Brahms: The Complete Piano Trios, Clarinet Trio & Horn Trio
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Brahms: The Complete Chamber Music
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Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Adagio
Movement 3: Andantino grazioso
Movement 4: Allegro
The inspiration behind the Op 114 Trio may have been the clarinet, but all three instruments are wonderfully integrated throughout—indeed, if anything, it is the cello that is frequently allotted the leading role. In the outer movements both main themes are initially given to the stringed instrument, and at the beginning of the work the cello is actually heard on its own, with a rising theme whose shape is perfectly complemented by the predominantly falling intervals of the second subject, in the major. This second theme, together with its accompaniment on the piano, is permeated by those chains of descending thirds which provide such a potent symbol of resignation in Brahms’s late music: one has only to think of the opening bars of the Fourth Symphony, or of the third of the Four Serious Songs.
Between the two main subjects of this opening movement, the music reaches its first climax, approached by a brief series of rapid scales on the clarinet and cello; and it is these scales, sounding at first like the rushing wind, that are to stamp their mark on so much of the central development. At the end of the development the scales intensify to form a further climax, which, in a splendid inspiration, coincides with the start of the recapitulation. (The overlap is achieved by omitting the principal subject’s initial bars altogether.) The scales make a distant return in the movement’s coda, sweeping the music to a ghostly close.
The slow movement shares its aura of autumnal serenity with that of the Clarinet Quintet, and since it does without any equivalent to the Quintet’s more agitated, gypsy-style episode, its atmosphere of profound tranquillity is more complete. The main theme, with its gently falling thirds, is clearly an offshoot of the opening movement’s second subject. Eventually, the long-spun melody gives way to a contrasting theme of utter peacefulness, initiated by the piano over a murmuring clarinet accompaniment, which returns in a more ornate form in the latter half of what is otherwise a piece that gives the impression of a continuous, meditative improvisation.
The third movement is a Brahmsian intermezzo par excellence—a waltz of infinite gracefulness, whose easy-going atmosphere of charm is scarcely ruffled by a slightly more athletic trio section. As if all this were in danger of becoming too much of a good thing, Brahms abbreviates the reprise of the opening material, and then adds a quiet coda in a slower tempo as though to recall the calm conclusion of the opening movement.
In view, no doubt, of the intimate character of so much that has preceded it, the finale is a muscular piece with more than a tinge of the gypsy style which had fascinated Brahms so much throughout his life. Nevertheless, falling thirds are everywhere in evidence—not only in the rondo theme itself, but also in a passage following its varied return, where Brahms has them descending in a continuous chain through a span of two octaves—first in the cello, then the clarinet. This time, however, there is no question of a subdued close. Instead, the music gathers force and brings the work to an end of altogether symphonic weight.
from notes by Misha Donat © 1998