There has been much discussion over the significance of Haydn’s late piano trios in his oeuvre. Some argue that they were written in the English tradition, with a simple violin part and a mostly doubled cello part intended primarily for amateurs, others speculate that they were intended only for private chamber music gatherings and not for public consumption.
However, Haydn had the trio in Ab, Hob. XV:14 sent to him from Vienna during his first trip to London for the express purpose of showcasing the young Hummel—Mozart’s prodigy—in a concert at the Hanover Square concert hall in April of 1792 as part of Salomon’s series. Clearly he considered the work worthy of more attention than merely a private chamber music performance. Charles Rosen writes in The Classical Style: “Haydn’s piano trios are a third great series of works to set beside the symphonies and quartets.” He continues, “They are, in fact, along with the Mozart concertos, the most brilliant piano works before Beethoven.”
The piano trio in f# minor, Hob. XV:26 is the final piece in a set of three trios dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter, the widow of Johann Schroeter, music master to Queen Charlotte. Rebecca was known to be an intimate of the 63 year-old Haydn while in London, taking piano lessons, copying parts for him and becoming a subscriber for the Creation. Written in London in 1795, and published by Longman and Broderip in the same year, it was one of the last works that he wrote while in England. Perhaps because of traditionally ‘private’ nature of the piano trio Haydn felt free to experiment with a harmonic language that predates Schubert, utilizing mediant relationships and enharmonic writing more usually found in the romantic period.
Landon notes that its first movement has a “development [that is] short but its harmonic range [is] unusually wide.” (It ranges from b minor to eb minor!) Its second movement, a beautiful Adagio, is a paraphrase of the slow movement of his Symphony No. 102 in Bb, Hob: I:102—a favorite orchestral movement of Mrs Schroeter’s, the inclusion of which again blurs the distinction between public and private. The third movement is a minuet, but one that according to Rosen demonstrates “melancholy so intense it is indistinguishable from the tragic.” He exclaims that it “has the dramatic power of the minuet from Mozart’s g minor symphony.”
The Shostakovich Opus 8 piano trio is an early romantic student work. It was written in the Autumn of 1923 while Shostakovich was at the Petrograd Conservatory. It was played for his professors at Moscow Conservatory in the Spring of 1924 when Shostakovich wrote to his mother
At the conservatory yesterday I was set something resembling an exam. Professors Miakovsky, Vasilenko, G. Konius, etc., were all there. I played three cello pieces and the trio. …They passed my trio for sonata form and have taken me straight on to Free Composition. It turned out so well. [Konius asked] “Are you going to have him in your class?” Miakovsky replied: “There is no question about that.” Konius: “Are you entering him for the class on form?” … Miakovsky: “He will go straight to Free Composition. What he has just played will count as his sonata form exam.” Konius: “Yes, I was thinking exactly the same myself.” …They wouldn’t have counted my Trio for Sonata Form in Leningrad. Stupid Formalists.”
The official premiere was given on March 20, 1925 by N. Fedorov, Violin; A. Jegorov, Cello; and Lev Oborin, Piano. Lev Oberin was later to accompany Oistrakh on many an occasion. These parts must have been lost because currently the trio only exists in the composer’s autograghs. Some of these are incomplete and Shostakovich’s student Tischenko completed 22 measures (of 281) of the missing piano part. The score is dedicated to Tatiana Gliwenko, with whom the composer had become romantically involved in the Crimea in the Summer of 1923.
Beethoven arrived in Vienna in November of 1792. His trip owed its existence to the assistance of the Elector of Bonn and Count Waldstein (the dedicatee of the Waldstein Sonata). Waldstein wrote to Beethoven before his departure
Dear Beethoven. You are going to Vienna in fulfillment of your long frustrated wishes. The genius of Mozart is still mourning and weeping the death of her pupil. She found a refuge but no occupation with the inexhaustible Haydn; through him she wishes once more to form a union with another. With the help of assiduous labor you shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands. Your true friend, Waldstein.
Beethoven was twenty-two. Haydn’s guidance continued for about a year—by January 1794 he had left for his second London visit. Significantly, this was the first sponsorship of many by many aristocrats who were to help establish Beethoven as a major composer in Vienna. In 1809 Beethoven was offered the position of Kappelmeister at Kassel. Archduke Ferdinand, Prince Lobkowitz, and Prince Kinsky were able to provide him with an annuity to allow him to stay in Vienna. It included provision for illness and old age: Beethoven was financially secure. He was thirty-nine.
Archduke Ferdinand knew Beethoven well. He had studied piano with him from age 16 and later became his only composition student. The relationship lasted until Beethoven’s death, and was one of mutual respect. Beethoven dedicated fifteen works to him. In the Summer of 1810 the composer began work on the Piano Trio in Bb, Op 97. He finished it in March of 1811 and dedicated it to Ferdinand. It is now known as the “Archduke.” Some 1200 measures and four movements in length, it is considered his masterpiece in the form.
By 1814 when Beethoven played the ‘Archduke’ his hearing was fading. By 1815, Spohr, the virtuoso violinist and composer, wrote after hearing him play
On account of his deafness there was scarcely anything left of the virtuosity of the artist which had formerly been so greatly admired. In forte passages the poor deaf man pounded on the keys till the strings jangled, and in piano he played so softly that whole groups of tones were omitted, so that the music was unintelligible.
By 1817 he was almost totally deaf. He was 47.
The third movement, Andante cantabile, which connects to the finale, is a set of variations with increasingly quick note values over the same harmonic base: somewhat reminiscent of the division.
© Kurt Briggs, 2013