BEETHOVEN: Archduke Trio / Kakadu Variations / Allegretto, WoO 39 (Stuttgart Piano Trio/ Teije van Geest) (Naxos: 8.550949)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Trios Vol. 4
Piano Trio in B Flat Major, Op. 97 (The Archduke Trio)
Kakadu Variations, Op. 121a
Allegretto in B Flat Major, WoO 39
Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770, the son of a singer in the musical establishment of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne and grandson of the old music director. The latter's fame was stressed in the family by Beethoven's mother, whose husband could never reach the standards so set, leading the composer to take charge of the family after her death, a responsibility that he took all too seriously. In 1792 he settled in Vienna with the encouragement of the Archbishop of Cologne, his patron, an ecclesiastic whose choice of profession was dictated in part by his parentage, as son of the Empress, and in part by weakness in his legs, which had ruled out a military career. Here it was proposed that he take lessons from Haydn, a procedure from which he later claimed to have learned nothing. Lessons in counterpoint followed from Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, with lessons in Italian word-setting from the Court Composer Antonio Salieri. Armed with introductions to the best families, Beethoven soon established himself in the imperial capital as a remarkable pianist and a composer of great originality. His career as a performer, however, was brought to an end by increasing deafness, the first evidence of which appeared at the turn of the century. This disability had the effect of developing already existing eccentricities of character, while allowing the continuing composition of music of very considerable originality, if occasionally too academic for contemporary critics, who took exception to the contrapuntal elements that assumed greater importance as time went on.
Beethoven sketched the ideas for the greatest of his compositions for piano trio, the so-called Archduke Trio, in 1810 and wrote the work down between 3rd and 26th March of the following year. The Trio was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph, the composer's pupil, son of the former Emperor Leopold II and later Archbishop of Olomouc. The first public performance of the work was given on 11th April 1814 at the inn zum Römischen, by arrangement with the landlord and the violinist Schuppanzigh. It was at a rehearsal for this event that the composer Louis Spohr heard Beethoven play and was horrified. The piano was badly out of tune, and Beethoven's deafness led him to bang on the keys in loud passages till the strings jangled and to play so quietly in soft passages that notes were inaudible. Ignaz Moscheles, however, who was present at the public performance, commented only on the lack of clarity and precision, while admiring the music itself. The composer played the work again at a concert in the Prater given by Schuppanzigh a few days later, but his days as a pianist were coming to an end.
The expansive first movement of the B flat Trio is introduced by the piano with the first subject, echoed by the violin. The elaboration of this theme leads to a second subject in the unexpected key of G major, again introduced by the piano. This material is developed at the heart of the movement. This is followed by a Scherzo, introduced by the cello with an ascending theme to which the violin adds a descending phrase before giving the expected fugal answer. The cello starts the Trio and there is a further repetition of the Scherzo and Trio before the Scherzo re-appears yet again, leading to a coda. The slow movement, one of some length, is in the form of a theme in D major and four variations, following a traditional practice in a use of increasingly rapid notes to elaborate the material in the first three, while the fourth leads without a break to the final rondo, restoring the original key. A feature of the work, the height of Beethoven's achievement in the genre, is the relatively low range of the violin part and relatively high tessitura of the cello part.
The composer Wenzel Müller was born in Moravia in 1767 and became a pupil of Dittersdorf. In 1786 he became Kapelimeister at the Leopoldstadt Theater in Vienna, holding this position until 1830. A prolific composer, with some 250 theatre pieces to his credit, Müller not only provided works that may have essentially influenced Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder's Magic Flute, but enjoyed a career that brought many successes. Beethoven's Kakadu Variations are based on a song from Müller's Singspiel Die Schwestern von Prag (The Sisters from Prague), first staged in 1794. The Variations were apparently written in 1803 and revised in 1816-17, to be published only in 1824. There is a slow G minor Introduction, leading to a statement of the G major theme of the song Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu (I am the tailor Kakadu). The first variation is entrusted to the piano, followed by a version of the theme in which the violin plays semiquaver triplets. Cello and piano provide the third variation, while the piano starts the fourth, with a rapid descending accompaniment to the theme. Contrapuntal imitation opens the fifth variation, while the sixth calls for delicate piano octaves, punctuated by increasingly insistent syncopated notes from violin and cello. These instruments have the seventh variation to themselves, one entering in imitation of the other and leading without a break into a delicate eighth treatment of the melody. The G minor ninth variation is marked Adagio espressivo and leads to a tenth compound metre Presto that starts in G major, before returning to G minor. The variations end with a final G major Allegretto.
The single movement Allegretto in B flat major, WoO 39, was written in June 1812 for Maximiliane Brentano, the young daughter of Antonia Brentano, wife of a banker and plausibly identified as Beethoven's nameless Immortal Beloved, the one fixed object of his affections. The movement is simple in form, with a pleasing principal subject stated at the outset by the piano, which introduces the brief subsidiary theme. The central development moves into D major, leading to a varied recapitulation and a final coda that allows the young pianist brief moments of glory.
Stuttgart Piano Trio
Since its foundation in 1968 the Stuttgart Piano Trio has won a considerable reputation for itself. In 1969 the Trio won the Mendelssohn Competition in Berlin and the International Radio Competition in Munich and since then has appeared in many of the leading cities of the world and at major festivals. The violinist Rainer Kussmaul was born in Mannheim in 1952 and trained in Stuttgart, later winning prizes in Montreal, Bucharest and Leipzig. He plays a violin made by Andrea Guarnedus in Cremona in 1692. The cellist Claus Kanngiesser joined the Trio in 1971, after study in Hamburg, where his teachers included Zara Nelsova, and masterclasses with Gaspar Cassado and Pablo Casals. He plays an instrument made in 1841 by Glen Francesco Pressenda. The pianist Monika Leonhard includes among her teachers Michelangeli and Alfred Brendel and completed her studies in Stuttgart in 1969.