Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Allegretto: Theme and Variations I–VI
The Piano Trio in G major K496 is the first of these mature trios, one of a pair written in 1786 (the other being the trio in B flat K502, see). Mozart had been living in Vienna for five years and was beginning to enjoy some real success, for the first and only time in his career. The Marriage of Figaro was premiered in May 1786, and was increasingly acclaimed as its run continued. In March he had completed two of his greatest piano concertos, K488 in A major and K491 in C minor. This G major Piano Trio followed in July.
The solo piano introduces the opening theme, which is almost operatic in its fluid decoration. At first, only the violin joins in the dialogue, with the cello fulfilling its traditional role as the bass instrument. But the middle section begins dramatically with all instruments fortissimo, and then quietly the cello leads off the discussion, suddenly taking its place as the equal of piano and violin—a moment that must have been startling to Mozart’s contemporaries. The Andante begins, like the first movement, with an elegantly decorated theme. But the movement that unfolds has unexpected depth and complexity, with sudden modulations and, in the middle section, contrapuntal interweavings that remind us of Mozart’s love of J S Bach and Handel. The finale is a set of variations on a rather stately gavotte. The first three variations proceed innocently, but the fourth variation, in the minor, interrupts the calm with an extraordinary change of tone, the violin reiterating a drone-like motif, the cello repeating a sombre bass line below, and the piano weaving more counterpoint above. The fifth variation is an Adagio, which seems almost to take us back to the slow movement. The final variation brings a return to the gavotte tempo with flamboyant piano arpeggios, and all seems set for a brilliant ending. But the strange drone motif and counterpoint from the fourth variation return, and only just in time Mozart pulls the music back to a cheerful conclusion.
from notes by Robert Philip © 2007