Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dvořák - Piano Trio No. 3 In F Minor, Op. 65

The year 1882 was full of emotional and professional turmoil for Antonín Dvořák.  He was being pulled in two directions in his career as a composer. He was a passionate ethnic Czech that imbued his music with the spirit of dances and folksong of his native land as a way to show his solidarity with his fellow countryman in their struggle to win independence from the Austrian Empire. But he was also being encouraged by his friend and benefactor Johannes Brahms to move to Vienna and write music more in tune with the Austrian/German tradition.  Brahms also informed him that if Dvořák was willing to write operas to German language librettos he would most assuredly be offered well paid commissions for such work.

Added to that was the death of his adored mother in late December of 1882.  Adding to his stress level was the birth of a son in early 1883 that despite the joy the child brought, also served as a reminder of his desire to provide for his family.  He took a break from composing for a short time after the death of his mother, and began anew in February of 1883 with the Piano Trio No. 3 In F Minor.

Contrary to Dvořák's usual time of two to three weeks for a chamber music composition to be completed, he took nearly two months with the 3rd piano trio. The music of the trio is a mixture of passion, sorrow, frustration with a few instances of brightness.  The work is symphonically dense in places and threatens to split the seams of a work for three instruments.

The 3rd Piano Trio is in 4 movements:
I. Allegro ma non troppo - The first theme begins straight away in the strings. Although it begins quietly, a certain tension is brought to the theme with its F minor tonality and dotted rhythm. The piano joins in after a few measures and the theme is replayed and developed over some 50 bars. After a few bars of transition, a second theme is introduced by the cello in A-flat major. This theme gives an initial impression of being more gentle, but chromatic alterations continue a feeling of unrest. After the second theme plays itself out there is a short episode in the major mode that brings back the dotted rhythm in material of a more confident and defiant nature. This episode leads directly to the development, there is no repeat of the exposition. The development brings the working out of the two main themes in tremendous shifts of mood and tonality. The two main themes are intensified in the recapitulation.  When the second theme returns, its tonality has shifted to F major, but the feeling of unrest continues. The short section of defiance is repeated, also in F major. A few bars of transition brings the first theme back in F minor where it undergoes another short development until the tempo suddenly speeds up. The tension builds until there is a short ritard where the piano is silent as the strings play. A sudden resumption of tempo leads to the final bar in F minor.

II. Allegretto grazioso -  The movement is in C-sharp minor. Dvořák uses music in the style of a Czech dance for the scherzo movement. A rhythmic trick is played by Dvořák as the strings begin the movement playing in triplets, a feeling of three beats in a bar, but when the piano enters it plays in two beats in the bar as the 2/4 time signature designates. To further confuse the listener, accents in the piano part are given on the offbeat. This gives a momentary shock to the ear:
 After a few bars of this cross rhythm, the listener's ear adjusts enough to feel the actual 2 in a bar meter, but the cross rhythm and off beat accents continue to give a restless feel. The tune of the dance goes through harmonic changes that add to the restlessness.  The trio begins in D-flat major, but goes through harmonic changes and rhythmic diversities. The dance returns and is repeated exactly as the first time.

III. Poco adagio - A plaintive theme in A-flat major that successfully bridges the gap between sorrow and love, perhaps in memory of his departed mother. This movement's few rays of light get but little chance to peek through the darkness. It is the emotional center of the trio, and adds to the despondency of work.

IV. Allegro con brio - The music returns to F minor in the final movement that is in a hybrid sonata/rondo form,  Dvořák's main theme, a type of Czech dance called the furiant keeps turning up through the movement. The second theme is a variant of the main theme in the form of a waltz.  The music continues on its way until the first theme of the first movement appears in a short episode, after which the main theme of the last movement goes through one more variation which leads to a ritard and key change to F major as the music speeds up and ends in F major.

No comments:

Post a Comment