toots, then longer ones. The echo across the water of Burrard Inlet came just over one second after each toot.

It is this very quiet listening experience that I want to capture in the first of these pieces, Midnight Train. I use the grand piano's middle pedal extensively in this and the third piece to create the echo effect. The second piece, Train of Thought is a melody I sang and wrote down as I played the piano accompaniment over and over again. It is similar in intention to the 13th century troubadour alba, or "dawn song" The third piece returns to a representation of the train horns as well as the locomotion sound in the circular phrase that the cello repeats over and over The last section is a jazzy celebration of trains.


  • Call Number:
  • MI 3212 O48tr
  • Genre:
  • Strings (bowed), + Keyboard, Viola
  • Date of Acquisition:
  • January 26, 2007
  • Type:
  • Print-music, Published by CMC
  • Physical Description:
  • 1 score (15 p.) ; 32 cm.
    15 Pages
    Height: 32 cm
    Width: 24 cm
    Parts page count: 6
    1 part (6 p.) ; 32 cm.
    Height: 32 cm
  • Additional Information:
  • Viola, piano
    NB originally written for cello and piano
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3 Trains for viola and piano by John Oliver (Score and Parts)
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3 Trains for Viola and Piano: Score
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3 Trains for Viola and Piano: Score and Parts
Score and Parts
(downloadable PDF)
3 Trains for viola and piano by John Oliver (Score)
Printed on demand
3 Trains for viola and piano
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