Piano Trio in C Hob XV no. 27 Haydn (1732 – 1809)
Haydn visited London at the invitation of the impresario Salomon in 1790, and again in 1794-95, where he had great success, and composed the set of London symphonies. It was there that he became a friend of the celebrated pianist Therese Jansen, and was a witness at her wedding to Gaetano Bartolozzi in 1795. Therese had studied with Clementi and, to judge from the works written for her, evidently possessed a formidable technique. In addition to three piano sonatas, Haydn dedicated to her the three piano trios Hob XV nos 27-29, published in London in 1797. Like Mozart, Haydn’s lifetime spanned the transition from the harpsichord to the piano, and these late works show how well he had mastered composition for the new instrument. Unlike the string quartets, which in his maturity revel in the equality of the four instruments, the description on the title page of the trios as for piano with the accompaniment of violin and cello makes it quite clear who is the boss!
The C major trio’s first movement opens with a delicious flourish, and sparkling piano sextuplets are contrasted with the graceful semi-quavers of the second subject. The middle movement’s gentle sweetness is set around a dramatic central section in the minor. The last movement is a complete joy – a hybrid of rondo and sonata form, with a bouncy theme that warms the heart.
Last ACMC Performance: Trio Van der Golz – January 1967
Piano Trio no. 1 in D minor Arensky (1861 – 1906)
Scherzo: Allegro molto
Finale: Allegro non troppo
After studying with Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, Arensky was appointed professor of counterpoint and harmony at the Moscow Conservatoire, where Tchaikovsky became his mentor and friend. Subsequently he was Director of the Imperial Chapel, resigning only in 1901 to concentrate on composition. His early death from consumption was, it is said, hastened by a life-long addiction to drink and gambling. Although he wrote symphonies and operas, he is perhaps best known for his chamber music – you may remember that we heard his string quartet in March 2011. The first of his two piano trios was written in 1894, in memory of Karl Davidov (1838 – 1889), who had been head of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire when Arensky was a student, and who was a cellist of great renown, founder of the Russian school of cello playing. It is not surprising, then, that the cello plays a prominent role; in fact, the whole trio illustrates how in the 100 years since Haydn the balance between the instruments had shifted to give much greater importance to the strings, who often unite to share the melody, with the piano playing an accompanying part.
The first movement of the trio is built of three themes, the first dramatically stated on the violin, the second lyrical and the third more impetuous. The light-hearted scherzo plays with short stutters, pizzicatos, harmonics and cascading scales, while the central section is a rather louche waltz. The Elegia is the most overt tribute to Davidov, with the muted cello starting the melancholy theme, joined by the violin, while the piano murmurs an accompaniment. Roles switch in the slightly faster middle section, with the piano more dominant. The finale is a rondo, with two themes, the first vigorously striding, the second more gentle. There is a reference back to the central part of the Elegia, and the opening theme of the whole trio reappears near the end, to give a feeling of full circle.
First ACMC Performance
Piano Trio in F minor op. 65 Dvořák (1841 – 1904)
Allegro ma non troppo
Allegretto grazioso – meno mosso
Finale: Allegro con brio
Dvořák’s mother, to whom he was devoted, died in December 1882. Around the same time, the direction of Dvořák’s musical life was at a crisis, as he found himself torn between the temptations of a life as an internationally famous opera composer, and a growing awareness of his Czech national consciousness. The F minor trio was written in the spring of 1883 and according to Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music is “a magnificent work, unusually grave in character; the music unfolds itself in a kind of gloomy, passionate defiance.” Given his circumstances, perhaps the sense of conflict and distress is not so surprising.
The first movement is of almost symphonic dimensions, the opening theme first stated pianissimo by the strings alone, but soon broadening into defiance. The secondary themes are more subdued, and there are happier moments, for example a little section with a rhythmic structure of dotted quavers and semi-quavers. The second movement, essentially a scherzo, has a motif of alternating crotchets and pairs of quavers, set against persistent triplets, and perhaps shows most strongly the influence of folk-music. In contrast, its dreamy central section has more than a nod towards the Austro-Hungarian school of Dvořák’s older friend and supporter Brahms. The poco adagio is deeply felt with a yearning cello theme, and an innocent second subject introduced by the strings in canon. It has a more martial middle section, where perhaps inspiration flags a little – “rarely can so many purposeless demi-semiquavers have been packed into so few bars”. However, the last movement is a Furiant of tremendous verve, with a waltz as second subject. Dvořák seems to be back to his old self again!
Last ACMC Performance: the Gould Piano Trio – December 1994