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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART, W.A.: Piano Trios, Vol. 2 (Kungsbacka Trio)
Composed in 1788 at the peak of his creative powers, though at a time of both artistic success and looming personal crisis, Mozart’s last three piano trios are masterpieces whose prevailing character of congenial gaiety is heightened by poignant undercurrents of lyrical melancholy. The rarely heard Piano Trio K. 442 was completed by the composer’s friend, Maximilian Stadler. Volume 1 (8.570518) also features the acclaimed young Kungsbacka Piano Trio, winners of the 3rd Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition and Associate Ensemble at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
By Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
By David Denton
With his training as a pianist and violinist, it is strange that Mozart should have written just six works for piano trio, the last three composed more in desperation to earn money than out of choice. Having much welcomed the Kungsbacka Piano Trio’s disc of the first two issued on Naxos last November [8.570518], I am pleased that the last three are equally successful—the remaining trio, not included, being for piano, clarinet and viola. The young British group have created an impressive career following their success in the prestigious Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, touring concert venues on both sides of the Atlantic promoted by the European Concert Hall Organization ‘Rising Stars’ series. Though often admired, the trios offer the pianist far more of musical value, than their colleagues and these immaculately played performances do not try to conceal that fact. Their view is straightforward compared with the affectionate recorded accounts from their UK counterparts, the Floristan Trio, though Simon Crawford-Phillips’s piano exudes so much joy in the finale of the Fifth and the opening of the Sixth that it rather wins the day for the Kungsbacka. They also have the advantage of including a trio brought together by Maximilian Stadler from fragments that he found. Heretic though I may be, I do find it more satisfying than those Mozart completed, if for no other reason than it is for three equal voices, and the Kungsbacka appear to agree with playing that is vivacious and ideally balanced. My sole reservation—as with the first volume—comes in the engineering where I would have wished that the piano had been more closely bonded with the strings.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791): Piano Trios Vol. 2
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a court musician who, in the year of his youngest child’s birth, published an influential book on violin-playing. Leopold Mozart rose to occupy the position of Vice-Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, but sacrificed his own creative career to that of his son, in whom he detected early signs of precocious genius. With the indulgence of his patron, he was able to undertake extended concert tours of Europe in which his son and elder daughter Nannerl were able to astonish audiences. The boy played both the keyboard and the violin and could improvise and soon write down his own compositions.
Childhood that had brought Mozart signal success was followed by a less satisfactory period of adolescence largely in Salzburg under the patronage of a new and less sympathetic Archbishop. Like his father, Mozart found opportunities far too limited at home, while chances of travel were now restricted. In 1777, when leave of absence was not granted, he gave up employment in Salzburg to seek a future elsewhere, but neither Mannheim nor Paris, both musical centres of some importance, had anything for him. His Mannheim connections, however, brought a commission for an opera in Munich in 1781, but after its successful staging he was summoned by his patron to Vienna. There Mozart’s dissatisfaction with his position resulted in a quarrel with the Archbishop and dismissal from his service.
The last ten years of Mozart’s life were spent in Vienna in precarious independence of both patron and immediate paternal advice, a situation aggravated by an imprudent marriage. Initial success in the opera-house and as a performer was followed, as the decade went on, by increasing financial difficulties. By the time of his death in December 1791, however, his fortunes seemed about to change for the better, with the success of the German opera The Magic Flute, and the possibility of increased patronage.
In 1765, during his childhood visit to London, Mozart had written a set of six sonatas for the keyboard with the accompaniment of violin or flute, dedicated to Queen Charlotte and allowing, in the earliest printed sources, the optional participation of a cello. Some have chosen to regard these as his first steps towards the composition of piano trios. The first mature work in this form is the Divertimento in B flat major, K. 254, written in Salzburg in August 1776. Mozart tackled the form again in Vienna ten years later, with his Trio (Sonata) in G, K. 496, followed by the so-called Kegelstatt Trio for clarinet, viola and piano, and in November 1786 the Trio in B flat major, K. 502. In 1788 he returned to the form with his Trio in E major, K. 542, dated 22 June 1788 and therefore written shortly before his three final symphonies and at a time when he was trying to raise money from his fellow-mason Michael Puchberg, a well-to-do merchant and competent amateur musician, to whom he suggested a musical party and a performance of the new Trio at the latter’s house. In early August he sent a copy to his sister, now married and living in St Gilgen, suggesting that she invite Michael Haydn to her house and play the work to him. It is apparently not to be identified with the so-called Puchberg Trio that Mozart played in Dresden in 1789, which must have been the String Divertimento, K. 563. The opening Allegro starts with the piano statement of the principal theme, while the second subject first appears from the violin, followed by the piano and leading to unexpected modulations. The central development opens with the descending fifths that had formed part of the principal theme. The A major Andante grazioso again entrusts the main theme first to the piano, before the entry of the violin and cello in a movement that contains touches of counterpoint. The work ends with a sonata-rondo that replaced Mozart’s first sketch for the finale, which remained unfinished. The B major triplet second theme is carried by the violin and a third theme is in C sharp minor in a movement that again makes use of contrapuntal imitation and gives the piano part a concertante character.
