Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Smetana - Piano Trio In G Minor, Opus 15

The death of his oldest daughter in 1855 affected the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana profoundly. She had shown great aptitude for music despite being only 4 years old. He had lost a younger daughter in 1854,  and yet another daughter only eight months old in 1856. Smetana  dedicated his only piano trio to his oldest daughter Bedřiška  in 1855. Some twenty years later Smetana wrote about the trio to a friend:
The death of my eldest daughter, an exceptionally talented child, motivated me to compose a chamber work in 1855, my Trio in G minor. This was performed the same year, in December, in Prague. The audience was unresponsive and the critics hated it.
The work was revised and played about a year later with Liszt in attendance. He was so impressed with the work that he helped to get it performed in other countries of Europe.

The trio is in 3 movements:

I. Moderato assai -  The trio was a way for the emotionally devastated Smetana to deal with his grief, and the first movement begins with an anguished cry from the violin played on the G string of the instrument:
The first theme is drenched in G minor and grows from the violin solo into a passionate outpouring. The second theme is more lyrical and is thought to be one of the favorite tunes of his oldest daughter. The first theme is expounded upon in the development, and when the second theme is taken up, a rather ominous pizzicato accompaniment from the strings plays along until there is a section for solo piano before the recapitulation begins.  The tragedy continues until the end of the movement.

II. Allegro, ma non agitato - A scherzo in G minor that has two trios, or as Smetana called them alternativo. The scherzo skitters along until the first alternativo, which is a more mellow tune played by the violin and cello with a simple piano accompaniment. The scherzo plays through again until the second alternivo, a somewhat ponderous march that alternates heaviness with lightness. The scherzo makes one last appearance before the movement quietly.

III. Finale: Presto - The frantic opening theme that pits two notes versus three in the accompaniment. The second theme of the first movement makes another appearance among the alternating sections separated between the frantic opening. The first theme gets wilder until the music grows more introspective. The introspection turns to total sorrow as the music morphs into a short funeral march in G minor, complete with the tolling bell of death in the bass of the piano:
 But Smetana doesn't dwell on the march very long. The music turns frantic again and dashes towards the ending in G major.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Röntgen - Piano Trio In C Minor, Opus 50

 Julius Röntgen was born in Leipzig, but in 1877 when he was 21 years old he chose to go to Amsterdam instead of Vienna. He became active in the musical life of the city and helped to found the Amsterdam Conservatory as well as the Royal Concertgebouw concert hall.

Röntgen was a friend of Grieg, Brahms, and many other composers and musicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1919 he became a Dutch citizen, and in 1924 he retired from public life and devoted the last 10 years of his life to composing.  He wrote in all of the genres of traditional classical music except opera, and wrote his first compositions when he was 9 years old. Röntgen's compositional output was considerable; over 600 compositions of all types.  Röntgen had a multi-faceted career of teacher, piano soloist, chamber music performer, conductor and composer.

He is most well known for his works for chamber ensembles. He wrote his opus 50 piano trio in 1904 and dedicated it to his friend the Dutch composer Carl Nielsen. The trio won a prize in a competition held in Paris, and Nielsen wrote about it in a letter to the composer:
The new trio is the most characteristic of the works of yours I learned when you were in Denmark. It is carried along by an extremely individual and compelling musical current, which despite its modern content seems to have its roots in the vicinity of Schubert.
The trio is in 3 movements:

I. Allegro non troppo e serioso -  The trio begins with a short introduction, followed by the first theme played by violin and then cello. The second theme is more lyrical as well as being longer. A third theme begins rather abruptly and plays until fragments of previous themes are heard at the end of the exposition. There is no repeat of the exposition as the short development section takes up material from the introduction.  The recapitulation is followed by a coda that brings back the introductory material again as well as shortened versions of the themes.

II. Andante - The middle movement begins with the violin and cello playing a duet of a folksong-like melody as the piano plays a simple accompaniment:
Röntgen made a study of Dutch folksong, and this tune reflects that. Röntgen shows his skill and imagination in a set of variations on the tune for the remainder of the movement. The influence of Brahms shows in some of them, as well as Röntgen's own late Romantic style.

III. Allegro non troppo - The finale begins with an agitated section before it blooms into more drama with a theme that swells until the music becomes more subdued with a second theme. These two themes repeat in Röntgen's version of sonata form until the music goes into a coda that wraps up a well crafted piano trio.