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Name of Work

Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)
Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1

Allegro vivace e con brio
Largo assai ed espressivo


Apr 19, 2009

Jasmine Lin, Violin
Clancy Newman, Cello
Shai Wosner, Piano

Apr 20, 2009

Jasmine Lin, Violin
Clancy Newman, Cello
Shai Wosner, Piano

BEETHOVEN-Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1, Ghost (1808)

Composed in 1808

Beethoven’s official Opus 1 was a set of three trios for piano, violin, and cello, published in 1795 and dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky, one of the young composer’s principal Viennese patrons. The works were quite a success, earning Haydn’s approbation and contributing strongly to Beethoven’s growing reputation in Vienna, where piano trios were a very popular form of music-making. Going on to other things—symphonies, concertos, piano sonatas, duo sonatas, and the first Fidelio struggles—he abandoned piano trios until 1808, when he followed the Pastoral Symphony (No. 6) with a pair of trios dedicated to yet another noble patron, one who also became a friend, Countess Marie Erdoedy.

Most of Beethoven’s piano trios have four movements; Op. 70, No. 1, in D Major has three, with the first two being remarkably expansive and complex. The main difference between this work and its Op. 1 forerunners is the greater freedom and variety of the string parts. The piano does not dominate; instead, all three instruments converse as complete chamber-music equals.

The tempo marking of the first movement is notable for containing one of Beethoven's favorite indications, “con brio,” meaning bright and sparkling. With the first words of the marking already Allegro Vivace, lively and fast, we can expect special energy. The opening unison theme is contrasted very soon with an unexpected high-pitched F Natural in the cello part. Since F Natural isn’t part of the scale of D Major, the movement’s home key, we have an instant intrusion of dissonance. After its unexpected high note, the cello introduces a singing D-Major theme that’s soon shared by the violin and the piano.

Abrupt contrasts of mood and dynamics characterize the exposition and development of this Allegro Vivace; in the recapitulation, the cello’s dramatic F leads into an elaboration of its original melody in the rather remote key of B-Flat, before the remainder of the recapitulation and the short, emphatic coda lead us back firmly to the key of D.

The trio gets its nickname of Ghost from the second movement, where a definite hint of early Romanticism makes itself felt. The movement is striking from its very outset through its extremely slow tempo, Largo Assai. Beethoven once again adds one of his favorite indications, “espressivo,” (expressive), implying a strong measure of emotion. The key is D Minor; the themes are hesitant, broken up, almost fearful, while the harmonic interactions of the three instruments are unresolved and almost dissonant. A characteristic sound is provided by the ominous tremolo passages in the lower register of the piano. The somber main theme of this movement turns up again in some notes the composer made later on for a possible operatic setting of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with its eerie plot combining murder and the supernatural.

Shorter than its companions, and much more straightforward than the Largo Assai, the Presto finale is light and cheerful. The sense of harmonic instability is still present, however, as the players briefly explore tonalities only distantly related to the basic D Major.

Program notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance dates: April 19 & 20, 2009

CCM first performed this work at the October 15, 1989 Subscription Series concert at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

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