About this Recording
8.223430 - BERWALD: Piano Trio No. 4 / Piano Trio in C Major
English 

Franz Berwald (1796-1868)

Franz Berwald (1796-1868)

Piano Trios Volume 2

 

In the programme notes to Berwald's Piano Trios Nos. l, 2 and 3 (released on Marco Polo 8.223170), it was pointed out how 19th-century Sweden failed to recognize in him its most original and greatest symphonist. When his early works, including a Symphony in A Major from 1820 that survives now only in part, were first performed, the critics faulted the young composer for seeking mere originality and effect. They complained about his excessive and seemingly wayward modulations, melodic paucity, painful dissonance and a general impression of chaos--eccentricities that must have appeared all the more startling against the suffocating conventionality of Swedish musical life. A few critics admitted that he might have talent and urged him to follow the rules of composition. Many years later, in 1858, Franz Liszt advised, "You possess true originality but will have no success in your lifetime. Still, you must carry on in this way." Fortunately, that is precisely what Berwald had done all along.

 

In a burst of creativity between 1841 and 1845 Berwald composed the four symphonies and five symphonic poems on which his reputation rests. Thereafter he turned to chamber music, encouraged in part by his social activities in Stockholm from 1850 onward. In general the chamber music is more chromatic than the orchestral works, and that may be attributed to Spohr's influence. From Beethoven Berwald acquired a predilection for short motifs and insistent rhythmic patterns. His harmonic language is fresh and exciting; its newness lies not in the invention of things hitherto unheard but in a fascinating approach to existing resources. The area of structure is where Berwald made his boldest strides. As early as 1828 a quest for unity led him to enclose the scherzo within the slow movement of his Septet in B-flat Major, and he perfected the procedure in the Sinfonie singulière. The String Quartet in E-flat Major of 1849 represents the fullest attempt at integration. There the scherzo is encapsulated within the slow movement, which in turn is contained within the allegro, producing a unified structure consisting of an introduction and five connected sections.

 

The period of the mature chamber music, roughly from 1845 to 1858, produced two string quartets, two piano quintets, two duos, and five completed piano trios plus two fragments. As an experienced violinist and violist Berwald wrote idiomatically for the strings, and it is not surprising that the two string quartets of 1849 impress with their mastery. Strangely, the bulk of his chamber music consists of piano trios. Given his lack of pianistic expertise, no wonder his first attempt is fraught with the pitfalls of piano-and-string balance, a problem that has bedeviled most composers after Beethoven's and Schubert's time.

 

The Trio in C Major, which remained in manuscript until 1981, was presumably composed in 1845, the year in which Berwald produced his masterpiece, the Sinfonie singulière, and the great Symphony in E-flat Major. The first movement, in fairly regular sonata form, begins promisingly with an attractive Beethovenian theme in C major, followed by a second subject group in the expected dominant key. That consists of a languid, chromatic melody, a vigorous transitional passage and a descending motif with an inborn tendency to modulate. The development is straightforward with the transitional passage playing an unexpectedly large role. The first subject is not heard again after the development, and the recapitulation begins directly with the second subject in the tonic key. Berwald's proclivity for encasing the scherzo within the slow movement occurs again in the C major trio. The Adagio molto begins with a severe melody, relieved midway by a fleeting, songlike episode. A bridge passage with gossamer effects in the piano leads to a triple-time scherzo. The rhythmic momentum continues into a contrapuntal trio section. After the return of the scherzo proper, a truncated and modified reprise of the adagio closes the movement. The finale, Presto, follows without pause. It is the finest part of the trio for all its endearing quirkiness. For 141 bars Berwald throws out a succession of what appear to be introductory ideas. One is a fascinating ostinato with a full two-octave span. Together these seemingly introductory ideas form the first section of a ternary structure. The contrasting section is a whimsical march in E-flat major. Following the repeat of the opening material, condensed by about one third, the march returns briefly in C major to conclude the trio. Despite its many felicities, the trio has obvious flaws, most noticeably in the thick and awkward piano writing, which probably explains Berwald's apparent dissatisfaction and his withholding it from publication. But more about that later.

