Joan Trimble

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Joan Trimble (18 June 1915 – 6 August 2000) was an Irish composer and pianist, and one of the most distinguished musicians to come from Ulster in the 20th century. She studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music in London, and she and her sister performed for many years as a celebrated piano duo. In later years she inherited her father's newspaper and became its proprietor and editor.

Education and career[edit]

Joan Trimble was born in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh[1] (now Northern Ireland), a daughter of William Egbert Trimble, the proprietor of one of Ulster's best-known regional newspapers, and Marie Dowse[2] from Dublin. Joan grew up in an intensely musical household: her mother was a distinguished solo violinist from a famous Dublin family of musicians, from which all eleven children had attended the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and her father was a talented musician, a fine bass-baritone and a noted collector of folksong.[3] She attended Enniskillen Royal School for Girls and was the school's first Head Girl.[4] In 1931, Joan and her sister Valerie (1917–1980), commenced studies at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin.[4]

Joan studied composition with John F. Larchet and won a scholarship to the University of Dublin, from where she graduated with a BA degree in 1936.[4] She was awarded piano, violin and composition scholarships [5] and studied piano with Annie Lord and music at Trinity College Dublin (BA 1936, BMus 1937). In 1936, the tenor John McCormack chose her to play piano solos during one of his tours.[3] She moved to London and joined her sister at the Royal College of Music,[4] where her mentor was the Australian composer and pianist Arthur Benjamin, and where she studied composition with two of England's leading composers, Herbert Howells and Ralph Vaughan Williams.[6]

Joan composed a total of twenty-four works in a creative career of twenty years, sixteen of them in the period 1937-1943, including Buttermilk Point (1938), settings of Irish folksong (1939-40), and the Sonatina for Two Pianos (1940);[3] and a further six, including The Heather Glen (1949) and a Suite for Strings (1951), in the period 1949-1953. Her Phantasy for Piano trio (1940), which she wrote at the suggestion of Vaughan Williams,[3] won the Cobbett Prize for chamber music and the Sullivan Prize for composition.[5] The County Mayo (1949) was an unusual combination of two pianos and baritone voice which had been suggested by the singer Robert Irwin.[7] Commissions for the BBC included Ulster Airs (1939–40) for the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra, and Erin Go Bragh, a march-rhapsody for brass band (1943). Her setting for voice and orchestra, How Dear to Me the Hour, won the Radio Éireann Centenary Prize in 1953.[8]

In 1957, the BBC commissioned an opera from her, and she chose the 1924 Blind Raftery by Donn Byrne (1889-1928), the story of a wandering Irish bard set in the west of Ireland in the 17th century.[7] She asked Cedric Cliffe, who had worked with Arthur Benjamin, to write the libretto.[7] It was the second opera commissioned by the BBC for television, the first having been the one-act Manana in 1956 by Benjamin, Trimble's piano teacher at the Royal College of Music;[7] and it was the first television opera written by a female composer[9]

Between 1959 and 1977 Trimble was professor of accompaniment and musicianship at the Royal College of Music,[3] for ten years after 1967 commuting between London and Enniskillen.

Joan Trimble married in June 1942 in London, John Greenwood Gant (1917–2000),[10] a Royal Army Medical Corps officer,[4] with whom she had a son and two daughters.[3]

Piano duo[edit]

Trimble first gained notice performing in a piano duo with her sister Valerie. Their partnership had a long and distinguished history,[5] having won first prize at a Belfast music competition in 1925.[11] Joan later composed works for two pianos which they performed together, including the Sonatina (1940). They gave their first professional recital as a duo in the evening of September 28, 1938, at the Royal College of Music in London, as war was about to be declared with Germany. One of their audience said he had come to hear them "as it might be the last music he would ever hear."[12] They performed three of Joan's new compositions, Buttermilk Point, The Bard Of Lisgoole and The Humours of Carrick,[7] Arnold Bax's Irish tone-poem for two pianos, Moy Mell,[13] and the four-hand Jamaican Rumba, which had been composed for them by Arthur Benjamin for their debut performance.[4] It was Benjamin who had encouraged Joan and her sister, whose principal instrument was the cello, to play piano together, and this piece became their signature tune.[3]

