- Trio in E-flat major for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Op. 70, No. 2 (1808)
Poco sostenuto—Allegro ma non troppo
Allegretto ma non troppo
Juho Pohjonen, piano • Paul Huang, violin • Jakob Koranyi, cello
--INTERMISSION (discussion with the artists)--
Ludwig van Beethoven (Bonn, 1770 - Vienna, 1827)
Beethoven wrote the Op. 70 set of two piano trios in 1808 and dedicated them to the Hungarian countess Anna Marie Erdödy. The composer had been living in a series of short-term lodgings in and around Vienna, sometimes on his own, sometimes in the homes of the aristocracy. For a period in 1808, he lived with Countess Erdödy, an amateur pianist, and he dedicated these two trios to her for her generosity. Beethoven was close friend with the countess—he gave her the curious nickname Beichtvater (father confessor) because she was so sympathetic to his struggle with his deafness and his desire to secure a steady salary. This trio premiered in December with Beethoven at the piano and was published the following year.
The second of the two Op. 70 trios is very different from the first, the famous “Ghost” Trio. The Ghost Trio is built on unpredictable contrasts—a sprawling, almost uncanny slow movement flanked by two fast movements—while the second trio is surprisingly calm, cool, and collected. The second trio’s four movements have very little in the way of tension or strife. This is Beethoven at his sweetest, a very unusual mood for the malcontent composer. Maybe he felt this was the only surprise left after the unexplored territory of the Ghost Trio.
For all its surface serenity, the piece is full of interesting creative twists.
For all its surface serenity, the piece is full of interesting creative twists. In the first movement, the slow introduction returns numerous times as an integral part of the piece, feeling like a sort-of repose, a meditative break in the action. The second movement is a set of double variations. Two contrasting melodies are played—one in C major and one in C minor—and then the variations alternate between them. The third movement isn’t exactly a dance and it’s certainly not a scherzo. In a nostalgic look back at the Classical style of Mozart and Haydn, a poised, regal melody surrounds a hesitant dance, as if remembered in a dream. A finale with plenty of virtuosity in the piano ends this less-common display of Beethoven’s brighter side.
Johannes Brahms (Hamburg, 1833 - Vienna, 1897)
Brahms wrote this piano trio, his first published piece of chamber music, right after his initial brush with fame. He was a little-known 20-year-old in 1853 when an introduction to Robert and Clara Schumann opened a new world for him. He spent a few weeks with the Schumanns, playing his compositions, meeting their inner circle, and discussing art. By the end of his visit, Robert recommended Brahms to his publisher, Breitkopf & Härtel, and he wrote a flowery article heralding Brahms’ talent:
“I have thought… someone must and would suddenly appear, destined to give ideal presentation to the highest expression of the time, who would bring us his mastership not in process of development, but springing forth like Minerva fully armed from the head of Jove. And he is come, a young blood by whose cradle graces and heroes kept watch. He is called Johannes Brahms…”
Robert’s words echoed through the German music world, inciting interest, curiosity, and plenty of animosity toward the unknown Brahms. In turn, Brahms was terrified—suddenly he had a huge reputation to live up to.
Robert’s words echoed through the German music world, inciting interest, curiosity, and plenty of animosity toward the unknown Brahms. In turn, Brahms was terrified—suddenly he had a huge reputation to live up to. The B major Trio was the first work Brahms completed in the harsh glare of his new-found fame. When he finished it in January 1854, little did he know his life was about to change forever. In February Robert attempted suicide by jumping in the Rhine River and was institutionalized. Brahms rushed to support a devastated Clara, staying near the Schumanns’ home in Dusseldorf for months. Brahms and Clara Schumann developed strong feelings toward each other during that stressful time. Still, even with Robert gone, life continued and their home remained a busy meeting place for musicians. In mid-April, Clara read through the trio with two friends. She gave it her approval and recommended it to Breitkopf & Härtel, who published it later that year. It came out as Brahms’ opus 8, his first larger published work after a series of piano solos and songs. Brahms and Clara Schumann remained friends and confidants for the rest of their lives.
Thirty-five years later, Brahms’ early Breitkopf & Härtel works were acquired by another publisher and he had a chance to edit this trio. He took the opportunity to make major changes, writing to Clara Schumann, “I have written my B major Trio once more.” The changes were extensive in every movement but the scherzo, which has a lively staccato motive impulsively skipping around and through a lyrical middle section. In the other three movements, Brahms kept the main theme and thoroughly revise the following music. He shortened the piece, tightened the forms, and cut out quotations of a Schubert song in the third movement and a Beethoven song in the fourth, presumably considering such references childish. The revised version is almost exclusively performed today. It is passionate but controlled, and there is no sense of disparate parts—the revised sections are integrated seamlessly. A hybrid of Brahms’ youth and maturity, this trio is a fervent and tightly unified product of the arc of Brahms’ long career.
Notes by Laura Keller, CMS Editorial Manager
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