 

The fragment in E-flat major, dated 15 October 1849, is an entire first movement, complete but for a final cadence. It is the largest first movement of any Berwald trio, and its abandonment is cause for puzzlement and profound regret. It is lyrical, expansive and seamlessly constructed. There is a well controlled flow of ideas, and the first subject undergoes extensive development even before the exceptionally beautiful second theme makes its appearance. A sense of structural unity reigns over this beautifully shaped music, and furthermore, Berwald has solved his problems with the piano. The keyboard writing is expressive, dramatically integrated and well balanced with the strings. Whatever the reason for not completing this fine work, Berwald salvaged the 13-bar introduction as the beginning of an entirely new trio. Completed in 1849 and published as Trio No. 1 in E-flat Major, it is generally regarded as his finest.

 

In the absence of firm dating, the assumption is that around 1850 Berwald attempted to revise the C major trio of 1845. This fragmentary revision begins with the string parts in mid air, and the piano part shows a relationship to the gossamer transition between the 1845 adagio and scherzo. How and where the 1850 fragment would have connected to the 1845 allegro is conjectural. It is certain that Berwald was in search of greater unity, because the new material is in C major and not in the dominant G major of the original; there is a precedent for just such a tonal scheme in the E-flat major string quartet. After 25 bars of adagio the C major fragment goes into a triple-time scherzo that is a marked improvement over the one it was meant to replace. It is fleet and assured, and it lacks the rather academic counterpoint of the earlier scherzo. An interesting detail is the introduction of a marchlike passage that occurs twice, the second time leading into 14 bars of the finale, identical to the 1845 version but for a simplification of the piano part.

 

Having completed the Trio No. 2 in F Minor and the Trio No. 3 in D Minor during 1851, Berwald returned once more around 1853 to the unfinished business of the C major trio. Instead of further revision, he composed in effect a new work based in part on the earlier material. Although brought to completion, it was only published posthumously in 1896 as Trio No. 4. It comprises three sections corresponding to allegro, slow movement (without scherzo) and finale, notated as one continuous span. The form is free, hinting at but not conforming to classical design. Replacing the 1845 sonata-allegro, the opening section begins with a new theme derived in part from an ascending motif in the 1845 finale. The intent is obviously to unify the new trio. A descending nine-note motif, which signals transitions in this movement, announces the second subject in the expected G major, then returns, followed by a restatement of the second subject a tone higher. A third theme, broadly lyrical and vaguely suggestive of Borodin, enters on the cello. There follows a development of the first subject, after which the descending motif ushers in a delicate piano solo that prefigures the slow movement. But first the third theme returns, encapsulating a descending episode that derives from the second subject group of the original 1845 allegro. Modulation to G major marks the beginning of the adagio, a lovely movement composed of several elements, one taken from the 1845 trio, where it occurs immediately before the gossamer transition to the scherzo. (Interestingly, this same motif can be heard twice in the E-flat major fragment.) Another familiar idea is the "octaves ostinato" from the 1845 finale, employed here as a unifying device. The finale is the only movement that survives in recognizable form from the first version. Much of the first section material is similar to the original, but one idea has been replaced by the marchlike motif from the discarded 1850 scherzo. The central E-flat march is considerably and skillfully elaborated, but the shape of the finale is basically unchanged. The initial section returns, modified and shortened, and the march reappears briefly in the tonic key before a grandly resounding conclusion. As much as one can admire Berwald's skill in reworking his material into the highly polished trio of 1853, that in no way diminishes the joy to be found in the original trio's raw and wonderfully quirky freshness. Each has its claim to legitimacy.

 

Kalman Drafi

 

Kalman Drafi was born in 1955 and started to play the piano at the age of four. Six years later he entered the Béla Bartók Conservatory in Budapest and at the age of fourteen became a student at the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy in the same city. He spent two years as a pupil of Bella Davidova at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow and in 1976 won the major award in the Liszt-Bartók Piano Competition. Since 1977 he has been a member of the teaching staff of the Liszt Academy.

 

Jozsef Modrian

 

Jozsef Modrian was born in Budapest in 1962 and completed his violin studies at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in 1985. He is concertmaster of the Hungarian State Orchestra and leader of the corresponding chamber orchestra.

 

György Kertész

 

Born in 1963, György Kertész studied music in Budapest, graduating at the Ferenc Liszt Academy. In 1986 he won the Budapest David Popper Cello Competition and enjoys an active career, particularly as a chamber music player, with a number of recordings to his credit in Hungary and abroad.


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