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ClassicsOnline Home » STRAUSS, R.: Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2 / Works for Piano Quartet (Amelia Piano Trio, Mandel)
These youthful chamber works by Richard Strauss, not widely represented on disc, are filled with sparkling inventiveness and lyricism. Written at the age of thirteen, his charming Piano Trio No. 1 follows the models of Mozart and Beethoven, and the Piano Trio No. 2 of a year later ventures beyond these sophisticated foundations. Described by The Strad as ‘exemplary’, the award-winning Amelia Piano Trio is one of the most sought after ensembles of its generation. The Trio’s recording of works by John Harbison (8.559243) was hailed for ‘performances as fantastic as the compositions themselves’ (Allmusic.com).
By Don O’Connor
American Record Guide
By James L Zychowicz
By Mike D. Brownell
Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2 • Works for Piano Quartet
The pieces heard on this recording are early chamber works by Richard Strauss, the first written in 1875, which would make him just eleven years old, the last composed in 1893, at the age of 29. With the possible exception of the two Piano Trios, they were not intended for public performance, but more to celebrate various family events. It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss these pieces simply as juvenilia or ephemera. Even Strauss’s earliest works, while not ground-breaking, are competently put together and show a progressive familiarity in his handling of harmonic and structural materials.
Strauss’s father was Franz Josef Strauss, the principal horn of the Munich Court Opera. His mother (his father’s second wife) was Josephine Pschorr, daughter of a wealthy family of brewers, so the younger Strauss grew up in comparative comfort, surrounded by a large and admiring family. His father’s profession also gave him access to many of Munich’s finest musicians. Franz Josef Strauss, while a brilliant horn player (he held his position for 49 years), was a diehard musical conservative. Although he performed the works of Wagner and Liszt flawlessly, he loathed the men and their music, and was convinced that decent music had stopped with Mendelssohn. He was also most insistent that his son should follow the musical models of Mozart and Beethoven, rather than “modern” composers. When Richard Strauss obtained his first score of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the age of seventeen, he had to do so clandestinely, so that his father would not find out.
The resulting works from Strauss’s early years tend to follow his father’s precepts, with little of the kind of harmonic audacity characteristic of the tone-poems that would follow. The latter would require a complete revolution in Strauss’s approach to music, and a complete break with the attitudes of his father.
Strauss composed his Piano Trio No. 1 in A major, AV 37, one of his first major chamber works, in December 1877, at the age of thirteen, and although it is clearly the work of a young composer tackling a big piece for the first time, it is obvious that Strauss learned his harmony and counterpoint lessons well; the Trio is never less than competent. Strauss also received piano and violin lessons from an early age and was thus well equipped to write for these instruments. The Trio stays pretty close to the key of A major in most of the movements, with relatively few harmonic departures outside the classical model. The third movement is a slow minuet that takes more after Mozart than Beethoven.
Although composed in 1878, only a year later, the Piano Trio No. 2 in D major, AV 53, already displays considerably greater sophistication. Nearly twice as long as Trio No. 1, it has more intricate part writing, more adventurous harmonic shifts, more complex development sections, and a more confident handling of thematic material. The third movement is a real scherzo, with bridging passages in the piano to cover the transitions to the trio section and back. The final movement opens with a sombre B minor introduction before the main Allegro vivace. The rapid triplet passage-work and the wonderfully lyric second theme in this movement owe much to Mendelssohn. Strauss dedicated the Trio to “his dear uncle Georg Pschorr”, father of the cousin with the same name.
Very little is known about the occasion for Ständchen in G major, AV 168, (Serenade), composed for violin, viola, cello and piano, but it is thought to have been written in Munich in 1882, when Strauss was seventeen or eighteen. A lovely little piece, it has a lyric opening and a rather more stormy central section before a return to the original material. Notable are the deft handling of the instruments and a greater understanding of their sonorities.
The Festmarsch in D major, AV 178 (Festive or Celebration March), written for violin, viola, cello and piano, was completed on 11 November 1886, when Strauss was 22, in time to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary of his aunt and uncle, Georg and Johanna Pschorr a month later, on 11 December. Even though this was a celebratory piece meant for a family occasion, Strauss took some pains to raise it above the level of an ordinary march. The trio section has an interesting little chromatic motive, and there is a brief and rather unusual coda that ends the piece softly.
The Two Pieces for Piano Quartet, AV. 182, were composed in December 1893 in Weimar, when Strauss was 29, and were intended as a Christmas present for his favorite uncle, whom he names in the dedication as Kommerzienrat (commercial attorney) Georg Pschorr. The curious little Arabische Tanz (Arabian Dance) in D minor, completed on 7 December, was inspired by melodies and rhythms Strauss heard and jotted down during a trip to the city of Luxor in Egypt the previous spring. Lower strings and piano provide an ostinato for the violin melody, which accelerates at the end. Liebesliedchen (Little Love Song or Love Songlet) in G major was completed on 23 December. Here again the various sections are treated in ways that far exceed a simple love song. After a piano introduction the piano follows with the main theme over cello pizzicato. The piece then returns to the introduction before the theme returns, this time in octaves between violin and cello. Also apparent is the elaboration of the inner voices, which would become a Strauss trademark in his orchestral works and operas.
Although originally given a catalogue number that would place it around 1881 or 1882, scholars now believe that the Concertante in C major, AV 157, was composed in Munich in 1875, at the age of eleven. A brief minuet, marked Andante, it is scored for two violins, cello and piano, and is dedicated to “his cousin Georg Pschorr”.
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