Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Piano Trio & Piano Quartet
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads availableCDA67175
Movement 1: Bewegt, doch nicht zu rasch – Rascher
Movement 2: Ziemlich langsam – Etwas bewegter – Schneller – Erstes Tempo
Movement 3: Rasch
Movement 4: Kräftig, mit Humor
Schumann’s G minor Piano Trio belongs to a group of three chamber works composed in rapid succession in the autumn of 1851, at a time when the composer’s relations with the Düsseldorf municipal orchestra, of which he had been director since 1849, had begun to sour. The Trio followed hard on the heels of Schumann’s First Violin Sonata in A minor; and its opening movement, with its passionately intense main subject and its driving 6/8 rhythm, clearly looks forward to that of the Sonata’s D minor successor which he began barely more than a fortnight later. Clara Schumann was able to play both the Trio and the D minor Sonata during a chamber music evening at their house, on 15 November. The string players on that occasion were Schumann’s violinist friend Joseph von Wasielewski, and the principal cellist of the Düsseldorf orchestra, Christian Reimers.
The following March, during a week-long celebration of Schumann’s music in Leipzig, Clara performed Schumann’s earlier Piano Trio in D minor, together with the leader of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Ferdinand David, and the cellist Johann Grabau. (At another musical soirée a day or two later, she played the new G minor Trio to Liszt, after which she and Liszt sight-read their way through Mendelssohn’s Allegro brillant for piano duet.) Schumann was so taken with Ferdinand David’s playing that he dedicated the D minor Violin Sonata to him. As for the Piano Trio in G minor, it was inscribed to the Danish composer Niels Gade, whose music was much admired by both Schumann and Mendelssohn. In the 1840s Gade had been Mendelssohn’s assistant at Leipzig, and, for a brief period following Mendelssohn’s death in 1847, chief conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. However, when war broke out between Prussia and Denmark the following year Gade returned to Copenhagen, where he remained until he died in 1890.
Schumann’s last piano trio is a piece that has all but disappeared from the repertoire. Together with some of his other late chamber works, it has sometimes been cited as evidence of the composer’s weakening creative strength—a judgement with which any listener carried away by the surging passion of its opening Allegro, the warmth of its slow movement or the sweeping continuity of its scherzo may find it hard to concur. If the finale strikes us as rather more sectional, it nevertheless draws the threads of the work together with remarkable subtlety.
The opening movement, with its constantly intertwining parts for the two stringed instruments, shows Schumann’s fascination with intricate counterpoint. That fascination reaches a climax in the central development, where the cello introduces a mysterious pizzicato idea which serves to launch an extended passage of quadruple counterpoint whose short motifs are juggled around the trio texture with masterly prestidigitation. The passage comes to a climax over a long-sustained tremolo deep in the bass register of the keyboard; and as the music dies away, the reprise of the main theme emerges imperceptibly, as though it were beginning in mid-stream. The cello’s pizzicato motif makes a fleeting return right at the end of the movement’s quicker coda, allowing the music to die away in a conclusion of scherzo-like transparency.
The slow movement begins in the form of a long, deeply expressive duet for the two stringed instruments. The yearning ascending interval which launches their melody seems to hark back to the lyrical second subject of the opening movement. But the music soon gathers pace, at the same time becoming darker and more dramatic; and a second increase in tempo brings with it an agitated variant of the movement’s opening theme. At the end calm is restored, and the song-like opening theme returns—this time with the pianist at last joining in the melodic discourse.
The agitated scherzo which so impressed Clara Schumann has a turn-like theme rather reminiscent of the main subject of Schumann’s D minor Symphony (No 4). Of its two trio sections, the first, in the major, has a wonderfully expressive syncopated melody rising step-wise until its tension is released in a little group of semiquavers; while the second is a march-like interlude whose dotted rhythm is relieved by a smooth figure in triplet motion. Both trios leave their mark on the finale.
The finale’s main theme arises out of the same yearning interval presented both in the opening movement’s second subject and at the start of the slow movement. As if this undemonstrative means of unifying the work were not enough, the melody of the scherzo’s first trio soon makes a return, to be followed by the march-rhythm of the second trio; while towards the end the smooth triplets from the second trio also reappear, to usher in the work’s exuberant conclusion.
from notes by Misha Donat © 2000