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Name of Work

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in G Major, K. 496

Tema con Variazioni: Allegretto - Adagio - Tempo primo


Oct 08, 2006

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Clancy Newman, Cello
Deborah Sobol, Piano

Oct 09, 2006

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Clancy Newman, Cello
Deborah Sobol, Piano

MOZART-Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in G major, K. 496

Composed in 1786.

Among Mozart’s most loyal friends during his last years in Vienna were the members of the Jacquin family. The paterfamilias, Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin, whom Mozart met through their mutual affiliation with the Masonic lodge, was a distinguished botanist and professor of chemistry at Vienna University who instilled the love of music in his children, Joseph Franz (21 in 1787), Gottfried (nineteen) and Franzisca (eighteen). Mozart was very fond of the Jacquins, and visited them frequently to share their dinner, play his music for them, and keep Franzisca up with her lessons when she proved to be one of his most talented piano students. For the entertainment of the household, Mozart composed (for Franzisca) the remarkable Piano Sonata for Four Hands, K. 497 and the Piano Trio in B-Flat Major, K. 502 during the summer and autumn of 1786; another trio later that year (K. 498, for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, known as the “Kegelstatt”) and the K. 521 sonata in 1787, as well as a bass aria (Mentre ti lascio, o figlia, K. 513) for brother Gottfried; and several smaller pieces. Rounding out these delightful souvenirs of Mozart’s friendship with the Jacquins was the Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in G Major, K. 496, which he finished on July 8, 1786.

Mozart composed just six works for the convivial combination of piano, violin and cello, one of the most popular home entertainment genres among the dilettantes of Vienna during the decades around the turn of the 19th century. (Haydn wrote more than forty such trios, Beethoven eleven.) Except for the Trio in B-Flat, K. 254 (which he designated as a “divertimento” in the manuscript), composed in Salzburg in 1776, Mozart’s pieces cluster tightly in the years 1786 (K. 496 and 502) and 1788 (K. 542, 548 and 564). These works were devised with some care to appeal to the lucrative amateur market, and the Viennese firm of Artaria made three of them (K. 502, 542 and 548) available to the city’s music lovers in November 1788. (These pieces were intended to be played in “friendly, musical, social circles,” according to the composer.) As was typical of the genre at that time, Mozart’s trios entrusted the piano with the lion’s share of the musical task at hand, not just providing the harmonic background for the ensemble, but taking the lead in presenting the themes, proposing how they should best be worked out, and appropriating such flights of virtuosity as are allotted by the composer.

Mozart’s Trio in G major (K. 496) represents an intermediate point in the development of the form between the earliest examples, in which the piano was “accompanied” by the virtually dispensable violin and cello, and Beethoven’s fully realized specimens of the genre. In the G major trio, the cello is still closely tied to the left-hand notes of the piano in many passages (the opening pages of the first movement provide a typical example), but it is also used in full dialogue with the other participants or as a companion to the violin when the two strings are set in concertante opposition to the keyboard. (Mozart’s care in distributing the motivic material among the instruments is attested by the red and black ink that he used in several places in the score to clarify the weaving together of the various lines.) Such procedures — pitting the two strings against the piano and allowing the cello a certain independence — were remarkably progressive for the time and show how Mozart’s stylistic language of the 1780s far outstripped the popular taste of the day, one of the chief contributory causes of the financial woes of his later years. “Kozeluch’s works find acceptance everywhere,” reported the Magazin der Musik in 1788. “Those of Mozart, on the other hand, are generally not quite so pleasing.” It was Mozart’s willingness to follow his own vision rather than to cater slavishly to the conventions of his time that makes his music so treasurable well over two centuries after his death.

The opening movement of the G major trio presents a virtual capsule history of the stylistic development of the piano trio form. The work opens in the traditional manner, with the piano alone presenting the upward-sweeping scalar main theme. The strings enter for the repetition of the melody, with the violin presenting the theme while the cello simply doubles the left hand of the keyboard. A brief pause marks the arrival of the pert second theme, presented in duet by the piano and violin while the cello is allotted nothing more important than long notes outlining the basic harmonies. A certain independence among the lines becomes apparent as the exposition unfolds, but the development section is remarkable both for the stormy intensity of its expression and for its fully realized trio texture, qualities that presage the turbulent Romanticisms of Beethoven’s most powerful chamber music. The recapitulation provides structural balance by returning the earlier themes. The Andante is a gracious song in full sonata form in which the strings both accompany and engage in dialogue with the piano. Mozart originally provided a tender Tempo di Menuetto as the finale of the trio, but apparently thought that such music was rather too amorous for this particular setting, so he replaced it with the present set of variations on a gavotte-like melody.

Of the G major piano trio, with its careful balance of galanterie and emotion, its mastery of instrumental idiom, and its bonhomie, John N. Burk wrote, “[This music leaves] the listener with the feeling that this style, intimate, subject to the fleck of fancy, is the ideal way for chamber music.”

Program Notes written by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Performance date: October 8 & 9 2006

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