Piano Trio in B flat D28 Schubert
Allegro (1797 – 1828)
Schubert was only 15 when in 1812 he wrote this one-movement Sonatensatz for piano trio, although it was not published until 1923. His voice had recently broken, so that he had given up his activities as a choirboy with the Royal Chapel, and devoted his time to composition. He had also recently started taking lessons with Antonio Salieri (he of Mozart fame, although now much older). The year 1812 seems to have marked a burst of creativity: Schubert wrote at least four string quartets (some now lost) to play with his brothers and father at home, and a string trio, as well as this piano trio. It shows considerable assurance for one so young, although not surprisingly it draws heavily on classical models such as the piano trios of Haydn and Mozart. The exposition has been described as “amiably discursive”, and the development is rather inconsequential. However, this is the only work that Schubert wrote as a preparation for the two great late piano trios, late that is in terms of Schubert’s brief life, and it is interesting in that it shows such promise of what was to come.
First ACMC Performance
Piano Trio in C minor op. 1 no. 3 Beethoven
Allegro con brio (1770 – 1827)
Andante cantabile con Variazioni
Menuetto – Quasi Allegro
Finale – Prestissimo
Although Beethoven wrote several compositions during his student days, it was not until 1795 that his op. 1, three piano trios, was published. These were written during the two preceding years in Vienna. Beethoven had been taking lessons from Haydn, who was himself then experimenting with the piano trio form. Beethoven is recorded as saying to his friend Drouet ”My first three trios were not published in the form in which I originally wrote them … When a beginner I should have perpetrated the most egregious follies in composition but for Papa Haydn’s advice.” In spite of the debt to Haydn, Beethoven’s trios make their own contribution to the form. Where Haydn’s cello parts essentially double the bass line in the piano, here the three instruments take much more even parts, and while Haydn’s and Mozart’s trios have at most three movements (as seemed the accepted form for all chamber works with piano at the time), these of Beethoven’s all have four. The op. 1 trios were given as Beethoven’s debut as a composer, at an evening party at the house of Prince Lichnowsky to whom they are dedicated, and they immediately “commanded the most extraordinary attention”.
The C minor trio is considered to be the most significant of the three, although it was the one which least impressed Haydn, who went so far as to advise Beethoven not to publish it, leading to strained relationships for a time. It has been suggested that Haydn may have been embarrassed by the emotion displayed in the trio, finding it blatant and lacking in refinement. The unison opening of the first movement is restless and questioning, in contrast to the lyrical second subject. The andante already shows the composer’s skill in the imaginative transformations of the theme and of its harmonies. The menuetto in the minor has a charming trio in the major. The finale is turbulent, and full of dramatic contrasts, both of key and of dynamics.
Last ACMC Performance: the Gould Piano Trio, December 1994
Tea, coffee or juice, and biscuits are available for £1
Piano Trio no. 1 in B op. 8 Brahms
Allegro con brio (1833 – 1897)
Scherzo allegro molto – Trio meno allegro
The piano trio op. 8 was first published in 1854, when Brahms was only 21, and until the publication of the first string sextet in 1862 was the only piece of chamber music that the ultra-self-critical Brahms had allowed to appear in public. It is perhaps not surprising that in later years he became dissatisfied with this youthful effort, and in 1891 he undertook to revise it for his publisher Simrock. Brahms described this process in a letter to a friend: “I have – well, not stuck a wig on it, but at least combed its hair a little”. In fact something more like a complete re-styling took place, with only the scherzo and trio emerging almost unchanged. The major re-composition in each of the remaining three movements starts in each case at the transition to completely new second subjects, so that the whole of the rest of the movement is re-written. This “modernised” version, which we hear tonight, is still known as op. 8, Brahms insisting that it be described on publication only as a “New Edition”, although “in announcements you may add ‘completely revised and altered’, or anything you like”. We thus have a situation where there are two works, with the same opening and the same opus number, between which lie most of the remainder of Brahms’ chamber music and the development of his style!
The first sixty bars of the first movement are the original youthful warm melody, stated at first on the piano and cello. The triplet passage marks the join to the new material, which in the stormy development becomes fused with the first theme. The scherzo is built on a “horn-call” motif, first heard on the cello, and towards its end there is an ingenious “sneak preview” of the theme of the expansive trio. The recapitulation of the scherzo disintegrates into shimmering chords, which then become the opening chords of the chorale-like theme of the mysterious adagio. The finale begins with a sinister little waltz, before the fortissimo of the new four-square second subject.
Last ACMC Performance: the Gould Piano Trio, December 2001