Movement 1: Pas trop lent – Animé
Movement 2: Vite
Movement 3: Assez lent
Movement 4: Animé
Composed at Montbovon in Switzerland between mid July and mid September 1881, the Trio for piano, violin and cello established from the outset the young musician’s leaning towards chamber music at a time when his peers were moving towards opera. Above all, it shows an exceptional sense of architecture and lyricism. The opening ‘Pas trop lent’ introduces two threads, one very rhythmic—at the start of which appears a very recognizable motif (two demisemiquavers and a crochet)—and the other melodic, descending and chromatic, blending into the same motif. The ensuing theme of this movement is similarly based on two ideas, introduced by the violin in G minor and continued on the cello. The development lets us follow the thematic thread with the motif being repeated four times, fortissimo.
Conceived as an intermezzo, the second movement in B flat (‘Vite’, in 3/8) is also based around two themes, the latter being longer and more rhythmically subtle. A surprise awaits the listener in the third movement: its only theme is none other than the second motif from the first movement played at half speed. It is in this beautiful D minor piano tune, which variously hints at the work’s first motif, that the spirit and eclecticism of the musician is to be found through the unceasing changes of tonality and subtle ambiguities of harmony. In the final movement he comes full circle (having introduced two more motifs), and the principal elements of the score, slightly altered, give this Trio the cyclical form beloved of Franck. Given its first performance on 8 April 1882 at the Société Nationale de Musique, but completely overlooked (not a single critic turned up), the Trio has since come into its own, particularly since 1970.
from notes by Jean Gallois © 1998
English: Celia Ballantyne