Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Piano Trios Vol. 2
Piano Trio No.3 in C Minor, Op. 101
Piano Trio in A Major, Op. posth.
Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gangevierteldistrict of Hamburg, the son of a double-bass player and his wife, a seamstressseventeen years her husband's senior. It was intended that the boy shouldfollow his father's trade and to this end he was taught the violin and cello,but his interest in the piano prevailed, enabling him to supplement the familyincome by playing in dockside taverns, while taking valuable lessons from EduardMarxsen.
In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with theHungarian violinist Eduard
Remenyi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar,to no effect, and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim,through whose agency he met the Schumanns, established now in Dusseldorf. Theconnection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by thecompositions of his own
Brahms played to him to hail him as the long-awaitedsuccessor to Beethoven.
Schumann's subsequent break-down in February 1854 andensuing insanity brought Brahms back to Dusseldorf to help Clara Schumann andher young family. The relationship with Clara Schumann, one of the mostdistinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her death in 1896.
It was not until 1862, after a happy period that hadbrought him a temporary position at the court of Detmold as a conductor andpiano teacher, that Brahms visited Vienna, giving concerts there and meetingthe important critic Eduard
Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion, pittingBrahms against Wagner and
Liszt as a composer of abstract music, as opposed to themusic-drama of Wagner and the symphonic poems of Liszt, with theirextra-musical associations. Brahms finally took up permanent residence in Viennain 1869, greeted by many as the real successor to Beethoven, particularly afterhis first symphony, and winning a similar position in popular esteem andsimilar tolerance for his notorious lack of tact. He died in 1897.
Summer holidays away from Vienna afforded Brahms a chanceto compose in pleasant surroundings without the interruptions inevitable in thecity. In 1886 he spent the summer in Switzerland at Hofstetten, near Thun,where he rented a villa overlooking the lake. Here he wrote his second violinsonata and second cello sonata, and in the same summer his third piano trio,the Trio in C minor, Opus 101. It was performed in Vienna in December by thecomposer, with the violinist Hubay and the cellist Popper. The first movementopens with strong energy, its intense principal subject followed by asubsidiary theme of equal intensity, marked Forte ma cantando, with violin andcello singing the theme together. The development combines both subjects,moving, in its course, to the unexpected key of C sharp minor and followed by asuccinct recapitulation and coda. The violin and cello are muted as the Scherzoopens, with a central Trio section in F minor, where agitato piano chords areaccompanied by plucked ascending arpeggios from the strings. Violin and cellostart the C major slow movement with its curiously irregular rhythm, the formerpresenting the principal theme, then taken up by the piano, which alternateswith the string instruments. Further rhythmic changes mark the central sectionof the movement, before the return of the principal theme. The last movementstarts with a vigorous return to the minor mode in a principal theme offered bythe violin, relaxing into a secondary theme, material briefly developed beforethe return of the first theme. A repetition of the second theme leads graduallyto the brighter key of C major, in which the movement swells to a conclusion.
The Piano Trio in A major attributed to Brahms waspublished in 1938. A manuscript, in the hand of an unknown copyist, was foundin 1924 by Ernst Bucken of Cologne University among the papers of Dr. Erich PriegerofBonn, where Brahms had spent part of the summer of 1853. The title page wasmissing, but from internal evidence it was suggested that the Trio was the workof Brahms, partly because of general similarities with the Opus 8 Piano Trio ofthe same period and partly because of the composer's known habit of writingworks in pairs. There has been a marked tendency to write off the A major Trioas spurious and those who believe in the authenticity of the work have not beenhelped by the disappearance of the autograph. The date of copying seems to havebeen in the 1860s, but the date of composition in the previous decade. If thisis, as many serious scholars now think, the work of Brahms, then it may bedated to 1853 or possibly to a few years later, principally on stylisticgrounds rather than on the chance of its discovery among papers from Bonn.
The Moderato first movement of the A major Piano Trioallows the piano the first subject, leading to a second subject group insimilar vein and a central development of this material as it has alreadyappeared. The recapitulation is followed by a coda that makes imaginative useof earlier elements in the movement. There is an F sharp minor Scherzo, withrelaxation in a gentler B major Trio, that makes a brief re-appearance in partin the repeated Scherzo. The piano declares the principal theme of the D majorslow movement, based on this and on a secondary theme that suggests the rhythmof a slow march. The work ends with a vigorous Presto, its thematic materialallowing an element of contrapuntal treatment, evidence of his teacher Marxsen'sinfluence. The movement is in tripartite sonata form, with a second subjectsuggesting the Hungarian music of Brahms's early colleague and companion on hisfirst concert tour, the violinist Remenyi, but finally dominated by itsprincipal theme, the basis of the final coda.