Recorded on 01/26/2012, uploaded on 01/26/2012
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Joseph Haydn was probably the "father" of the piano trio writing nearly four dozen of them, in all sorts of keys and styles throughout most of his life. Mozart further developed the new genre, writing seven piano trios, expanding the form, size, texture and even its instrumentation. Nevertheless, it remained for Beethoven to give the piano trio an importance it had not enjoyed before. Though still within the boundaries of chamber music, Beethoven's trios achieve a concertante style of unprecedented brilliance and power that set the standard for the genre throughout the 19th century with the works of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms and Dvořák.
The crowning masterpiece of Beethoven's cycle of piano trios is the last in his series, the "Archduke" Trio. The piece is a tremendous display of melodic inspiration, instrumental virtuosity, emotional depth and formal mastery of the mature Beethoven. It was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph of Austria, one of Beethoven's truest friends, as well as his pupil and patron. Beethoven dedicated not only this Trio, but several other major works to the Archduke. Interestingly the Trio was written at a time when the power and influence of the nobility was waning. The performance of music would move from the salons of princes to the public concert hall.
The piece premiered on April 11, 1814 with Beethoven at the piano in what was his last public performance. The composer/pianist Ignaz Moscheles was present and wrote in his diary: "In the case of how many compositions is the word 'new' misapplied! But never in Beethoven's, and least of all in this, which is again full of originality."
The Archduke Trio is at the pinnacle of what we refer to as mature Beethoven, or his middle period - together with such works as the 7th symphony and the last violin sonata Op. 96 in G Major. The main characteristics of this "Heroic" period include:
· Extending the dimensions of the genre - at nearly 40 minutes this is by far the longest trio written at that time.
· Beethoven's understanding of the instruments is fully developed, and he achieves equality - each instrument has its solos, chamber playing, and orchestral texture.
· Harmonic audacity - for example the second group in the first movement is in the remote key of G Major. Unlike in early Beethoven where such audacity was a localized feature, in this work it is central to the entire movement and to the piece as a whole.
· The build-up of climaxes in "middle Beethoven" is on a much grander scale, with longer vision in the structural lay-out of the piece.
· The slow third movement has greater profundity in a number of aspects including its rhythmic complexity. It consists of a long hymn-like theme and four variations. (According to some sources this movement was written to the same person to whom Beethoven wrote the 'mystical' passionate letters addressed to the "Immortal Beloved".)
· This creative period in Beethoven's life probably best describes the essence of the "Classical Style". If, according to Charles Rosen, the essence of the style is "the symmetrical resolution of opposite forces", in the "Archduke" trio these opposite forces and their symmetrical resolution unfold within the movements themselves as well as within the context of the entire piece.
The Steans Music Institute is the Ravinia Festival's professional studies program for young musicians.
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