Friday, April 18, 2014

Brahms - Piano Trio No. 3 In C minor Opus 101

Brahms wrote his third piano trio in 1886 while vacationing at Lake Thun in Switzerland. The scenery inspired Brahms, for in addition to the piano trio he wrote a cello sonata and violin sonata. It was a time in Brahms' life when all but one of his orchestral works (the Double Concerto for violin and cello) had been composed. He grew more introspective in his final years, writing mostly works for voice, solo piano and chamber ensembles.

The Piano Trio No. 3 is one of Brahms' shorter chamber works.  All of the movements are short but full of intensity. This trio was a favorite of Brahms' good friend Clara Schumann who turned pages for Brahms when he played the work with his two good friends the cellist Robert Hausmann and violinist Joseph Joachim. It is in 4 movements and takes just over 20 minutes in a typical performance:

I. Allegro energico - The work begins with a shout to grab the attention of the listener as the first theme rolls out of the three instruments with passion. The second theme is more lyrical but the restlessness of the first theme lurks in the background. There is not repeat of the exposition. A very short development section and condensed recapitulation lead to an impassioned coda that brings this very terse movement to a close.  

II. Presto non assai - The violin and cello are muted throughout this movement.  The music is quirky but it also has an underlying sense of melancholy. The movement is short, and ends abruptly.

III. Andante grazioso - A mellow theme, the strings have moments when they play a duet without the piano, and the piano has its solo moments also. Brahms has time signature changes of 9/8, 6/8, 3/4 and 2/4, which gives a slight hesitating quality to the music. This movement also ends abruptly in the key of C major.

IV. Allegro molto - The passion of the the opening movement returns in C minor until near the end when Brahms writes in C major. The music maintains its hectic pace and passion despite the major mode all the way to the end.

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