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BEETHOVEN: Piano Trios Nos. 5 and 6 / Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 44


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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)


Piano Trios, Volume 1


Born in Bonn in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was theeldest son of a singer in the musical establishment of theArchbishop-Elector of Cologne and grandson of theArchbishop's former Kapellmeister, whose name hetook. The household was not a happy one. Beethoven'sfather became increasingly inadequate both as a singerand as a father and husband, with his wife always readyto draw invidious comparisons between him and his ownfather. Beethoven, however, was trained as a musician,however erratically, and duly entered the service of theArchbishop, serving as an organist and as a string-playerin the archiepiscopal orchestra. He was already winningsome distinction in Bonn, when, in 1787, he was firstsent to Vienna, to study with Mozart. The illness of hismother forced an early return from this venture and hersubsequent death left him with responsibility for hisyounger brothers, in view of his father's domestic andprofessional failures. In 1792 Beethoven was sent oncemore to Vienna, now to study with Haydn, whom he hadmet in Bonn.

Beethoven's early career in Vienna was helped veryconsiderably by the circumstances of his move there.

The Archbishop was a son of the Empress MariaTheresa and there were introductions to leadingmembers of society in the imperial capital. HereBeethoven was able to establish an early position forhimself as a pianist of remarkable ability, coupled witha clear genius in the necessarily related arts ofimprovisation and composition. The onset of deafness atthe turn of the century seemed an irony of Fate. It ledBeethoven gradually away from a career as a virtuosoperformer and into an area of composition where he wasable to make remarkable changes and extensions ofexisting practice. Deafness tended to accentuate hiseccentricities and paranoia, which became extreme astime went on. At the same time it allowed him todevelop his gifts for counterpoint. He continued torevolutionise forms inherited from his predecessors,notably Haydn and Mozart, expanding these almost tobursting-point, and introducing innovation afterinnovation as he grew older. He died in 1827, his deaththe occasion of public mourning in Vienna.

The first three piano trios, which form Beethoven'sOpus 1, were published in 1795 and dedicated to PrinceCarl Lichnowsky, who had welcomed the composer intohis house in Vienna and offered continuing support.

These were followed in 1808 by a set of two piano trios,dedicated to Countess Marie von Erdody, in whosehouse Beethoven had taken up residence in that year. In1809 he initiated a quarrel with the Countess over thematter of a servant, secretly bribed by her, it seemed, tostay with his master. Although Beethoven later wrote anapology, he moved to other lodgings. At the same timehe attempted to change the dedication of these two Opus70 Piano Trios, naming instead Archduke Rudolph, hisroyal pupil and patron, on the excuse that the latter hadshown a particular fondness for the works, but theoriginal dedication eventually stayed. Beethoven hadplayed the works at a musical evening at CountessErdody's in December 1808, presumably with theviolinist Schuppanzigh and the cellist Joseph Linke, andone listener, at least, described the works as ofconsiderable force and originality, and remarked on theenthusiastic pleasure of the Countess and one of herfriends at each beautiful, bold stroke.

The so-called Ghost Trio, the Piano Trio in Dmajor, Op. 70, No. 1, opens with the instruments inunanimity with a short motif that is to return at the startof the central development of the first movement,followed by a gentler second subject. The conciseexposition is followed by a more extended developmentand recapitulation. The popular nick-name of the Triocomes from the eerie second movement, music ofremarkable originality and suspense, in the key of Dminor and unfolding against the ghostliest of pianoparts, although things do occasionally go bump in thenight. The main theme of the movement appears amongsketches for a projected opera on the subject of Macbeth,which allows speculation on its possible connection withevents in that play. The piano breaks the tension at thebeginning of the final Presto in tripartite sonata form.

The second of the set, the Piano Trio in E flat major,Op. 70, No. 2, opens with a slow introduction, anunusual feature in this genre, the cello proposing a motifthat is imitated by the violin and finally by the piano,until this touch of the academic, an element not alwayswelcomed by contemporaries, is replaced by a pianocadenza. This ushers in an Allegro ma non troppo,where the principal theme is extended by antiphonalexchange between strings and keyboard. The secondsubject is introduced by an imitative passage based onthe scale of G flat, recalling the slow introduction. Afigure from the first subject opens the centraldevelopment and later returns to start the finalrecapitulation, with its reminiscence of the slowintroduction, quickly replaced by a livelier conclusion.

The second movement, marked Allegretto, offers twothemes, in C major and C minor respectively, and theseare varied in alternation. The A flat major thirdmovement, marked Allegretto ma non troppo, is in facta dance movement with the equivalent of a contrastingtrio section that uses violin double-stopping, suggestingthe presence of a third string player. The finale, with aprincipal theme in marked rhythm, is unusual in the keyof its second subject. The central development bringspiano figuration that continues to provide an importantelement in what follows.

The Variations in E flat major, Op. 44, are thoughtby some to have been sketched in Bonn in 1792 and byothers to be slightly later in date. They were firstpublished in 1804. The Andante theme is given by allthree players, in simple outline. The first of the fourteenvariations allows the piano to elaborate the material,proceeding to a second variation for piano alone. Thethird variation offers rhythmic contrast in the violintriplets over a contrasting piano rhythm, and the fourthis entrusted primarily to the cello. The piano is giventriplet rhythms in the fifth variation, while the sixthstarts in unanimity. The seventh, marked Largo and in Eflat minor, is opened by the cello, and the eighth, Unpoco adagio, has violin and cello accompanying asinging piano melody with continuing triplets. This isfollowed by a more sharply defined ninth version of thetheme and a capricious tenth. The eleventh variationallows the cello to introduce a characteristic rhythmicfigure, over piano triplets, and the twelfth has anexchange between violin, cello and piano right handover accompanying left-hand piano triplets. The E flatminor Adagio penultimate variation, with its suddenchanges of dynamics, leads to a final Allegro,interrupted by a brief Andante interlude, before the rapidfinal Presto.

Keith Anderson
Facts
Item number 8557723
Barcode 747313272327
Release date 07/01/2005
Category Classical
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Performers
Composers Beethoven, Ludwig van
Beethoven, Ludwig van
Orchestras Trio, Xyrion
Trio, Xyrion
Disc: 1
Variations on an Original Theme in E flat, Op. 44
1 I. Allegro vivace e con brio
2 II. Largo assai ed espressivo
3 III. Presto
4 I. Poco sostenuto - Allegro ma non troppo
5 II. Allegretto
6 III. Allegretto ma non troppo
7 IV. Finale: Allegro
8 Theme
9 Variation I
10 Variation II
11 Variation III
12 Variation IV
13 Variation V
14 Variation VI
15 Varaition VII
16 Variation VIII
17 Variation IX
18 Varaition X
19 Variation XI
20 Variation XII
21 Variation XIII
22 Variation XIV
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