Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 3
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Movement 1: Adagio – Allegro vivace
Movement 2: Largo con espressione
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro – Trio
Movement 4: Presto
Haydn and Mozart wrote many Andantes in gently swaying 6/8 siciliano rhythm. But only rarely did they compose a siciliano in the slower, Adagio tempo. It is characteristic of the young Beethoven’s search for increased profundity of expression that the second movement of the G major Trio combines a siciliano lilt with an unprecedented hymn-like solemnity. The tempo marking, Largo con espressione, is itself novel and significant; and the rapt atmosphere is enhanced by the choice of key, E major, which sounds remote and radiant after G major. Beethoven shows a typical feeling for long-range tonal planning when he later plunges dramatically (with a sudden fortissimo) from B major to the work’s home key of G, initiating a searching modulating development of the opening theme.
Though definitely a scherzo rather than a minuet, the third movement is less wilful than its counterpart in Op 1 No 1, playing insouciantly with rising and falling scales, à la Haydn. The Trio turns to B minor for a laconic waltz of comic banality – the kind of music likely to turn up in Beethoven’s works from the early years right through to the visionary late quartets. After the return of the scherzo Beethoven appends a brief coda that toys with the theme’s opening figure before dying away to pianissimo.
The finale was originally in 4/4 time. But at an early run-through the cellist Anton Kraft (best-known for his association with Haydn) suggested that the music would be better notated in 2/4, and Beethoven duly adopted the idea. Opening with a catchy ‘riding’ theme in rapid repeated notes (perfect for the violin, but artfully refashioned when the piano takes it over), this is another movement that infuses Haydn’s spirit with Beethoven’s own brand of boisterousness. The music is full of aggressive sforzando accents, rough dynamic contrasts (at their most extreme in the coda) and mysterious or dramatic plunges to distant keys. The development alights for a while in E major, the key of the Adagio – another instance of Beethoven’s large-scale tonal strategy. But perhaps the wittiest moment of all comes with the start of the recapitulation. Here a smooth new figure in octaves on the piano seems to be preparing for the return of the ‘riding’ theme, which then enters unobtrusively, before we realize it, while the piano octaves continue as if nothing has happened.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2004