Thursday, November 11, 2021

Franck - Piano Trio No. 4 In B Minor, Opus 2

 César Franck's first acknowledged compositions were 4 piano trios, written while he was still a student in 1840.  Originally, his opus 1 was three piano trios, but he was advised by Liszt to remove the final movement of the third one because of its length and make it a separate composition. This he did, and claimed the work as Piano Trio No. 4, Opus 2. 

Liszt had given the composer  encouragement as the result of these trios, with Liszt participating in performances of them. Franck showed much promise with these first works, but some other works were met with indifference by the public. He concentrated on his organ playing and became one of the most famous organ improvisers of his time, and worked directly with the French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, an innovator of the instrument. Franck demonstrated the organs of the maker and showed how they went beyond the traditional organ and were more orchestral.

Franck taught many composers and organists in his classes for many years, and it was later in his life when he composed the works he is more well known for. 

Allegro - Since this was originally the final movement of the Third trio, it is in but one movement. Violin and cello begin the movement with a slithering theme that covers over an octave and is quite chromatic. The two play an octave apart:

This theme recurs all through the movement in various guises. After the strings announce the theme, they immediately repeat it as the piano contributes a B minor chord in the right hand, and a G-sharp diminished chord in the left. These chords combine with the chromatic theme in the strings and creates even more ambiguity and feeling of menace. The volume of the theme increases until a forte is reached and the music modulates. The music goes back to piano, and the pattern of the opening is repeated, only now the music has shifted to E minor.  The piano enters for a repeat of the modulated theme with an E minor chord in the right hand, and a C-sharp diminished chord in the left, so the tension hasn't eased, only shifted to a different key. The 4th bar is again repeated, the theme modulates. The strings are silent as the piano repeats the partial theme three times. A change in tempo and mood begins:

Più lento - This section lasts but 12 bars. The violin is silent as the cello begins by stating a variant of the first bar of the theme, which in essence is the second theme of the exposition:

The cello reaches the D above the bass clef and holds it for half of the 6 measure section as the piano plays slow arpeggios in each hand and simple two-note chords. The music moves from G major to D major in a mood decidedly sweeter than the opening. But it immediately segues into a:

Più presto - This section is but 5 measures long, forte throughout, as the right hand holds an E minor chord as the left hand skitters along in a chromatic triplet pattern. The violin remains silent as the cello holds a B for the entire 5 bars plus 5 more in  the next section that is marked  più lento. The piano now plays E major arpeggios and simple chords and shifts to B major. Yet another modulation brings about the key of D-sharp minor, as the tempo changes to piu presto for two bars as the left hand plays triplets and the right hand holds a D-sharp minor diminished chord.  Another section marked più lento has the violin join with the cello in a held F-sharp as the piano plays arpeggios and chords in F-sharp minor. The music segues into a return of the opening tempo:

Tempo I -  The music gradually shifts tonality to B major as the first theme is heard in the piano, then the strings take it up in a section that repeats the theme as well as the secondary theme. What has gone on before can be considered as an introduction, or the first playing of the exposition that is in loose sonata form. This section can be considered as the actual beginning of the exposition, or a varied repeat of the exposition. The two themes and parts of them are used in either case until it leads to the next section, still in tempo 1, but the key has shifted back to B minor:

Gravement - The term means seriously. This section can be thought of as the development section, and does indeed begin in a quite serious mood stated by the piano and cello. The cello offers up a soaring motif in E minor as the piano plays large E minor chords as the music builds to the next section marked fortissimo.  The strings play long held notes while the piano returns to rapid triplets in both hands. The volume level reaches triple forte until it slows down and another section is reached:

Avec la plus grande expression -  With the greatest of expression. This section is short, and leads to a gradual slowing of the tempo and increase in volume. The music returns to tempo 1  as the strings make commentary over a restless piano accompaniment. The music shifts tonality and continues in drama that ebbs and flows in volume. The restlessness of the piano carries on as references to the first theme are heard in it and the strings. The theme returns with a complex figure in the piano and continues to build until it reaches a full and sudden stop. The next section begins with the strings playing pizzicato with the piano silent. It is a mysterious sounding section as it increases in volume slightly, but always falls back to quiet. This leads to the next section:

Triple piano -  Very softly the piano plays a D-flat low in the bass. This builds into a 2 bar motive akin to the opening theme. The D-flat motive transforms into a C-sharp, and a long and slow section of repeated motives in C-sharp minor are heard in the three instruments. The music shifts tonality to B major, and this section comes to a halt in G-sharp minor after high double stops are played in the strings and tremelos in the piano.  

A tempo - This section begins with a short fantasia-like piano solo on the theme that leads to an emphatic modulation to the key of B major that represents the recapitulation.  The themes are repeated and expanded again until a short coda that increases in tempo and volume ends the work with a part of the theme played in half notes and a solid end to the movement in B major.

This trio may be labeled by some as repetitious and episodic, but the imagination and creativity Franck uses in the choice of theme and how he uses it shows an already highly developed dramatic sense for a student of 18 years. The use of two themes based on a single theme was not new in music. Josef Haydn wrote examples of monothematic movements before in his works, but it is a foretaste of what Franck was to become as a mature composer later on in his use of cyclical form. 

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