BEETHOVEN: Piano Trio, Op. 1, No. 3 / Piano Trio in E Flat Major / Variations, Op. 44 (Stuttgart Piano Trio/ Teije van Geest) (Naxos: 8.550947)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Trios Vol. 2
Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 1, No. 3
Allegretto in E Flat Major, Hess 48
Piano Trio in E Flat Major, WoO 38
Variations in E Flat Major, Op. 44
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.
The three piano trios that form Beethoven's Opus 1 were published in 1795 and dedicated to Prince Carl Lichnowsky, who had welcomed the composer into his house and offered continuing support. The first of the set, at least, seems to have been written some time earlier, perhaps in Bonn, but all three were first performed, presumably in an unrevised form, at Prince Lichnowsky's in the presence of Haydn, who praised them, but advised against the publication of the third of the set. Beethoven took exception to the implied criticism of a work by which he set greater store, suspecting jealousy, although Haydn later explained to others that he had advised against the publication of the C minor Trio for fear that it would not be understood by a wider public.
Haydn's reservations about public reaction to the C minor Piano Trio were understandable. In addition to strong contrasts in dynamics, an effect that became increasingly characteristic of Beethoven, there are harmonic innovations, notably in the recapitulation of the first movement. The exposition opens with a phrase played by all three instruments together. This re-appears to link what follows and to form the substance of the central development. The second movement consists of a theme and five variations. The theme itself is announced by the piano, which dominates the first variation, leaving principal activity to violin and cello in the second. The embellished melodic line of the piano is accompanied by plucked strings in the third variation, followed by an E flat minor variation and a fifth with triplet figuration in the keyboard part. The movement ends with a brief coda. The third movement is a Minuet, with a C major Trio section. This leads to a finale marked Prestissimo. Here a short introduction leads to the statement by the violin of the principal theme, which is then handed over to the piano, following in the key of E flat major in the cello. The violin introduces the second subject, and this thematic material is duly developed at the heart of the movement, before a piano cadenza leads into the final recapitulation.
The single movement Allegretto in E flat, Hess-Verzeichnis 48, was written between the years 1790 and 1792, during Beethoven's final years as a court musician in Bonn, where he had been a pupil of the court organist Christian Gottlob Neefe. The movement starts simply enough, the violin echoed by the cello, which repeats the dotted rhythm arpeggio figure first heard at the outset from the piano. There is a brief central development, followed by the return of the principal theme.
The Piano Trio in E flat major, WoO 38, again belongs to the first period of Beethoven's career, before his departure for Vienna in 1792. It has been conjecturally dated to 1790 or 1791. This is a much maturer work than the earlier single movement Allegretto and came during a period of greater creativity that seems to have coincided with the retirement of his father from active service in the musical establishment of the archbishop and of Beethoven's assumption of responsibility for his younger brothers, supported by part of his father's pension, now officially to be paid directly to Beethoven, although that humiliating arrangement did not in fact take place. The piano opens the work with a cheerful principal subject, developed by the violin, leading to a subsidiary subject, material duly developed before the expected recapitulation and, at this period of his career, less expected coda. The Scherzo that follows is the first example of such a title and form in Beethoven's music and retains much of the character of the customary Minuet, with a Trio marked by a running piano part. The work ends with a Rondo of some originality, providing a pleasing conclusion.
The Variations in E flat major on an original theme, Opus 44, for piano trio are thought by some to have been sketched in Bonn in 1792 and by others to be slightly later in date. At all events the Variations were first published as Opus 44 in 1804. The work starts with a simple and direct statement o a theme o simple outline. The first of the following fourteen variations allows the piano to embellish the melody and to proceed to a second variation for piano alone. The third variation sets violin triplets above a contrasting piano rhythm and the fourth is a running cello variation. In the fifth version of the theme the piano plays triplets, the sixth opens with all three instruments in agreement and the seventh is an E flat minor Largo opened by the cello. The eighth variation, marked Un poco adagio, has violin and cello accompanying a singing piano melody with continuing triplets, and this is followed by a more sharply defined ninth version of the theme and a capricious tenth. The next variation is marked by the characteristic opening figure entrusted to the cello and the twelfth uses the three instruments antiphonally over a piano left-hand triplet accompaniment. The E flat minor Adagio of the penultimate version of the material, with its sudden changes in dynamics, leads to a final Allegro, interrupted by a brief Andante interlude then capped by a concluding Presto.
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 amo