The Year Without a Summer
for piano trio (2009)
duration: 15’
GRT • 148

YouTube (2nd movement)

CD available
800 Million Heartbeats

ABC Classics

score available from
Australian Music Centre

program note
I: 1815 – And then the Sky was filled with Ash
II: 1816 –
The Year Without a Summer

The eruption in 1815 of Mt. Tambora on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa was over four times as big as the eruption of Krakatoa later that century but perhaps not as well known. The ash and dust thrown up into the earth’s upper atmosphere further resulted in ‘the year without a summer’ in 1816. This was by all accounts a devastating ecological event that caused unseasonal cold temperatures and widespread famine.

The first movement of this trio is short and fast. It imagines a dark cloud of dust approaching from the distance, not knowing where it came from. Did it seem a premonition? How long did they think it would last? The longer second movement shifts forward to 1816 and contemplates the upheaval of people’s lives – of having their world turned upside down in one way or another and having to regroup and adjust to new circumstances.

The Year Without a Summer, a new commission from Australian Stuart Greenbaum based on an 1816 volcanic eruption and its effects, promised a contrast to the preceding works. The fast, spidery figures of the opening aside, the work wears Greenbaum’s pop influences on its sleeve and is marked by an economy of material. There are some decidedly beautiful moments, none more so than the solo that opens the contemplative second movement, ably handled in this performance by cellist Ashley Brown.”
Samuel Holloway, The Lumiere Reader (NZ), April 2010

“The trio had worked with Stuart Greenbaum in the formative stages of the second commissioned work, the very topical The Year Without a Summer which depicts a volcanic eruption and the ominous approach of the ash cloud, then its catastrophic aftermath. The work was full of energy and emotion, haunting lyricism and dramatic effects, executed with a passion and skill that left the audience amazed and applauding enthusiastically.”
Anne Bovett, Taranaki Daily News (NZ), April 2010

"Stuart Greenbaum’s The Year without a Summer appeared topical as the inspiration of the work was a volcanic eruption in 1815. The opening was explosive, pithy and full of energy, with darkness encroaching. The cold is captured well by the richness of the harmonic language and the melodic lines capture the melancholic moods as winter establishes itself. A lovely work; the NZTrio’s performance captured the essence. The piece should become standard trio repertoire."
Andrew Buchanan–Smart, The Waikato Times, April 2010

“The second piece, The Year without a Summer, by Stuart Greenbaum attempted a portrayal of the huge volcanic eruption in 1815 of Mount Tambora in Indonesia which dimmed the skies in the following year around the world. Though it sounded often like the work of a gifted improviser, its meditative character suggested some musical inspiration. Without attempting to relate its phases to the event and its effects, the music was better constructed, stood on its own feet without the need of its narrative, and revealed a composer of considerable sophistication.”
Lindis Taylor, Middle C Classical Music Reviews (NZ), April 2010

“For me, the most challenging piece on the programme was Australian Stuart Greenbaum's The Year Without A Summer. Its theme was so topical - the eruption in 1815 of Mt Tambora in Indonesia, more than four times as big as the eruption of Krakatoa in the same century. The resulting ash cloud was so suffocating there was no summer the following year.

The first movement rose to a huge crescendo - full of ominous descending scale passages, pedalled vibrations from the piano, and devastating agitation. One could imagine the terrifying approach of the ash cloud. Then came a dramatic moment of crushing silence, with an unreal resonating rumble from within the piano, Watkins scraping her fingernails along the piano strings.

The second movement was introduced by the cello. A response of desolation and hopeless reflection on the powers of planet Earth. The piece ended with an eerie stillness and a stunning unresolved chord.

Congratulations, New Zealand Trio. A meaningful combination of contemporary and traditional chamber music.”

Margot Hannigan, The Nelson Mail (NZ), April 2010

“The other new piece, Stuart Greenbaum's The Year Without a Summer, benefited from the ongoing trans Tasman Composer Exchange Programme, which has allowed close contact between performers and composer. The first part of the work had the NZTrio showing its mettle in a driving, rhythmic style, while the more reflective music that followed was transparently simple in its conception and delicately rendered by the musicians.”
William Dart, New Zealand Herald, April 2010

"Stuart Greenbaum's The Year Without a Summer gives us, in music, the 1815 eruption of Mt Tambora, in Indonesia, starting with the eruption and, in its second movement, giving us the "year without a summer" of 1816. It has some effective moments"
John Button, Dominion Post, Wellington (NZ), April 2010

“Australian composer Stuart Greenbaum's The Year Without a Summer was on a topical theme inspired by volcanic eruption. The piece was given a convincing, highly expressive and committed performance which had immediate audience appeal and clearly summed up the composer’s written description of the music.”
Peter Williams, Hawke’s Bay Today (NZ), April 2010

“The second commissioned work comes from Australian composer Stuart Greenbaum. The Year without a Summer describes an eruption in Indonesia 200 years ago which devastated land and people. A scene of panic, of either dashing figures or falling fiery rock, rhythmically disjointed yet focused, is interrupted by the cataclysmic event - here a rasp of nail on the lower piano strings left to resound till a cello solo sounds a lament. The work is less than foreboding, but beautifully lyric; it’s themes folk-like and highly memorable.”
Marian Pool, Otago Daily Times (NZ), May 2010

“The other recent, but interesting work by Australian Stuart Greenbaum, The Year Without a Summer is a pictorial piece in two parts, referring to the huge 1815 eruption of Mt Tambora in Indonesia. Part 1, 1815, depicts the roar and rumble of the eruption and the fast approaching ash cloud in the sky and, Part II, 1816, reflects on the effects on people and the environment in the subsequent year when there was no real summer. There were some interesting ideas, in a filmic, picaresque way.”
Garth Wilshere, Capital Times, Wellington (NZ), May 2010