Please wait...

Hyperion Records

CDA67254 - Beethoven: String Trios Op 9
Landscape with a Circular Temple by Hendrik van Lint (1684-1763)
Sotheby’s Picture Library

Recording details: March 1998
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Oliver Rivers
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: January 1999
Total duration: 75 minutes 57 seconds

'This repertoire has been recorded by some world-famous artists in the past, but no performances have given me as much pleasure as these. A real treat' (BBC Music Magazine)

'An oustanding pair of discs' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The most sensitive reportage that these works have enjoyed since the advent of digital recording' (The Independent)

'A remarkably gifted young ensemble who bring classical elegance to these glorious works' (Classic CD)

'Here is the finest string ensemble in Britain' (Daily Mail)

'One of the best and most beautiful ensembles to emerge blinking into the sunlight from London's conservatoires in recent years' (The Evening Standard)

String Trios Op 9
Presto  [5'07]
Allegretto  [8'04]
Rondo: Allegro  [6'23]
Finale: Presto  [5'37]

This CD, with its companion CDA67253 (available separately), presents all of Beethoven's music for string trio, even including the alternative 'trio' (Hess 28) of the Scherzo movement of Op 9 No 1. Although these works bear early opus numbers they should not be regarded as anything other than first-class, mature Beethoven. They are fine, absorbing pieces, not as well known as they should be—a state of affairs which these wonderful CDs should do much to rectify.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The composition of the three Opus 9 Trios took several years, overlapping with other music finished both earlier and later. They were apparently written out by March 1798, when Beethoven assigned the publishing rights to Johann Traeg of Vienna. Although the main fair copies are lost, it is recorded that Traeg issued the parts, not publishing a full score, however, until around 1846/7, by which time he had sold his rights to Steiner & Company, also of Vienna. This music therefore could not be examined except through performance for almost forty years. Its influence upon both players and audiences could not have been very strong—nor was it.

One conclusion to be drawn from this history is that these trios were considered to be hard to play. Trios were probably none too fashionable as a genre, and very few string trio groups were employed or even readily available in Vienna at the time. Beethoven himself, chiefly known as a pianist, was in a weak position to draw attention to them himself, not least because of his struggle with encroaching deafness. The first-violin parts of Op 9 were very probably composed with Ignaz Schuppanzigh in mind, and this in itself would virtually have excluded amateur or semi-amateur performance. Nor would any cellist who had dared to try Beethoven’s two sonatas for violoncello and piano, Op 5, have been much inclined to attempt the new trios—the sonatas had been written for the most famous virtuoso of the day, the Berlin court cellist Jean-Louis Duport. Even well after the publication of the score, nearly fifty years later, professional solo technique lagged some way behind the challenges presented in Beethoven’s chamber music for this instrument. And when they did hear it, early listeners were dismayed by much of Beethoven’s notated music. The rather conservative culture of Vienna, which valued convention high above even outstanding invention, will have found Beethoven’s aims—to surprise, to interrupt, even to overwhelm—difficult to accommodate, let alone to accept or enjoy.

The trios were composed roughly at the time when Beethoven was working on his three piano sonatas, Op 10, dedicated to Countess von Browne; the string trios’ dedication is to her husband. There are three works in each set and interesting parallels exist between the first movements of Trio 2 and Sonata 3, both in D major and with all three movements of each work being articulated through that key. There are points of similarity between Op 9 No 3 and Op 10 No 1 too—each being in C minor and the only one of each set in the minor mode—and this third trio also has similarities to the Piano Sonata in C, Op 2 No 3, through parallels of key, thematic contour and rhythmic drive or position in structural or emotional context—characteristics shared with almost every other work composed during Beethoven’s first ten years, a period at least as absorbing as any other of the same length throughout his lifetime. Examination of the many fragmentary sketches of these first ten years (say 1792 to 1801) shows that the composer was at first rather less purposeful and organized than during the later decades; the way in which any idea was gradually refitted for significant musical use was—even with the benefit of hindsight—unpredictable, unorthodox and sometimes seemingly capricious; this is partly why those who claim to be able to show how Beethoven set about the creative process are not only lacking in humility or appropriate caution but also demonstrate ignorance by holding that assumption.

The opening of Trio No 1 in G major is based on arpeggio statements followed by rather fussy semiquaver twisting scales; these latter are picked up for discussion before becoming adopted as the opening subject of the Allegro con brio. Their development as a four-note motif occupies much of the remaining material and has been cited as the musical expression of the philosopher Hegel’s theory that great events in life or history frequently arise through the natural consequences of the apparently inauspicious. The writing of the slow second movement in the far from orthodox submediant major (E) is, however, at odds with such an idea, and the whole work is perhaps especially rich in those very surprises which may have upset Viennese audiences. There are many doubts concerning the second Trio of the Scherzo movement (Hess 28) because it was excluded from the early editions, but it has been included in here because of its musical distinction; it is to be heard alternativement between second and third repeats of the Scherzo.

Trio No 2 in D major exploits a key that is regarded as ‘natural’ to the violin. The solo part is in fact frighteningly difficult—hard to bow, hard to tune successfully, difficult to play ‘instinctively’; once again it resembles the Sonata Op 10 No 3 which is full of technical challenges for the pianist. We are led to contemplate whether the composer (who was certainly, in Opus 10, still composing music to play himself) was aware of all the problems he was presenting to his violinist, although it is known that he did have some knowledge of how to play the instrument. Incidentally, D major had been traditionally a celebratory key, even a happy one, but this String Trio seems rather more serious and challenging, in the true manner of the later Second Symphony.

Trio No 3 in C minor is often described as the most dramatic of the three, but many pieces cast in the minor mode (still around 1800 quite a rarity) similarly explore the surprise elements it automatically includes, and there is little of the drama of either Haydn’s Sturm und Drang symphonies, or even the opening of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte about this music, and much of its character seems to spring from its short-phrased gruffness—a characteristic far more essential to this work, and later almost unique to Beethoven’s music.

Stephen Daw © 1998

   English   Français   Deutsch