Photo: Marco Borggreve
The piano trio developed from the baroque duo sonata with continuo. Haydn and Mozart brought the genre to light and gave the three instruments – violin, cello and piano – gradually more equal roles. Haydn composed his last piano trios just as Beethoven was making his debut with the three trios of his opus no. 1. In comparing Haydn’s elegant classical trios with the Sturm und Drang of Beethoven’s youthful works, we see how the historical transition from classicism to romanticism around 1800 was expressed in music.
This evening’s concert opens with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D major, opus 70:1 from 1808. It was immediately nicknamed the ‘Ghost’ trio after its eerie-sounding slow movement, though the name is inappropriate for the rest of the work, which is full of energy, Beethovenesque challenges and playful surprises. Beethoven chose to give the trio three movements, which at the time was considered old-fashioned, but the music is far from outmoded. He composed the entire opus during a summer sojourn at the residence of Countess Marie von Erdödy, and dedicated it to her to express his gratitude.
Not too many piano trios were composed in the twentieth century, but among them Maurice Ravel’s trio from 1914 towers high, also relative to trios of earlier centuries. It was completed shortly before Ravel patriotically took a break from composing in order to join the French war effort as a driver. It is actually a sonata for three equal instruments. Ravel developed refined harmonies and instrumentations, using uncommon time signatures and rhythms, but always confined himself to classical form. As a composer he expressed a clear, personal, modern style, while remaining closely attached to tradition.
Both Anton Dvořák and Edvard Grieg made their international breakthroughs in their own lifetimes in the late nineteenth century, and became great ambassadors for the national romantic movement. Although Dvořák is best known today for some of his symphonies, he composed a great deal of eminent chamber music. Edvard Grieg wrote in his obituary to his Czech colleague that his best compositions were to be found in his chamber music. The two composers had met on several occasions and were mutual admirers. Dvořák’s third Piano Trio is his most weighty and extensive, lasting some 40 minutes. In the music we find national folk music motifs and dance rhythms alongside the influence of pan-European
style. The trio, composed in 1883, has also been described as his most Brahmsian.
Text: Erling Dahl jr.
English translation: Roger Martin