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Name of Work

Dvořák, Antonín (1841-1904)
Trio in F minor, Op. 65 for piano, violin and cello

Allegro ma non troppo
Allegretto grazioso
Poco adagio
Allegro con brio


Nov 16, 2008

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello
Robert McDonald, Piano

Nov 17, 2008

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello
Robert McDonald, Piano

DVOŘÁK-Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in F Minor, Op. 65

Composed in 1883

Premiered on October 27, 1883 in Mladá Boleslav by Ferdinand Lachner, Alois Neruda and the composer

Success for Antonín Dvořák was a two-edged sword. In 1874, when he was struggling to make a living as organist at St. Adalbert’s Church in Prague, he submitted some of his compositions to a committee in Vienna granting awards to promising musicians in the Habsburg provinces. Those pieces came to the attention of Johannes Brahms, who encouraged Dvořák in his work and urged the panel to grant the young Bohemian composer the highest possible stipend. Three years later, after Brahms had seen that Dvořák’s award was renewed, he instructed his publisher, Fritz Simrock in Berlin, that he was to accept Dvořák as a new client. Dvořák was thrilled with the opportunities that his Viennese connections opened for him, and he paid Brahms great homage in word and tone for the rest of his life.

Brahms, however, was indissolubly linked with the spirit and letter of German music, and Dvořák soon came to be torn between the desire on one hand to emulate his Viennese patron and on the other to support the political and social aspirations of his fellow Czechs. This dichotomy resulted in a crisis of philosophy for Dvořák by 1882, when Brahms was urging him to settle in Vienna and opera houses in that city and Dresden were offering lucrative contracts for any work that he would write to a German-language libretto, a certain avenue to the international performance of his stage music. Dvořák was still painfully undecided between Vienna and Prague, between his adopted German symphonism and his native Czech heritage, when his mother died on December 14, 1882. The grief he suffered over her loss and the emotional distress brought about by uncertainty over his future artistic path threw him into a difficult period of dark moods and troubled thoughts. Even the birth of a son (Antonín) on March 7, 1883 and news that his Stabat Mater had been enthusiastically received at its English premiere in London a few days later did little to relieve his anxiety or ease his decision. After a brief hiatus in his creative work, he poured his feelings into some of his most powerful and deeply felt works during the following months. The first of these compositions was the superb Piano Trio in F Minor, begun on February 4, 1883, only six weeks after Anna Dvořák’s death, and completed on March 31st.

The Trio received the brunt of Dvořák’s turbulent feelings. It is perhaps indicative of his troubled state of mind at the time that he omitted from the end of the manuscript the phrase Bohu díky (“Thanks to God”), which had invariably graced his earlier pieces. “There is hardly another work in Dvořák’s output so sorrowful, somber and poignant,” wrote Hans-Hubert Schönzeler. “It must rank among the greatest of his chamber music compositions.” Dvořák took special care with this Trio, allowing nearly two months for its composition rather than the customary two or three weeks he usually devoted to a chamber work, and then revising it so thoroughly after its premiere on October 27, 1883 in Mladá Boleslav (thirty miles northeast of Prague) that he had to write out a complete new score.

Though the opening movement is contained within traditional sonata form, its wrought-up, willful mood threatens, observed Paul Stefan, “to burst the bounds and transcend the content of chamber music, passionately striving to merge into the symphonic.” The dotted-rhythm main theme begins quietly in the strings, though this is a quiet not of calm but of suppression. The entry of the piano unleashes the inherent dynamism of the principal theme, but emotional control is again restored with the transition, which leads to the cello’s presentation of the second theme, a lovely melody whose nominal major mode is continually troubled by plaintive chromatic alterations. The development section, which ranges in mood from sullen to defiant, is impelled by an almost Beethovenian sense of drama. The recapitulation serves not only to recall the exposition’s themes but also to thrust their emotional intensity to a higher plane by means of richer figurations, tighter interplay among the instrumental lines and expansion through motivic development.

The second movement is a scherzo in the form of a Bohemian folk dance. The strings begin the dance with a bouncing motive, suggestive of a bagpipe-drone, upon which the piano presents the short-breathed, rather melancholy tune whose varied permutations occupy the first section of the movement. A full stop marks the gateway to the central trio, whose initial bright mood is clouded by the music’s unsettled rhythms and apprehensive flattened scale degrees. The opening section is repeated exactly to round out the movement’s structure. The Adagio is one of Dvořák’s most deeply felt creations, beautiful of line, rich of sonority and sincere in expression. Though the movement is in a key that could offer some sunny solace for the troubled music which surrounds it, the tiny flickers of chromaticism — the lowering of a tone by a half-step to blunt its happiness, like a cloud passing across the sun or the thought of a departed loved one at a moment of joy — further concentrate rather than dispel the Trio’s abiding disquiet. The finale is modeled on the furiant, a traditional Czech dance whose fiery character is indicated by its name. The movement, built as a large sonata-rondo form anchored around the recurrences of its principal theme, draws strength from the struggles of the preceding music to achieve a life-affirming close with the turn to the heroic major tonality in its final pages.

Program notes by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Performance dates: November 16 & 17, 2008

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