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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN, L. van: String Trios (Complete), Vol. 1 (Falvay, Fejervari, Eder) - Opp. 3 and 8
By Mary Nemet
There is no doubt about it—Hungarian musicians with their long tradition of fine chamber music training are at the forefront when it comes to ensemble performance. These three are no exception; as members of the renowned Kodály Quartet, they bring their seasoned view to these Beethoven string trios, an even more challenging medium than the string quartet…These are well-rounded performances, beautifully phrased, alternating elegance and piquancy with boldly characterized rhythms and vivid attack, Just at time the semiquaver accompaniment in the lower strings could be more articulate (some notes are inaudible) and generally I would have liked more of Eder’s lovely cello sound, which is somewhat muted in the overall balance. But these are superior performances of two delightful early Beethoven Trios.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
String Trio in E flat major, Op. 3 • Serenade Trio in D major, Op. 8
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 Theresia 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.
There has been some dispute over the exact date of composition of Beethoven's String Trio in E flat major, Op. 3. Some rely on the possible confusion of a contemporary English amateur, William Gardiner, a Leicester hosiery manufacturer, amateur composer and editor, who claimed to have been the first to introduce Beethoven's music to England when he played the viola in a performance of the trio in Leicester in 1794, although his later published reminiscences vary the exact year of this event. The copy of the trio that Gardiner saw was brought to England by the chaplain to the Archbishop of Cologne, the Abbé Dobbeler, who had accompanied an English visitor, the Hon. Mrs Bowater, daughter of the Earl of Feversham, to England, when they were obliged to take refuge from the invading French armies, who entered Bonn in 1794. The Abbé had brought with him, in his violin-case, a copy of the trio, and it was this that Gardiner played. The date of this performance varies, in Gardiner's reminiscences, published many years later, but the fact that the French entered Bonn in 1794 and that the Abbé was declared an émigré and had his property confiscated seems to indicate that 1794 was the date of this amateur domestic performance of the Trio. The work, then, may date from Beethoven's years in Bonn, which he left in 1792, or from his first years in Vienna. It can only be a matter of conjecture as to how the Abbé acquired his copy of the work, whether in Bonn or from Vienna. It was published in Vienna in parts in 1796.
The Trio follows the model of Mozart's only String Trio, the Divertimento K. 563, in the same key and with the same number of movements, written in Vienna in 1788 and published there by Artaria in 1792, which Beethoven may have seen. The sonata-form first movement has a repeated exposition, its second subject entrusted to the violin, accompanied only by the cello, which leads the way into the extended central development, followed by the viola, as different tonalities are explored. The movement ends with a recapitulation. The second movement, marked Andante and in B flat major, offers two subjects, duly developed, with a varied recapitulation. This is followed by the first of the Minuets, in the original key, and with an A flat major Trio in which the violin melody has accompanying figuration from the viola and a plucked bass from the cello. The fourth movement is an A flat major Adagio in the accustomed tripartite form, leading to the second E flat major Minuet, with a C minor Trio, underpinned by a drone, to which the violin offers a melody in a high register. The work ends with a lively Rondo, its episodes offering varied contrast, the second of them in C minor and making much of rapid triplets.
The Serenade in D major, Op. 8, was published by Artaria in Vienna in 1797 and an arrangement of the work for viola and piano was announced in December 1803 under the title Notturno pour Fortepiano et Alto, numbered as Op. 42. The transcription, however, was not by Beethoven, although he had seen it and authorised its publication. The Serenade opens with a March, followed by an Adagio. The third movement is a Minuet with a G major Trio and a brief scurrying D major Scherzo section is preceded and followed by a solemn D minor Adagio, returning, to be capped with a final Adagio. The fifth movement, Allegretto alla Polacca, is in F major, a cheerful dance, with surprises as it comes to a close. The whole work ends with a theme and variations. The melody itself, marked Andante quasi Allegretto, is entrusted to the violin, which offers the first variation in rapider figuration. The second allows the viola prominence in triplet figuration and the third variation brings the three instruments together in D minor. In the fourth variation the cello is allowed the melody, before the violin leads into a final version of the material, now in a lilting 6/8. The original metre is then restored, followed by the due return of the March with which the Serenade had opened.
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