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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Trios, Vol. 2 - Piano Trios Nos. 1, 2, 9 (Xyrion Trio)
This second of five CDs of the complete Beethoven String Trios performed by the Xyrion Trio
features two of the composer’s first published works. With their greater structural and
thematic freedom, irresistible opening allegros and dashing presto finales, these genial and
entertaining works show a marked advance on Haydn’s Trios. The Xyrion Trio’s performances
of the two Op. 70 Trios (Naxos 8.557723), were described by Germany’s leading record
magazine, Fono Forum, as ‘vibrant and glowing’, and a major addition to the catalogue.
By David Denton
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Piano Trios, Volume 2
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 gifts 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.
The Piano Trio in E flat major, Op. 1, No. 1, opens with a first subject of innocent clarity, entrusted primarily to the piano, leading to a secondary theme in which the string instruments assume greater importance. The central development section of the movement opens with reference to the first subject, with its ascending arpeggios, and includes other elements from the exposition before the piano gently reintroduces the first theme in its original key, to open the recapitulation. The A flat major slow movement is introduced by the singing tone of the piano, the theme then taken up by the violin, echoed by the cello, to be developed as the movement continues. Unlike Haydn, in these first piano trios Beethoven includes four rather than three movements. Here the third movement Scherzo is opened by the violin, joined by the cello and then the piano. Melodic interest in the A flat Trio section is confined to the piano, largely accompanied by sustained chords from the other two instruments. Wide leaps mark the piano opening of the Finale. The same figure introduces a central development, the succeeding recapitulation, and, in conclusion, the coda.
The first movement of the Piano Trio in G major, Op. 1, No. 2, starts with a slow introduction in which each instrument has its own contribution to make, although the piano has the greater share of prominence. The piano opens the Allegro vivace with a sprightly first subject, leaving the violin to introduce a gentler second subject in a movement in the now customary first movement form, with a central development and a recapitulation here reached by means of an ascending chromatic scale from the piano. The slow movement, in the key of E major, with a contrasting theme in B, opens with the main theme stated by the piano in the unmistakable language of Beethoven, well known for his ability to elicit an expressive singing tone from the pianos of his day. The theme is taken up by the violin, before an elaborately worked piano part leads to the subsidiary theme. The cello introduces the Scherzo, immediately followed by violin and piano, the whole framing a B minor trio section. The Finale starts with the rapidly repeated notes of the opening theme, played by the violin, imitated by the piano and followed by the cello in a lower register. A second lively melody in D major appears in the piano, to be treated at greater length by the other instruments when it returns in the final section of the movement. The reiterated notes of the principal theme, however, provide a recurrent element, to return in final triumphant conclusion.
The single movement Allegretto in B flat major, WoO 39, was written in June 1812 for Maximiliane Brentano, the young daughter of Antonie Brentano, wife of a banker and plausibly identified as Beethoven's nameless 'immortal beloved', the one fixed object of his affections. The movement is simple in form, with a pleasing principal subject stated at the outset by the piano, which introduces the brief subsidiary theme. The central development of the sonata-form movement shifts into D major, leading to a varied recapitulation and a final coda that allows the young pianist brief moments of glory.
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