The Kennedy Center

Trio in G major, Op. 1, No. 2

About the Work

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

On his return to Vienna in July 1792 from his first triumph in London, Joseph Haydn stopped at Bonn, where he met a young pianist and composer in the employ of the Electoral court. Ludwig van Beethoven, who had built a local reputation largely as a keyboard virtuoso, told Haydn, then the most famous musician in Europe, that his greatest ambition was to make his mark in the world as a composer, so Haydn encouraged him to move to Vienna, and promised to take him as a student if he did. With the generous help of the Elector Maximilian Franz and Count Ferdinand Waldstein, Beethoven left for the Imperial City in November, and almost immediately began counterpoint lessons with Haydn. Mutual dissatisfaction with the pedagogical relationship sprang up during the ensuing months, however-Haydn was too busy, Beethoven was too bullish-but Beethoven remained eager to have his teacher's advice. It was for that reason that he invited Haydn to a private concert of his music one Friday morning late in 1793 at the Viennese palace of Prince Karl Lichnowsky, who had taken on the young composer as a protégé, and given him room, board, encouragement, and entrée to the aristocracy. (In later years, Beethoven spoke gratefully of the Prince: "He is really-probably a rare example among men of his standing-one of my most faithful friends and patrons of my art." Beethoven dedicated to him these Op. 1 Trios as well as the Op. 13 and Op. 26 Piano Sonatas and the Second Symphony.) Beethoven chose to perform three new piano trios for the occasion, works probably sketched in Bonn but completed in Vienna, and he enlisted in the endeavor the excellent aid of the violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh and the cellist Anton Kraft, for whom Haydn had written his D major Concerto. Beethoven's pupil Ferdinand Ries reported on the event:

"Most of the important artists and music lovers of Vienna were invited, especially Haydn, for whose opinion all were eager. The Trios were played, and at once commanded extraordinary attention. Haydn also said many pretty things about them, but advised Beethoven not to publish the third, in C minor. This astonished Beethoven, inasmuch as he considered the third the best of the Trios. Consequently, Haydn's remark left a bad impression on Beethoven, and led him to think that Haydn was envious, jealous and ill-disposed toward him. I confess that when Beethoven told me this I gave it little credence. I therefore took occasion to ask Haydn himself about it. His answer confirmed Beethoven's statement; he said he had not believed that this Trio would be so quickly and easily understood and so favorably received by the public." Beethoven ignored Haydn's advice, and retained the C minor Trio in the set. (Haydn was not alone in remarking on the bursting sensibility with which Beethoven, even at that early date, was filling the established Classical forms. One writer called these Trios the "confused explosions of the impulsive bravado of a talented young man.")

The Trios created a sensation, and became familiar in Vienna through word of mouth and private performances from manuscript copies. When the scores were published by Artaria in 1795 as Op. 1 after further polishing by Beethoven (a venture underwritten by Lichnowsky on which the composer made some 843 florins, twice his annual salary in Bonn), the subscription list contained 123 of the best names in Vienna. The Trios were among Beethoven's most popular works during his lifetime, appearing in more than twenty editions over the next three decades, including arrangements for various instrumental combinations from small ensembles to full orchestra. With these Trios, the young lion Beethoven announced himself to the world, and music was forever changed.

"Beethoven was from the first thinking in terms of formal expansion within the standard parameters of high-Classic sonata form," wrote Maynard Solomon in his study of the composer's music and personality. Solomon went on to point out that each of the three Op. 1 Trios is in four extended movements totaling more than 1,000 measures. The second of the Trios, in G major, opens with the earliest slow introduction among Beethoven's works. There follows a large sonata form whose main theme, beginning with three repeated notes and a quick rhythmic flourish, opens on a harmony other than the tonic, a sophisticated technique also used by Haydn in some of his late symphonies. The complementary theme is a jaunty, little tune initiated by the violin. The second movement is an early example of the temporal scale, depth of expression and wealth of invention that were, throughout his life, the hallmarks of all Beethoven's important works. Though the score's first edition labeled the following movement as a "Menuetto," it is actually that ancient dance form's more spirited 19th-century progeny, the Scherzo, here fitted by Beethoven with a Trio in a dramatically contrasting minor key. The finale, witty and sparkling, is disposed in a full sonata form.