Piano Trio in G K56 Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Theme and Variations: Andante
In the year 1788, when he was 32, Mozart composed his last three great symphonies, including the “Jupiter”, K551. In the same year he also completed his last three piano trios, of which K564 in G major is the second. Perhaps originally conceived as a piano sonata, with the violin and cello parts added later, it is straightforwardly delightful, tuneful and polished. It does though show evidence of experimentation both in the growing importance of the violin and cello parts, and in its proportions, as the middle movement is longer than both the other two.
After an attention-grabbing chord, the first movement opens with the piano playing above long-held notes on the other instruments, but they soon take over, especially in the second subject, and just listen to the cello in the recapitulation. The slow movement is a set of six variations on a simple theme, first heard on the piano. The variations follow a familiar form, with the strings playing the theme, and then the cello in a moment of glory. They then move to the minor, before the jolly last variation and its charming coda. The final movement is a lilting rondo in 6/8 time, with some delicious chromatic touches.
Last ACMC Performance: the Mondrian Piano Trio – January 1986
Piano Trio in A minor Ravel (1875 – 1937)
Pantoum: assez vif
Passacaille: très large
Ravel wrote little chamber music, and this, his only trio, is in many ways his most successful work for the genre. Completed in some haste in the early months of the first world war, it draws on the techniques developed in the string quartet of 1902, for example the use of tremulando, pizzicato and harmonics. The first movement is in 8/8 time, but the bars are subdivided into groups of 3-3-2 or 3-2-3, giving a lilting quality said to be derived from the folk-song of his Basque homeland. The second movement pantoum refers to a complex Malay verse form, where two distinct ideas are alternated and developed. Ravel and his contemporaries had been heavily influenced by the vogue for oriental culture which followed the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889. A central trio section introduces a broader melody, which contrasts with the development of the two pantoum themes, a brief staccato motif, and a surging three-bar phrase. The third movement is a slow Spanish dance on a ground theme. This is given out first as a single line deep in the bass of the piano, before being passed to the cello, then the violin, rising in pitch and dynamic to a climax, before sinking down to end as it began. The final movement is mainly in 5/4 time, and begins with a further oriental flavour. The main theme is repeated several times, in passages of almost orchestral intensity, interspersed with more gentle moments before the final frantic fortissimo.
Last ACMC Performance: the Fujita Piano Trio – December 2005
Piano Trio no. 2 in E flat op. 100 D929 Schubert (1797 – 1828)
Andante con moto
Scherzando: Allegro moderato
Schubert wrote two piano trios in the last years of his brief life. While the B flat trio (played for us in 2008 by the Kungsbacka Trio), was never performed in public during his lifetime, tonight’s E flat trio was part of the first and only all-Schubert concert given in Vienna on 26 March 1828, shortly before his death on 19 November. It was published by Probst in Leipzig in October 1828, and was the first of Schubert’s works to attract the attention of a foreign publisher. Schumann was very taken with it, describing it as “an angry meteor…which blazed forth and outshone everything in the musical atmosphere”, and considering it to be “more spirited, masculine and with a dramatic tone”, in comparison to the B flat trio which was “passive, lyrical and feminine”.
The first movement opens with a rousing unison, while the second subject is typically Schubertian, with quiet repeated notes on the piano and strings. After a development which pushes the boundaries of sonata form, slipping from key to key with a hint of threat, comes the recapitulation, rounded by a coda. The second movement is said to be based on a Swedish folk-song, The Sun has Set, which Schubert had heard recently at the house of a friend. It has a sombre, march-like accompaniment, and moments of lyrical sweetness. The scherzo, marked sempre piano, begins with the strings and piano in canon, and is followed by a foot-stamping trio. Schubert cut 99 bars from the last movement when he sent it to the publisher, and some have thought that even so it suffers from what Schumann called “Schubert’s heavenly length”. The perky theme in 6/8, like the last movement of the double cello quintet, is reminiscent of Viennese cafés. It is set against more mysterious sections in 2/4 time, and then in a stroke of genius the cello recalls the Swedish song of the second movement, giving stylistic unity to the piece. Schubert wrote: “This work is dedicated to nobody, save those who find pleasure in it. That is the most profitable dedication.” I must agree!
Last ACMC Performance:the Frankel/Pauk/Kirschbaum Piano Trio – December 1984