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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Trios, Vol. 4 - Piano Trios Nos. 4, 8 (Hausmann, Kliegel, Tichman)
Composed in 1798, a few years after he settled in Vienna, Beethoven’s Gassenhauer (‘popular song’) Trio gained this nickname from its set of variations on Pria ch’io l’impegno from Weigl’s comic opera Il Corsaro. It opens with a finely crafted sonata-form Allegro con brio, followed by an Adagio based on his own Piano Sonata Op. 49, No. 2. The Clarinet Trio, Op. 38, published in 1803, is Beethoven’s own stylish transcription of his extraordinarily popular Septet, Op. 20 (1799). Volumes 1 (8.557723), 2 (8.557724) and 3 ( href="/catalogue/product.aspx?pid=8.570255">8.570255) are also available.
By Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Piano Trios Nos. 4 and 8 (for piano, clarinet and cello)
It was not until 1792 that Beethoven finally settled in Vienna. Born in Bonn, the son of a singer in the musical establishment of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, an establishment of which his grandfather had been Kapellmeister, he inevitably followed family tradition as a musician, acquiring skill as a boy both as a keyboard-player and string-player, in addition to growing competence as a composer that had attracted the attention of Haydn. His patron had intended that he take lessons with Mozart, but he was prevented from pursuing this course by the illness of his mother, which necessitated his return from Vienna to Bonn. His mother’s death left him with responsibility for his brothers and the need to manage his father’s affairs with the latter’s growing inadequacy and irregularity of life. Arriving in Vienna once more in 1792, with the encouragement of the Archbishop, a member of the Imperial family, and armed with introductions to members of the nobility, Beethoven set about bettering himself by lessons with Haydn, with Albrechtsberger and with Salieri, and earning a living through his skill as a pianist, a skill to which his developing powers as a composer were an important adjunct. In a period of social and political change, Beethoven was to win for himself an exceptional position in Vienna, his increasing eccentricities and indiscretions, accentuated by the onset of deafness at the turn of the century, tolerated even under the restrictive policies of Prince Metternich, after 1815. By the time of his death in 1827 Beethoven had opened the way to a new era in music with his expansion and development of existing forms, leaving works that presented later generations with a challenge and inspiration.
Written and published in 1798, Beethoven’s Trio in B flat major for piano, clarinet or violin and cello, Op. 11, also known as the Piano Trio No. 4, was dedicated to Countess Maria Wilhelmine von Thun. It has become known to many as the Gassenhauer Trio (Popular Song Trio), with a third movement that is a set of variations on a then popular terzetto for three basses, Pria ch’io l’impegno from the 1797 comic opera L’amor marinaro, ossia Il corsaro (Love among the Sailors, or The Corsair) by Joseph Weigl, Kapellmeister at the Burgtheater, Haydn’s godson, and a former pupil, like Beethoven, of Albrechtsberger and Salieri. According to Beethoven’s pupil Czerny the theme had been given him by a clarinettist, presumably the virtuoso Josef Bähr, who had requested a set of variations. The publisher Artaria claimed to have given the theme to Beethoven, who, to his anger, only discovered its origin after he had completed his variations, but Czerny’s account seems the more probable. At all events the work was published by Mollo, now established in independence of the publisher Artaria, with the origin of the variation theme duly acknowledged.
The first movement of the Gassenhauer Trio is in a finely crafted classical tripartite sonata-form, its F major second subject reached after a short and harmonically unusual transition. The whole movement allows delicate interplay between the three instruments. The following Adagio, in E flat major, starts with a cello theme that is a modified version of the theme of the Tempo di Menuetto of Piano Sonata Op. 49, No. 2, written in 1796 but not published until 1805, a theme that is used more directly in the Tempo di Menuetto of Beethoven’s Septet, Op. 20. In the final Allegretto Weigl’s simple theme is stated first by the piano, followed by the clarinet. The piano has the first variation to itself and the second has the clarinet following the cello in canon, while the piano is silent. All three instruments come together in the third variation, which leads to a solemn B flat minor version of the material and a fifth variation that returns to the major with brilliant scale passages for the piano. The melodic line is broken in the sixth version of the theme, followed by a second variation in the tonic minor with rhythmic dotted chords from the piano. The cello opens the eighth variation in the major once more, while piano octaves start the ninth version, with piano triplets accompanying the imitative forms of the theme offered by the clarinet and cello. The piano leads to a brief G major Allegro in 6/8, with the original key restored in the syncopated closing section, leading to the dynamic surprises of the ending.
Beethoven’s Septet in E flat major, Op. 20, scored for violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, horn and bassoon, was first heard at a private concert given in 1799 in the house of Prince Schwarzenberg. A public performance came on 2nd April 1800 at the Royal Imperial Court Theatre in a benefit concert for the composer. Beethoven offered a programme that included a Mozart symphony, an aria and a duet from Haydn’s Creation, and from himself a piano concerto, his Symphony No. 1 in C, an improvisation, and the Septet, this last dedicated to Her Majesty the Empress. The Septet soon won extraordinary popularity and appeared in later years in arrangement after arrangement. Beethoven urged his publishers to issue the work quickly, fearing that it might be pirated, and himself brought out, in 1802, a string quintet version, followed in 1803 by the present version for clarinet or violin, cello and piano. This trio version, numbered Op. 38, he dedicated to his doctor, Johann Adam Schmidt, who played the violin and whose daughter played the piano.
The Clarinet Trio, Op. 38, also known as the Piano Trio No. 8, starts its first movement with a slow introduction, leading to a sonata-form Allegro con brio, its first subject followed, after a brief transition, by a gentler second. The first subject forms the basis of a central development, after which there is a recapitulation that includes both themes and an extended coda. The A flat major slow movement, placed second, is in broadly ternary form and is followed by the Tempo di Menuetto that uses a melody well enough known from its appearance in the Piano Sonata Op. 49, No. 2, framing a trio section. The next movement consists of a B flat major theme, once thought to be a folk-song, and five variations, of which the fourth is in the tonic minor key, marked by triplet accompanying rhythms. There follows a Scherzo and Trio, a clear demonstration of the difference between scherzo and minuet. A brief march, in true divertimento style, marked Andante con moto, alla marcia, opens the last movement, soon replaced by a Presto, the promising opening counterpoint of the first theme of which soon leads to secondary material of rapid triplets. In the usual tripartite form there is a central development, with a piano cadenza leading to the re-appearance of the thematic material in recapitulation.
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