Piano Trio No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 1
Related Artists/CompaniesLudwig van Beethoven
The Kennedy Center Chamber Players play Paganini, Grieg, Leisner & Beethoven - Sun., Feb. 9, 2014, 2:00 PM
Musicians of the NSO perform Paganini's Terzetto Concertante in D major for Viola, Cello, and Guitar, Grieg's Violin Sonata No.3 in C minor, Leisner's Dances in the Madhouse for Violin and Guitar, and Beethoven's Piano Trio in E-flat major.
About the Work
It is always of interest to note the sort of music a great composer chooses to offer as his “Op. 1.” In Beethoven's case his first two opus numbers were assigned to, respectively, a set of three piano trios and a set of three piano sonatas. Either or both might have been intended as a gesture of respect to his teacher Joseph Haydn, who had been the same sort of pathbreaker in those genres that he was in the symphony and the string quartet. The sonatas, in fact, were dedicated to Haydn; although the trios were inscribed to Beethoven's early and faithful patron Prince Lichnowsky, Beethoven surely had Haydn's models in mind. Haydn, and the Op. 1 Trios were performed (at Prince Lichnowsky's home) to welcome him home from his triumphal second sojourn in London in 1795. On that occasion Haydn was somewhat startled by the newness and boldness of these works, particularly the last of the three, in C minor, but the young Beethoven was definitely paying his respects here, and he made his compliment the greater by scrupulously avoiding any hint of merely imitating the older master.
While some of Beethoven's subsequent trios are cast in three movements, all of those in his Op. 1 are in four movements, and the first two of these works contain movements headed “Scherzo,” while the last still has a minuet instead—as does the First Symphony, composed several years later. Indeed, the middle movement of a three-movement Trio in G major composed in Bonn when Beethoven was only 14 or 15 is also a scherzo—and Haydn himself had written a scherzo in at least one of his own trios and a very early string quartet.
In any event, Beethoven poured real substance into his Op. 1 Trios; he was not writing “background music” for aristocratic suppers or salons, and he was ensuring that, while the piano is still frequently dominant, the genre of the piano trio was no longer merely a piano sonata with some accompaniment or obbligato passages for violin and cello. In the opening movement of the E-flat Trio, Op. 1, No. 1, there are abrupt shifts in tonality and other devices that point to the seriousness of his undertaking, and in the slow movement ( Adagio cantabile ) there is not only an abundance of thematic material but a fully developed mastery in the way it is handled. The scherzo here, though its difference from a minuet lies mainly in the nomenclature, shows its boldness quietly, in consciously subdued dynamics, and its trio section more or less “pre-echoes” the composer's mature instrumental pastorals. The finale is playfully vigorous, with brilliance to burn and episodes recalling the famous “Gypsy Rondo” of Haydn's great G-major Trio, in spirit if not in actual substance.