This French Piano Trio took the name Trio Wanderer in honour of Schubert, but they also live up to their name through other musical journeys and concerts worldwide.
This evening’s concert starts with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B flat major op. 11 from 1797. It is an early work for piano, violin and cello, optionally replacing the violin with a clarinet and occasionally substituting bassoon for cello. It is often referred to as the Gassenhauer Trio: the final movement consists of nine variations on a cheery tune from a highly popular comedy by Joseph Weigl (1766–1846), frequently whistled and hummed in the numerous alleyways (Gasse in German) of Vienna.
The entire trio is, typically for Beethoven in his youth, characterised by a cheerful mood. The themes in the Allegro con brio of the first movement contrast with each other: the first powerful and virile, the second more winsome and graceful, but with a rhythm in common. The second movement, adagio¸ has a beautiful soulful theme which contrasts well with the first and last movements. It was also typical of young Beethoven to work with expressive melodies, which provided his works with contrast and variation. This was emphasised by his wealth of inventive harmonies and his creative instrumentation.
Master of melody
The next piece, Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Trio in D minor, op. 120, stands as an effective counterbalance to Beethoven’s trio. Fauré was a master of melody, and this is evident throughout the trio. He constructs his melodic lines from short rhythmical motifs, woven seamlessly into long strings.
The first theme is introduced by the strings, the latter by the piano. In the recapitulation this is inverted, dramatically changing character. The second movement, Andante, opens with a cantabile duet on the violin and cello. Its mood is one of slightly downcast joy, interrupted by a middle section of a more uplifting nature. The final movement is full of bright colours, energy and contrasts. There is a remarkable difference between the slow tempo of the strings and the fast tempo of the piano, as though two worlds have suddenly combined. Here too the mood is of subdued melancholy. It was one of Fauré’s last works, written when he was 78 years old and almost totally deaf.
The last piece in the concert is Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, op. 50 from 1880–81, written in honour of a great artist, his friend Nikolai Rubinstein, the pianist and composer (1835–81). Its mood is somewhat tragic. There are only two movements, but they are often divided, giving the impression of four.
The first movement, called Pezzo elegiaco (elegiac piece), opens with a sorrowful theme presented by the cello. It is then taken over by the violin and developed, returning at the end of the movement as a funeral march. The second movement is less conventional. It is in three parts: first a theme with variations, followed by a short andante and ending with further variations. The opening melodic line is reminiscent of Viennese classicism, not unlike Tchaikovsky’s own Rococo Variations. The ensuing variations culminate after a short interlude in what certain critics compare with a kind of ecstasy, which gives way to a surprising modulation back to the main key of A minor and a reprise of the elegiac theme from the first movement in a new funeral march.
Text: Gunnar Danbolt
English version: Roger Martin