BEETHOVEN: Piano Trios Op. 70, Nos. 1 and 2 (Martin Sauer/ Stuttgart Piano Trio) (Naxos: 8.550948)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Trios Vol. 3
Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1 (The Ghost Trio)
Piano Trio in E Flat Major, Op. 70, No. 2
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. This set was followed in 1808 by a set of two piano trios, dedicated to Countess Marie von Erdödy, in whose house Beethoven had taken up residence in that year. In 1809 he initiated a quarrel over the matter of his servant, bribed by the Countess, herself handicapped even at so young an age by partial paralysis, to remain with his master. Although Beethoven later wrote an apology, he found it necessary to move to other lodgings. At the same time he attempted to change the dedication of the Opus 70 Piano Trios, naming instead Archduke Rudolph, his royal pupil and patron, on the excuse that the latter had shown a particular fondness for the works. Beethoven played the trios at a musical evening at Countess Erdödy's in December 1808, presumably with the violinist Schuppanzigh and the cellist Joseph Linke, and one listener, at least, described the works as of considerable force and originality, and remarked on the enthusiastic pleasure of the Countess and one of her friends in each beautiful bold stroke.
The so-called Ghost Trio, in D major, opens with the instruments in unanimity in a brief motif that is to reappear at the start of the central development section, giving way to a gentler second subject. The concise exposition is followed by a relatively extended development and recapitulation. The nick-name of the Trio comes from the eerie second movement, music of remarkable originality and suspense, in the key of D minor, unfolding against the ghostliest of piano parts, although things do occasionally go bump in the night. The main theme of the movement appears among sketches for a projected opera on the subject of Macbeth, which allows speculation on its possible connection with events in that play. The piano breaks the tension at the outset of the final movement, a relatively perfunctory conclusion to the work.
The Piano Trio in E flat major, Opus 70, No. 2, opens with a slow introduction, an unusual feature in such a form, the cello proposing a motif that is imitated by the violin and finally by the piano, until this touch of academic technique, never far absent from Beethoven's work, is replaced by a freer piano cadenza. This ushers in the Allegro me non troppo, where the principal theme is extended by an antiphonal use of strings and keyboard. This leads to a second subject, introduced by an imitative passage based on the scale of G flat, recalling the slow introduction. A figure from the first subject opens the central development section and subsequently to introduce the final recapitulation. The slow opening bars return, to be quickly replaced by the livelier mood of the first Allegro subject in a brief coda. The second movement Allegretto offers two themes, in C major and C minor, which are then varied in alternation. A third movement Allegretto me non troppo, in fact a dance movement and a trio section, although not so described, opens with an A flat major waltz theme, whilethefollowingsectionallowsviolindouble-stoppingtosuggestthepresence of a third string-player. The finale, with a markedly rhythmic principal theme, is unusual in the key of its second subject. Its tripartite form allows a central development section, introduced by the piano with figuration which continues to play an important part in what follows.
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.