Movement 1: Andante
Movement 2: Allegro non troppo
Movement 3: Largo
Movement 4: Allegretto
The first movement begins with an unearthly fragment of a fugue, the cello playing high, eerie harmonics, the muted violin entering below, the piano following with deep octaves. This is Shostakovich at his bleakest. A sudden increase in pace brings not relief, but a heightening of anxiety. The motif with which the work began is thrown from instrument to instrument, there are sudden climaxes, and the movement peters out uncertainly just as one expects some new development. The second movement is savagely ironic, taking the witty conventions of a scherzo and subjecting them to biting discords and obsessive repetition. In the middle of the movement, the violin flings fragments of a folk song high in the air, but the effect is desperate rather than joyful. The third movement is a passacaglia: the piano repeats a slow, stark sequence of chords six times. Above the chords the violin and then the cello enter, like figures in a ruin rescuing fragments of musical memories—unaccompanied Bach, perhaps. The music slowly builds to a climax, subsides to an inconclusive chord, and then launches straight into the finale. This brings together all the moods of the earlier movements—the bleakness of the opening, the bitter irony of the scherzo, the searching lament of the passacaglia. To these it adds a specifically Jewish element, for this is Klezmer, the wild music of Jewish celebration, here grotesquely metamorphosed into an image of sustained destructive power. At the final climax it breaks off, and a swirling pattern based on the passacaglia leads in a desperate reminiscence of the first movement, as if the terrible vision of the finale was foretold right at the beginning of the work. And at the end the chords of the passacaglia come together with the eerie harmonics from the very opening, leaving the bleak landscape as empty as when we entered it.
Whatever detailed programme or narrative Shostakovich may have had in his mind when writing the Trio is secondary to the direct impact of the music. In Testimony, the volume of memoirs assembled by Solomon Volkov, but now much disputed, Shostakovich is reported as saying: ‘I am horrified by people who think the commentaries to a symphony are more important than the symphony. What counts with them is a large number of brave words—and the music can be pathetic and woebegone. This is real perversion. I don’t need brave words on music and I don’t think anyone does. We need brave music.’ That sounds like Shostakovich.
from notes by Robert Philip © 2011