Hyperion Records

Piano Trio in E major, K542
June 1788

'Mozart: Piano Trios K496 & 542' (CDA66148)
Mozart: Piano Trios K496 & 542
MP3 £5.99FLAC £5.99ALAC £5.99Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66148  Archive Service; also available on CDS44021/3  
'Mozart: Piano Trios K502,542,564' (CDA67556)
Mozart: Piano Trios K502,542,564
'Mozart: Six Piano Trios' (CDS44021/3)
Mozart: Six Piano Trios
MP3 £15.00FLAC £15.00ALAC £15.00Buy by post £41.97 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDS44021/3  3CDs Boxed set (at a special price) — Archive Service  
Movement 1: Allegro
Track 4 on CDA67556 [7'28]
Track 4 on CDA66148 [11'27] Archive Service; also available on CDS44021/3
Track 4 on CDS44021/3 CD2 [11'27] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price) — Archive Service
Movement 2: Andante grazioso
Track 5 on CDA67556 [4'19]
Track 5 on CDA66148 [4'34] Archive Service; also available on CDS44021/3
Track 5 on CDS44021/3 CD2 [4'34] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price) — Archive Service
Movement 3: Allegro
Track 6 on CDA67556 [6'47]
Track 6 on CDA66148 [6'39] Archive Service; also available on CDS44021/3
Track 6 on CDS44021/3 CD2 [6'39] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price) — Archive Service

Piano Trio in E major, K542
Despite his difficulties, Mozart wrote some of his greatest music over the summer of 1788. His last three symphonies were composed, and may have been performed at a series of three concerts organized for Mozart’s benefit. It was around the same time that he composed two of his piano trios, in E major and C major. On 17 June he wrote to his friend and fellow-mason Michael Puchberg, asking for another loan, and adding as a P. S.: ‘When are we going to make a little Musique at your house again? I have just composed a new trio!’ This was the Piano Trio in E major K542, and it was probably the same work he referred to in a letter to his sister Nannerl in August, when he asked her to play some of his new pieces to Michael Haydn (brother of Joseph), adding that ‘he couldn’t possibly dislike’ this trio.

As in the preceding Trio in B flat, the piano-writing is at times almost like that of a concerto. But in other ways the character of this trio is quite different. The key of E major is highly unusual for Mozart, and the first movement in particular is full of harmonic twists and surprises. The opening theme on the piano seems uncertain whether it is joyful or melancholy, drooping chromatically downwards in its second bar. Rushing scales as the strings join in seem to tilt the balance away from melancholy, and the music proceeds serenely on its way, until one of the piano’s rising scales unexpectedly hits a B sharp, abruptly generating a modulation to bring us to B major for the second theme. As this theme draws to a close, we suddenly find ourselves in G major and then G minor—very remote from E major. But Mozart equally quickly recovers to end the first section in B major, rounding it off with an extended version of the chromatically drooping second bar. Characteristically, Mozart follows with a development based not on the most prominent material, but on an apparently insignificant falling interval from the middle of the first theme, followed by a new phrase with a turn and a rising scale. The three instruments answer in fugal style, continuing in genial conversation until the piano suddenly bursts into a passage of flamboyant concerto arpeggios. Equally abruptly this comes to a halt, and we are back at the reprise of the opening theme.

The second movement is a graceful Andante, with dotted rhythms and pointed off-beat phrasing suggesting the poise of a formal dance. Again, sudden harmonic surprises give an occasional dark hint of what lies below the surface. Most poignant is the middle section in the minor, with the violin answered by questioning phrases in the bass of the piano.

Mozart had two attempts at writing the finale for this trio. He wrote more than sixty bars of a first version before abandoning it: just as he was embarking on a fugato passage, he decided to start all over again. The new theme which he then wrote is, as Alfred Einstein puts it, ‘almost childlike’. It owes part of its character to the fact that, as the piano begins the melody, the accompanying left hand avoids playing the keynote, E, until the strings come in. This has the effect of making the theme seem to float in the air, unsupported. The finale echoes elements from the first movement: a second theme begins with a falling chromatic scale, and in later episodes the piano breaks into brilliant runs and arpeggios, answered on one occasion by a dashing display from the violin. But the simple main theme seems quite unaffected by all this; and as the movement draws to a close, Mozart presents us with not so much a climax as a distillation of the mood of the whole piece. And this impression is reinforced by the final bars, where each instrument reiterates the little turn and rising scale that had figured prominently in the central section of the first movement.

from notes by Robert Philip © 2006

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