Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 1
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Movement 1: Poco sostenuto – Allegro ma non troppo
Movement 2: Allegretto
Movement 3: Allegretto ma non troppo
Movement 4: Finale: Allegro
Beethoven’s obvious model for the tight integration of slow introduction and allegro was the first movement of Haydn’s ‘Drumroll’ Symphony, No 103, likewise in E flat and 6/8 time. The connection between the two works carries over into their not-so-slow second movements. Both are cast as a set of double variations on two alternating and related themes, one in C minor, the other in C major. Haydn begins in C minor and ends in C major. Beethoven reverses the process, opening with a charmingly demure – and distinctly Haydnesque – C major tune, and closing with fragments of the truculent, faintly Hungarian-sounding C minor theme, linked to the C major by its flicking ‘Scotch snap’ figures. After a full variation of each theme (the C major in wonderfully airy, dancing textures), the second variation of the C major tune is drastically shortened; then, in the movement’s climactic section, Beethoven powerfully exploits the C minor theme’s exotic, Hungarian flavour, with violin and cello in turn hurling out the tune against flamboyant keyboard figuration.
The third movement, noted as a minuet in the composer’s sketches but in the autograph marked simply ‘Allegretto ma non troppo’, is in A flat rather than the expected E flat major. The trio is thus the earliest instance in Beethoven of a work with movements in three different keys, a pattern he repeated in the ‘Harp’ Quartet of 1809, where the tonal centres are again E flat, A flat and C. Hearing this exquisitely tender, lulling music ‘blind’, many listeners would exclaim ‘Schubert!’. And it left a profound effect on the younger composer in a piece like the A flat Impromptu D935 No 2. Yet this romantic intermezzo, with its contrasting ‘trio’ that dissolves magically back into the main section, also recalls Haydn by quoting the beginning of the famous Largo from his Symphony No 88. Could it be that Beethoven, who had made peace with the now frail old man at a performance of The Creation in March 1808, consciously or unconsciously conceived the whole trio as a homage to his former teacher? Certainly the genial and exhilarating finale, full of rhythmic wit and good-humoured instrumental repartee, recreates Haydn’s spirit in terms of Beethoven’s own ‘middle period’ style. In keeping with the whole trio, the movement shows a fondness for relationships between keys a third apart: the gloriously exuberant second group of themes is in G major rather than the orthodox B flat, and is later recapitulated in C major. This prolonged emphasis on C major demands a long coda affirming the tonic, E flat. But what Beethoven gives us is not so much a coda as a second, varied, recapitulation that brings back all the themes in reverse order, then subsides to a quizzical pianissimo before generating a rousing send-off from the opening scales.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2003