Friday, April 4, 2014

Litolff - Piano Trio In D Minor Opus 47

Henry Litolff made a name for himself during his life as a virtuoso pianist, music publisher, composer and friend to many fellow musicians. He also had quite a reputation as a ladies' man. He was married four times and he seems to have kept on the move for most of his early years, perhaps for good reason. Although born in England, he lived most of his life in Europe. He was a prolific composer, but the majority of his music has suffered from neglect. He was primarily a composer of works for the piano, orchestra and stage, but he did write a few chamber works; three piano trios, a string quartet and a serenade for violin and piano.  He wrote the first piano trio in 1847 when he was in his late twenties.

There have been a few recordings of his Concerto Symphoniques for piano and orchestra, and a few recordings of piano pieces, but the only chamber work available on CD is the Piano Trio In D Minor.  It is in 4 movements:

I. Allegro - The cello plays a plaintive melody to open the work. The violin takes up the melody, and after the piano plays a short lead-in, the actual first theme of  the movement is heard. It is a dramatic theme that Litolff develops until the second theme is heard. The second theme is in contrast to the first as it is more lyric, but it continues a feeling of tension. The first theme returns to round out the exposition. There is a slight pause before the development begins. The first theme is heard in the solo cello, and then the piano takes it up for a short time. Litolff then shifts gears and uses the first theme for a fugue. The second theme appears as an episode in the fugue, and then the second theme gets a full hearing and is developed. The recapitulation has the first theme go through a transition that leads to the repeat of the second theme in D major. The first theme is played in the major, then a short pause before the piano begins the coda and the piece ends with a D major chord, at least in the recording linked at the end of this article. The score itself has this chord as D minor.

II. Andante - The piano presents the theme in F major and the violin and cello join in. The tension and drama of the music slowly increases until the piano plays triplet eighth note chords while the cello expands the theme. The violin joins the cello, and the instruments pass a fragment of the theme back and forth. The piano plays a variant of the theme along with the violin and cello. The piano chords change to a more regular eighth-note pulse, the strings and piano unwind the melody until the movement ends with F major as it had begun. 

III. Scherzo - Litolff starts the scherzo with a bar for solo piano followed by a run for the piano while the strings play a pizzicato note then a wide-spread chord: 
The scherzo is high-energy and scurries onward to a development of the theme, or rather the persistence of the dotted eighth-sixteenth-eighth rhythm. Litolff makes much of this slight motif, the scherzo is repeated, a short coda is added and the movement ends. 

IV. Finale: Presto - The first theme scurries about while the second theme is more lyrical and gentle. The development has the first theme treated contrapuntally. The recapitulation brings back the first theme. The second theme returns. An impassioned coda throws out fragments of the first theme as the tension increases. The key changes to D major and the drama increases as the instruments chromatically descend into a flurry as the tempo increases and the music ends in a glory of D major.  

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