Thursday, September 26, 2013

Beethoven - Piano Trio In C Minor Opus 1, No. 3

When Beethoven left his home town of Bonn for Vienna for the second time in 1792, his friend and patron Count Waldenstein wrote this in a letter to him:

"In leaving for Vienna today, you are about to realize a long cherished desire. The wandering genius of Mozart still grieves for his passing. With Haydn's unquenchable spirit, it has found shelter but no home and longs to find some lasting habitation. Work hard, and the spirit of Mozart’s genius will come to you from Haydn's hands."

It was Beethoven's intention to receive instruction from Mozart on his return trip to Vienna,  but Mozart had died before he got there. Whether Mozart would have proven a better teacher for Beethoven is of course not known, but there is evidence about the relationship between Beethoven and Haydn. Beethoven evidently found Haydn somewhat old-fashioned in his teaching methods, as he had Beethoven do exercises in counterpoint for six months. Beethoven sought instruction from other teachers while he was still a student of Haydn, but did it in secret as to not offend the elder composer.

In Haydn's defense, this was a busy time as he recently had been invited to London by concert promoter Johann Peter Salomon. Haydn was occupied with travel plans as well as composing new symphonies for the trip. And the personalities of the two composers could not have been more different. Beethoven, the brash, rude, passionate pianist/composer was nicknamed "The Great Mogul" by Haydn. With Haydn's conservative dress, powdered wig and courtly manners, Beethoven most likely couldn't relate too well either.

What came to be Beethoven's Opus 1 compositions, three piano trios, were first performed with Beethoven at the piano in the home of Count Carl von Lichnowsky with Haydn present. Haydn was enthusiastic about the first two trios, but cautioned Beethoven about the third one in C Minor. He suggested it needed more work because it wouldn't be understood or appreciated by the public. For whatever reason, Beethoven took offense at the criticism, but held off publishing the trios for two years, perhaps to rethink the C minor trio.  Haydn's remarks were most likely constructive criticism meant to help Beethoven's first official Opus 1 to be a success. With Haydn's fame being wide-spread, there could not have been any cause for jealousy on his part. Evidently Beethoven never forgot the affront, and if he did take Haydn's advice and rework the C minor trio he never said, but the two remained cordial and in Beethoven's later years he mellowed in his opinion of Haydn.

The C Minor Piano Trio of Opus 1 consists of 4 movements:
I. Allegro con brio -  Haydn's sense of form and mastery of sonata form in particular influenced Beethoven greatly, no matter what the younger composer said.. The first movement of this trio begins with a string of short themes that go from minor to major keys and back again. These themes are developed in the next section, sometimes the whole theme, sometimes parts of it. The recapitulation is masterfully handled as things fall into place for a well-rounded ending to a turbulent first movement.

II. Andante cantabile con Variazioni -  A set of variations, bread-and-butter to a composer that was more well-known for his improvisations in his early years in Vienna than for his compositions. A splendid contrast to the passion of the first movement.

III. Minuetto, Quasi allegro -  The piano begins by playing a quirky tune:
The tune is in C minor, and gives way to a Trio section in C major that has rippling scales in the piano as the violin and cello alternate between playing the melody and accompanying.

IV. Finale - Prestissimo - Was it this final movement, full of spit and fire, that was the reason for Haydn's criticism? Haydn's finales could be playful and rather light-weight, which this movement definitely is not. Dramatic and extroverted, the music propels itself along until Beethoven's final surprise - music that reduces in volume in anticipation of another eruption, but  then quietly ends with a simple cadence .


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