About this Recording
8.550746 - BRAHMS: Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2
English 

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)

Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8 (revised version)
Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87

Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gängeviertel district of Hamburg, the son of a double-bass player and his wife, a seamstress seventeen years her husband's senior. It was intended that the boy should follow his father's trade and to this end he was taught the violin and cello, but his interest in the piano prevailed, enabling him to supplement the family income by playing in dockside taverns, while taking valuable lessons from Eduard Marxsen.

In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect, and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whose agency he met the Schumanns, established now in Düsseldorf. The connection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the compositions of his own Brahms played to him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. Schumann's subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back to Düsseldorf to help Clara Schumann and her young family. The relationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her death in 1896.

It was not until 1862, after a happy period that had brought him a temporary position at the court of Detmold as a conductor and piano teacher, that Brahms visited Vienna, giving concerts there and meeting the important critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion, pitting Brahms against Wagner and Liszt as a composer of abstract music, as-opposed to the music-drama of Wagner and the symphonic poems of Liszt, with their extra-musical associations. Brahms finally took up permanent residence in Vienna in 1869, greeted by many as the real successor to Beethoven, particularly after his first symphony, and winning a similar position in popular esteem and similar tolerance for his notorious lack of tact. He died in 1897.

After spending the Christmas of 1853 with his parents in Hamburg, Brahms travelled to Hanover, where Joachim was employed, and found there the peace to set to work on a new composition, the first of his three piano trios. The manuscript of the trio bears the words "Hannover. Januar 54. Kreisler jun.", the last a reference to the nickname of Brahms in the Schumann circle, derived from the Kapellmeister of that name in the writing of E.T.A. Hoffmann. The work was first performed in New York, with the pianist William Mason, a pupil of Liszt, and in this original version has much to recommend it. In the summer of 1889 Brahms responded to an invitation from his publisher Simrock to revise any he cared to of his earlier compositions with a complete revision and recasting of this first piano trio, which he described in a letter to Clara Schumann as Opus 108 rather than Opus 8, its original numbering. The revision did not meet with satisfaction from all quarters, with reservations from both Clara Schumann and Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, on whose judgement he had come to rely. Writing to Simrock, he did not discard out of hand the version he had made as a young man, in spite of its perceived faults, but was prepared to allow the existence of both the old and new versions.

The second version of the B major Piano Trio, still Opus 8, opens with a piano statement of the first subject in which the cello joins, followed by the violin. Both string instruments join together in stating the second subject, elements of which appear, with the principal subject, in the modulating central development, followed by a recapitulation and tranquil coda. The cello starts the B minor Scherzo, followed by the piano, and there is a B major trio section, in which tension is relaxed. The Adagio is opened by the piano, using the soft pedal in sonorous and widely spaced chords, followed by the two other instruments, with a central relative minor section introduced by the cello. The key of B minor is restored in the opening of the final Allegro, with a first subject entrusted to the cello, accompanied by the piano and later joined by the violin. There is a bold D major second subject announced by the piano, with syncopated cello accompaniment. There begins what seems a recapitulation that gives way to a development section, leading to the return of the second subject and a final appearance of the first subject.

In the summer of 1880 Brahms sketched two piano trios. The second of these, the Piano Trio No. 2 in C major, Opus 87, was completed in the summer of 1882, during a summer spent at Bad Ischl and the composition gave the composer every satisfaction. The principal theme of the first movement Allegro is stated by violin and cello in octaves, with the piano contributing chiefly to the second subject group, followed by the development of this material, marked animato to maintain its momentum and espressivo to signify the lyricism of the string melodic line. The second movement Andante, in A minor, consists of a theme and five variations, followed by a third movement C minor Scherzo, contrasted with a more relaxed trio section in the tonic major. The original key and mode is fully restored in the opening of the final Allegrogiocoso, where, as so often in this work, violin and cello initially support each other in octaves. The structure is that of sonata form, with a variety of thematic material suggesting the contrasts inherent in a rondo.

Vienna Piano Trio
The Vienna Piano Trio, with the violinist Wolfgang Redik, cellist Marcus Trefny and pianist Stefan Mendl, was founded in 1988, in the following year winning a certificate of distinction as the best piano trio awarded by the Accademia Musicale Chigiana. Further intensive study with leading exponents of chamber music has led to frequent concert appearances throughout Austria and further afield, with a repertoire ranging from the classical to the contemporary.


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