Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Debussy - Piano Trio In G Major

Most classical music lovers who have ever heard the name Nadezhda von Meck know it from her relationship with Pyotr Tchaikovsky, the Russian composer. She gave Tchaikovsky financial support  so he could devote himself to composition. with an agreement that stipulated they never meet. This resulted in a remarkable exchange of letters (over 1,200 in thirteen years) in a long distant friendship that Tchaikovsky came to rely on for her intelligence and musically knowledgeable advice.

Nadezhda von Meck
Nadezhda von Meck was the widow of Karl von Meck, a German engineer who garnered a fortune by founding a network of railroads in Russia. When he died, eleven of their thirteen children were still at home, and Madam von Meck became devoted to them in the extreme. She maintained a huge household that included personal instruction for the children as well as a retinue of servants, governesses and house maintenance personnel. She would take the household to Italy every summer, and  the Paris Conservatoire of Music would send young students there for the summer to instruct and play music with her and her children. During the summer of 1880, an eighteen year old Claude Debussy was among the small group of students sent to Villa Oppenheim in Florence (now a hotel known as Villa Cora).

Debussy and other students would perform for the family every evening, and it was then thatDebussy's trio may ave been played. A letter from von Meck to Tchaikovsky mentions that Debussy was writing the trio, but there is no positive evidence that it was ever performed then. In fact, the trio may not have ever been performed in Debussy's lifetime. The work was not published until 1986 after the manuscript (which was considered lost) was found in 1982. Considerable editorial work was needed to piece it back together from various sources. The trio is in 4 movements;

Andantino con moto allegro - Debussy was still a student when he composed the trio and had very little training in composition, so while this movement can be thought of as in sonata form, it is a very loose and personal style of sonata form. It consists of attractive themes that are in the light weight salon style of the time. The beginning themes return towards the end in a kind of recapitulation, and the movement ends quietly.

Scherzo: Moderato con allegro - This movement shows more of what Debussy's style would become when he was a mature composer. The charm of the music is undeniable. The scherzo begins with a short introduction of pizzicato strings that alternate with the piano. The B minor theme itself begins with block chords in the piano. The graceful middle section is marked un poco piu lento and is in B major. The scherzo repeats and the movement ends quietly.

Andante espressivo - The piano sets the stage for the graceful theme that is first played by the cello and then by the violin. A slightly more turbulent middle section that includes some modulations into distant keys leads back to a repeat of the initial theme.

Finale: Appassionato - The final movement shows Debussy's inexperience in form (as does the entire trio) but the tunes are memorable throughout. His use of modulation may be a reflection of his knowledge of the music of Cesar Franck, a composer that showed considerable influence on young French composers at the time. Debussy was to go on to develop his own unique style of composition, but this piano trio is a pleasant listening experience despite his inexperience at the time.