During the second world war, the sisters worked as volunteer nurses for the Red Cross in London and were regular performers on the BBC, at Dame Myra Hess's National Gallery lunchtime concerts and at the BBC's promenade concerts. The first of their many Prom appearances was in 1943, and their piano duets were broadcast for many years in the weekly BBC radio series 'Tuesday Serenade'. Their repertoire was wide and included Arnold Cooke, Dallapiccola, and Stravinsky, and they premièred the two-piano concertos of Arthur Bliss and Lennox Berkeley. In the early 1950s, they gave the British première of one of Mendelssohn's concertos for two pianos, the A-flat.[3]

The sisters also performed modern music, including works by Stravinsky, Dallapiccola, Arthur Bliss and Lennox Berkeley, and they continued to perform in public until 1970. [14]


Trimble was honoured by the Royal College of Music in 1960 and by Queen's University Belfast in 1983. From 1981 to 1985 she was on the board of Ulster Television, and from 1983 to 1988 she was a member of the advisory committee of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. In 1985 she received the rarely-bestowed fellowship of the Royal Irish Academy of Music.[3] Also in 1985, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a concert to celebrate her 70th birthday, which included the first performance since 1957 of her composition for baritone and two pianos, The County Mayo.[15]

In 1990, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland commissioned Three Diversions for Wind Quintet from her for her 75th birthday.[5]

Musical style[edit]

Joan Trimble's music was conservative for her time and was always well crafted. She had a deep and scholarly interest in Irish traditional music and there was an innate Irish quality to her writing.[3]

Her work combined the impressionist harmonic language she had learned since her studies with Annie Lord with melodic and rhythmic inflections derived from Irish traditional music. Her arrangements of Irish traditional airs for two pianos did not differ stylistically from her original compositions. She said that she wrote her music with regard neither to schools nor period. "Shape and form, rhythm and clarity, as well as freedom of expression, are all important. I am free to be myself regardless of fashion."[4]

Her most advanced music was contained in the Sonatina for two pianos (1940) and the impressive song cycle The County Mayo (1949). The Irish idiom which informed her distinctive style gave her music a rhythmic and rhapsodic quality, and her compositions conveyed something of the colour and clarity of French music. [5]

Later life and death[edit]

After the death of her father in 1967, she became managing director of the family firm and took over the running of his newspaper, The Impartial Reporter, in Enniskillen, the fourth generation of her family to do so. She remained its proprietor and editor until her death, when she was succeeded by her daughter.[3]

She was an active managing director, in the ten years after 1967 commuting between London, where she was teaching, and Enniskillen; and she became involved in local journalism and wrote for the paper, including a weekly column devoted to the history of the district.[4] In 1977, she retired from her position at the Royal College of Music to concentrate on the Reporter. [3]

She gained fresh attention in the 1990s when she was commissioned for a new composition[16] and the first recordings of her music appeared. She died in Enniskillen on 6 August 2000, at the age of 85,[3] two weeks after the death of her husband.[17][18]


In 2002, the Joan Trimble Awards Scheme was established by her family in her memory, and administered by the Fermanagh Trust "in recognition of her lifelong commitment to County Fermanagh". The purpose of the scheme was to encourage and support the involvement of young people in creativity, the performing arts and Irish culture, and to provide bursaries for training and education.[19]

In 2012, Fermanagh County Museum staged an exhibition titled "Buttermilk Point: The Musical Life of Joan Trimble, 1915–2000". [3]

On 18 June 2015, "Music in Fermanagh" presented A Celebration Concert as part of the Joan Trimble Centenary Celebration at the Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen.[20][21]



List derived from Jamieson (2013), see Bibliography.


  • Celtic Keyboards: Duets by Irish Composers, performed by Bruce Posner & Donald Garvelmann (pianos), on: Koch International Classics 3-7287-2 H1 (CD, 1994). Contains: Sonatina, The Gartan Mother's Lullaby, The Heather Glen, The Bard of Lisgoole, Buttermilk Point, The Green Bough, The Humours of Carrick.
  • Silver Apples of the Moon – Irish Classical Music, performed by Irish Chamber Orchestra, Fionnuala Hunt (cond.), on: Black Box Music BBM 1003 (CD, 1997). Contains: Suite for Strings.
  • Joan Trimble: Two Pianos – Songs and Chamber Music, performed by Patricia Bardon (mezzo), Joe Corbett (baritone), Una Hunt (piano), Roy Holmes (piano), Dublin Piano Trio, on: Marco Polo 8.225059 (CD, 1999). Contains: The Cows are a-milking, A Gartan Mother's Lullaby, The Heather Glen, My Grief on the Sea, Green Rain, Girl's Song, Sonatina, Pastorale (Hommage à F. Poulenc), Phantasy Trio, Puck Fair, The Green Bough, The County Mayo, Buttermilk Point, The Bard of Lisgoole, The Humours of Carrick.
  • Phantasy Trio, performed by Fidelio Trio, on: RTÉ lyric fm CD 153 (CD, 2016).
  • The Pool Among the Rushes, performed by John Finucane (clarinet) and Elisaveta Blumina (piano), on: Genuin GEN 18495 (CD, 2018).
  • Green Rain; Girl's Song; My Grief on the Sea, performed by Carolyn Dobbin (mezzo) & Iain Burnside (piano), on: Delphian Records DCD 34187 (CD, 2018).


