About this Recording
8.570255 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Trios, Vol. 3 - Piano Trio No. 3 / Symphony No. 2 (arr. for piano trio) (Xyrion Trio)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Piano Trios,Volume 3

 

Born in Bonn in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was the eldest son of a singer in the musical establishment of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne and grandson of the Archbishop’s former Kapellmeister, whose name he took. The household was not a happy one. Beethoven’s father became increasingly inadequate both as a singer and as a father and husband, with his wife always ready to draw invidious comparisons between him and his own father. Beethoven, however, was trained as a musician, however erratically, and duly entered the service of the Archbishop, serving as an organist and as a string-player in the archiepiscopal orchestra. He was already winning some distinction in Bonn, when, in 1787, he was first sent to Vienna, to study with Mozart. The illness of his mother forced an early return from this venture and her subsequent death left him with responsibility for his younger brothers, in view of his father’s domestic and professional failures. In 1792 Beethoven was sent once more to Vienna, now to study with Haydn, whom he had met in Bonn.

Beethoven’s early career in Vienna was helped very considerably by the circumstances of his move there. The Archbishop was a son of the Empress Maria Theresa and there were introductions to leading members of society in the imperial capital. Here Beethoven was able to establish an early position for himself as a pianist of remarkable ability, coupled with a clear genius in the necessarily related arts of improvisation and composition. The onset of deafness at the turn of the century seemed an irony of Fate. It led Beethoven gradually away from a career as a virtuoso performer and into an area of composition where he was able to make remarkable changes and extensions of existing practice. Deafness tended to accentuate his eccentricities and paranoia, which became extreme as time went on. At the same time it allowed him to develop his gift for counterpoint. He continued to revolutionise forms inherited from his predecessors, notably Haydn and Mozart, expanding these almost to bursting-point, and introducing innovation after innovation as he grew older. He died in 1827, his death the occasion of public mourning in Vienna.

The first three piano trios, which form Beethoven’s Opus 1, were published in 1795 and dedicated to Prince Carl Lichnowsky, who had welcomed the composer into his house in Vienna and offered continuing and remarkably tolerant support. The first of the set seems to have been written some time earlier, perhaps in Bonn, but all three were first performed at Prince Lichnowsky’s in the presence of Haydn, who had good things to say about them, but advised against the publication of the third of the set. Beethoven took exception to the implied criticism of a work by which he set great store, suspecting jealousy, although Haydn later explained to others that he had advised against the publication of the Trio in C minor for fear that it would not be understood by a wider public.

Haydn’s reservations about public reaction to the Piano Trio in C minor were understandable. In addition to strong contrasts in dynamics, an effect that became increasingly characteristic of Beethoven, there are harmonic innovations, notably in the recapitulation of the first movement. The exposition opens with a phrase played by all three instruments together. This re-appears to link what follows and to form the substance of the central development. The second movement consists of a theme and five variations. The E flat major theme itself is announced by the piano, which dominates the first variation, leaving principal activity to the violin and cello in the second. The embellished melodic line of the piano is accompanied by plucked strings in the third variation, followed by an E flat minor variation and a fifth with triplet figuration, un poco più andante, in the keyboard part. The movement ends with a brief coda. The third movement is a Minuet, with a C major Trio section. This leads to a finale marked Prestissimo. Here a short introduction leads to the statement by the violin of the principal theme, which is then handed over to the piano, following in the key of E flat major in the cello. The violin introduces the second subject and this thematic material is duly developed at the heart of the movement, before a piano cadenza leads to the final recapitulation.

The second of Beethoven’s symphonies, the Symphony in D major, Op. 36, was completed in 1802, probably at the village of Heiligenstadt, where Beethoven, on his doctor’s orders, was resting, coming to terms now with the tragedy of his increasing deafness. It was dedicated to Prince Carl Lichnowsky, a patron to whose patience the composer was much indebted, and first performed in April 1803. Beethoven’s arrangement of the work for piano trio was made in 1803 and published two years later. The form corresponds to some practical demand for works of this kind. After the slow introduction to the first movement the Allegro con brio opens with the piano version of the original string parts, the cello joining with the lower register of the piano at the original entry of the double basses. The second subject is stated by the piano, soon joined by the violin and it is the piano that takes the lead into the development section. The A major Larghetto quasi andante is opened by the piano with a characteristically singing melody, echoed by the violin and cello, a procedure followed in the second part of the theme. The violin proposes a secondary theme, soon overtaken by the rapid figuration of the piano, taken from the original first violin part, and both themes make their due return as the movement continues. The strong dynamic contrasts of the Scherzo are preserved, with violin and cello at first taking over the original answering notes of the horns and then of the oboes. The piano has the opening bars of the Trio, joined by violin and cello after the first sentence, and the piano starts the final Allegro molto, followed by the violin with the second half of the main theme. Although the transcription may lack the varied colour of the original symphony, it nevertheless translates the work into a thoroughly idiomatic composition for piano trio.

The single movement Allegretto in E flat, Hess 48, was seemingly written between the years 1790 and 1792, during Beethoven’s final years as a court musician in Bonn, where he had been a pupil of the court organist Christian Gottlieb Neefe. It was first published in 1955, when a much earlier date of composition was suggested. The movement starts simply enough, the violin echoed by the cello, which repeats the dotted rhythm arpeggio figure first heard at the outset from the piano. There is a brief central development, followed by the return of the principal theme.


Keith Anderson


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