The Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano was composed in 1988 while the composer was Mozart Fellow at Otago University. It was composed for Peter Adams (clarinet) and Judith Williams (cello) to play, along with the composer at the piano. The first performance took place in 1989, and the same ensemble recorded the work for radio later that year.
This work straddles a stylistic change in the composer’s output. The first and second movements still show the influence of Bartok, a composer Ritchie had studied for his Ph.D earlier in the 1980s. In the third movement, however, he experiments with minimalist techniques which he had become interested in during the year as Mozart Fellow. The first movement has a slow introduction, presenting an important motif which is developed in the faster main section that follows. A more lyrical secondary theme contrasts with the jerky first theme presented by the clarinet, and both themes are combined in the middle section. The cello plays a brooding theme over an ostinato, at the start of the second movement. It is decorated by the clarinet and the music builds to a powerful and sustained variation of the theme. In the middle, the angst is replaced by drifting, dreamy textures before the main theme returns. However, it becomes transformed by the dreamy texture at the end. A simple modal idea unfolds at the start of the finale and is developed throughout the movement in various different ways. The impetus of the music grows and it bursts into compund time in the middle section. When the piano becomes ‘stuck’ on a persistent figure the main theme returns and gradually grows into a broader and more lyrical statement. Following the climax the music quietly runs out of steam and stops.