  • Philip Hammond: "Woman of Parts: Joan Trimble", in: Soundpost 5 (1984–85), p. 24–7.
  • "Joan Trimble", in: Contemporary Music Review 9 (1994), pp. 277–84.
  • Axel Klein: Die Musik Irlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1996).
  • Lisa McCarroll: The Celtic Twilight as Reflected in the Two-Piano Works of Joan Trimble (1915–2000) (DMA dissertation, Moores School of Music, University of Houston, 2013).
  • Ruth Stanley: Joan Trimble (1915–2000) and the Issue of her 'Irish' Musical Identity (MA thesis, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, 2003; unpublished).
  • Alasdair Jamieson: "Trimble, Joan" and "Trimble, Valerie", in: The Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland, ed. by Harry White & Barra Boydell (Dublin: UCD Press, 2013), pp. 1008–09.
  • Alasdair Jamieson: Music in Northern Ireland. Two Major Figures: Havelock Nelson (1917–1996) and Joan Trimble (1915–2000) (Tolworth, Surrey: Grosvenor House Publishing, 2017); ISBN 978-1-78623-977-8.


  1. ^ Ireland Civil Registration Births Index 1864-1958: Joan TRIMBLE; Sept quarter 1915, Enniskillen; vol 2, pg. 57.
  2. ^ Ireland Civil Registration Births Index 1864-1958: Marie DOWSE, June quarter 1887, Dublin; vol 2, p673. ('Maria' in index)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Pine, Richard; Acton, Charles (15 August 2000). "Obituary: Joan Trimble". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 June 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Dictionary of Ulster Biography: Joan Trimble, Musician; newspaper proprietor, 1915–2000". Retrieved 26 June 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Grove Music Online: Trimble, Joan; published 2001". Retrieved 27 June 2023.
  6. ^ Klein (1996), p. 466; see Bibliography.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Eulogies: Joan Trimble". Contemporary Music Review. 11 (1): 277–284. 1994. doi:10.1080/07494469400641201. Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  8. ^ "Grove Music: Trimble, Joan". 2001. Retrieved 27 June 2023.
  9. ^ Radio Times Issue 1749, 19 May 1957, pp. 6, 17, Accessed 16 December 2020.
  10. ^ FreeBmd [1] GRO Marriage Indexes England & Wales 1916–2007; June quarter 1942, Chelsea, 1a 839; TRIMBLE, Joan marr. GANT, John G.
  11. ^ Jamieson (2013), p. 1008; see Bibliography.
  12. ^ "Talk given by Irish Composer Joan Trimble, 1983". Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  13. ^ "Talk given by Irish Composer Joan Trimble, 1983". Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  14. ^ Alex Burns. "Joan Trimble: The Green Bough". Retrieved 13 November 2023.
  15. ^ "Talk given by Irish Composer Joan Trimble, 1983". Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  16. ^ Joan Trimble Obituary, the Daily Telegraph,, accessed 16 December 2020.
  17. ^ "Announcements: Deaths". The Daily Telegraph. 26 July 2000. p. 28.
  18. ^ "Obituary: Joan Trimble". The Daily Telegraph. 12 August 2000. p. 25.
  19. ^ "The Fermanagh Trust Joan Trimble Awards". Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  20. ^ "THE JOAN TRIMBLE CENTENARY CELEBRATION: A Celebration Concert". 23 February 2015. Archived from the original on 9 June 2015. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  21. ^ Baron, Alexander (11 June 2015). "The Joan Trimble Centenary". The Latest News. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  22. ^ "The Fermanagh Trust Joan Trimble Awards". Retrieved 29 July 2023.

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