The Trio in C major, K. 548, was entered into Mozart’s catalogue of works on 14 July 1788, its composition following that of the Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K. 543, and preceding that of the great Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, and the C major Jupiter Symphony No. 41, K. 551. The first movement opens with a call to attention before the piano announces the principal theme, then taken up by the violin. A transition leads to the secondary theme and the opening figure of the movement returns in G minor to start the central development with its characteristic interplay between the three instruments. The same figure starts the recapitulation and returns once more in the final coda. The moving F major Andante cantabile, as elsewhere in these trios, suggests the world of Mozart’s piano concertos. It is followed by a final sonata-rondo movement in 6/8, the theme introduced by the piano before the more forceful statement of the subject by the whole ensemble. Other themes appear in G major and in C minor, duly framed by the principal theme.
The last completed work in this form, the Trio in G major, K. 564, bears the date 27 October 1788. With these final trios the violin and cello are fully integrated in the texture, both allowed their share of musical interest. The principal theme is stated by the piano, followed by the violin in parallel intervals with the cello. The violin announces the second subject and the development opens in D minor, continuing with dialogue between the piano and the two other instruments. The C major second movement is in the form of a theme and six variations, the first with the cello entering in imitation of the violin with the theme over piano semiquavers. The theme is given to the cello in the second variation and handed to the violin in the third, with its piano triplet semiquaver figuration. There is contrapuntal imitation in the fourth variation, leading to a C minor fifth and the rapid piano demisemiquaver figuration of the sixth. The Trio ends with a sonata-rondo movement, its principal theme announced by the piano before appearing more emphatically from the whole ensemble. The theme returns to frame episodes in contrasting keys, as always with the world of Mozart’s piano concertos that had formed such an important part of his earlier Vienna repertoire never far away.
The three fragmentary movements for piano trio were completed by the Abbé Maximilian Stadler and grouped together as K. 442. Stadler had served as prior of the great monastery at Melk, where he had been professed in 1766 and in his later years lived in Vienna, having secured dispensation from his monastic vows, serving as a parish priest. He claimed to have known Haydn and Mozart personally and to have joined with them in playing the latter’s quintets. It was at Constanze Mozart’s request that in 1798 Stadler began to deal with the manuscripts Mozart had left, put into some sort of order by the Danish diplomat Georg Nissen, who married Constanze in 1809, completing some compositions that had remained unfinished.
The first fragment assembled by Stadler in K. 442 is an Allegro in D minor, traditionally dated by the publisher Johann André, like the other two fragments, to 1783, but now given a later date, possibly 1785. Stadler completed the final section of the exposition and provided a development and recapitulation to the movement, ending with a D major version of his F major closing section to the first part of the movement. The second fragment, a Tempo di Menuetto in G major, with the direction Andantino added presumably by Stadler and dating from 1785 or 1786, was possibly originally intended as a finale to K. 496. It takes the form of a sonata-rondo, and opens with the piano statement of the main theme, taken up by the violin, which, after a transition, presents the second contrasting theme, with its triplet figuration. It is only after a third, E minor, section that Stadler provides an ending with a recapitulation of the first and second themes. The third fragment, in D major and in 6/8, more of a first movement than a finale, has been dated to 1788 or later. It has violin and cello parts added by Stadler in the transition to the second subject and in parts of the presentation of the second subject itself and the development. The recapitulation is by Stadler. These three fragments, essentially separate movements, arbitrarily placed together, and announced by Johann André in 1797 as complete piano trios, suggest movements characteristic of the height of Mozart’s achievements in the form.
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