Movement 1: Mit Energie und Leidenschaft
Movement 2: Lebhaft, doch nicht zu rasch – Trio – [reprise] – Coda
Movement 3: Langsam, mit inniger Empfindung
Movement 4: Mit Feuer
Having been unusually condensed in the exposition, Schumann is correspondingly broad at the centre of the movement. The expansion is achieved largely by means of an extraordinary moment of stasis which introduces not only a new theme, but also a strikingly original sonority. The violin and cello, both playing near the bridge of the instrument, produce that strange ‘glassy’ sound so beloved of twentieth-century composers, while the piano accompanies with shimmering chords right at the top of the keyboard, played with the soft pedal. Many of Schumann’s opening movements feature a marked change in mood and atmosphere at a parallel point – the Piano Concerto and the C major piano Fantasy, Op 17, provide familiar examples – but none does so to more startling effect than this. The new theme is one that dominates the remainder of this portion of the movement, and Schumann alludes to it again during the coda.
The scherzo-like second movement provides a striking instance of Schumann’s ability to unify apparently contrasting material. Nothing could seem more different from the driving dotted rhythm of the scherzo’s main motif than the smoothly rising and falling theme of the trio; and yet they both emanate from the same melodic line. The trio’s theme itself offers another example of Schumann’s fascination with canonic writing. Perhaps this explains why he ultimately rejected the intricate counterpoint of a projected second trio which would have lent the movement as a whole a much larger five-part form.
Together with his C major Symphony No 2, the D minor Trio belonged, as Schumann admitted, to a ‘time of gloomy moods’; and its slow movement is one of his great tragic utterances. There is a sense of world-weariness about the music here, engendered not only by the slowly resolving suspensions of the piano part, deep in the low register of the instrument, but also by the drooping phrases of the violin’s quietly rhapsodic melody. This sombre opening portion of the piece contains the seeds of the more flowing middle section. A phrase played by the violin in triplets shortly before the cello’s first entry foreshadows one of the middle section’s two main ideas; while a rising scale figure on the cello provides the germ for the other. The change from minor to major for this central portion of the piece is one that serves only to increase the music’s sense of yearning; and it is only with the turn to the tonic major for the relatively uncomplicated finale, which follows without a pause, that the tension is ultimately resolved in a joyous affirmation of faith.
from notes by Misha Donat © 1999