DVORAK: Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 21 / Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 26 (Joachim Trio) (Naxos: 8.554309)
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Piano Trio in B flatmajor, Op. 21
Piano Trio in G minor,Op. 26
Antonin Dvoř?ák was born in 1841, theson of a butcher and innkeeper in the village of Nelahozeves, near Kralupy, inBohemia, and some forty miles north of Prague. It was natural that he should atfirst have been expected to follow the family trade, as the eldest son. Hismusical abilities, however, soon became apparent and were encouraged by hisfather, who in later years abandoned his original trade, to earn something of aliving as a zither player. After primary schooling he was sent to lodge with anuncle in Zlonice and was there able to acquire the necessary knowledge ofGerman and improve his abilities as a musician, hitherto acquired at home inthe village band and in church. Further study of German and of music atKamenice, a town in northern Bohemia, led to his admission in 1857 to thePrague Organ School, where he studied for the following two years.
On leaving the Organ School, Dvoř?ák earnedhis living as a viola-player in a band under the direction of Karel Komzak, anensemble that was to form the nucleus of the Czech Provisional TheatreOrchestra, established in 1862. Four years later Smetana was appointedconductor at the theatre, where his operas The Brandenbnrgers in Bahemia andThe Bartered Bride had already been performed. It was not until 1871that Dvoř?ák resigned from theorchestra, devoting himself more fully to composition, as his music began toattract favourable local attention. In 1873 he married a singer from the chorusof the theatre and in 1874 became organist of the church of St Adalbert. Duringthis period he continued to support himself by private teaching, while busy ona series of compositions that gradually became known to a wider circle.
Further recognition came to Dvoř?ákin 1874,when his application for an Austrian government award brought his music to theattention of Brahms and the critic Eduard Hanslick in Vienna. The granting ofthis award for five consecutive years was of material assistance. It wasthrough this contact that, impressed by Dvoř?ák's Moravian Duets entered for the award of 1877, Brahms was ableto arrange for their publication by Simrock, who commissioned a further work, SlavonicDances, for piano duet. The success of these publications introduced Dvoř?ák's music to a much wider public, for which itheld some exotic appeal. As his reputation grew, there were visits to Germanyand to England, where he was always received with greater enthusiasm than mightinitially have been accorded a Czech composer in Vienna.
In 1883 Dvoř?ák had rejected atempting proposal that he should write a German opera for Vienna. At home hecontinued to contribute to Czech operatic repertoire, an important element inre-establishing national musical identity. The invitation to take up a positionin New York was another matter. In 1891 he had become professor of compositionat Prague Conservatory and in the summer of the same year he was invited tobecome director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. With thebacking of Jeanette Thurber and her husband, this institution was intended tofoster American music, hitherto dominated by musicians from Europe or largelytrained there. Whatever the ultimate success or failure of the venture, Dvoř?ák's contribution was seen as that of providing ablue-print for American national music, following the example of Czech nationalmusic, which owed so much to him. The musical results of Dvoř?ák's time in America must lie chiefly in his ownmusic, notably in his Symphony 'From the New World', his AmericanQuartet and American Quintet and his Violin Sonatina, worksthat rely strongly on the European tradition that he had inherited, whilemaking use of melodies and rhythms that might be associated in one way oranother with America. By 1895 Dvoř?ákwas homefor good, resuming work at the Prague Conservatory, of which he became directorin 1901. His final works included a series of symphonic poems and two moreoperas, to add to the nine he had already composed. He died in Prague in 1904.
Dvoř?ák's Piano Trio inB flat major was written in the spring or early summer of 1875, the first ofhis four surviving works in this form. It was subsequently revised, eitherbefore or after the first public performance in February 1877 by the pianistKarl Slavkovsk?¢, with the violinist Frantisek Ondřiček and cellistAlois Sladek. The first movement, in the expected tripartite classical form ofexposition, development and recapitulation, offers a broadly flowing firsttheme to which the second, introduced by the piano after earlier indications ofits approach, provides a contrast. The central development explores thismaterial, before its modified return in recapitulation. The G minor slowmovement hints at melancholy, its principal theme stated by the piano and takenup in succession by the cello and the violin. An A major section, leading to aversion of the material in F sharp minor, finds its way back to the originalkey for a conclusion of great serenity. There is a further change of key, nowto E flat major, for the graceful Scherzo, with its B major Trio. Thereis a gradual return to the key of B flat major for the principal theme of theenergetic final movement, the necessary counterbalance in form and weight tothe first.
The Piano Trio in G minor, Opus 26, was written in January 1876,a period of sadness, after the death in infancy of the first of Dvoř?ák's daughters. The same year saw the compositionof the Stabat Mater and the Piano Concerto in G minor. The workwas first performed in June 1879 in Turnov by the composer with the violinistFerdinand Lachner, his companion on later concert tours, and the cellist AloisNeruda. A brief introduction leads to the lyrical and characteristic firstsubject and an equally appealing secondary theme. The music grows in poignantintensity, to subside before the exposition is repeated. The strongly markedchords with which the movement had begun find a place in the centraldevelopment, as they must in the final recapitulation. The cello is entrustedwith the first statement of the meditative theme that dominates the E flatmajor slow movement. This is followed by the lightly scored G minor Scherzo,with its theme announced by the violin and imitated by the piano, then tobe heard in canon, the two string instruments at first answering the piano. Thecello offers a moment of relaxation before the canon and original pace areresumed. To this the central G major Trio provides a contrast. Thevigorous Finale opens with strongly marked chords, an echo of the firstmovement, soon moving to the key of G minor. A final G major brings a triumphantand emphatic conclusion.