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PROGRAM NOTES: The Montrose Trio

by Eric Bromberger

Piano Trio No. 2 in B Minor, Opus 76 (1933)
Lento; Allegro molto moderato
Molto vivace
Lento; Andante mosso; Allegretto

Born December 9, 1882, Seville
Died January 14, 1949, Madrid

Trained at first in Seville and Madrid, Turina moved to Paris in 1905, when he was 23, to study with Vincent d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum. Like so many young Spanish composers of his generation, Turina loved Paris, its richness, and the training it offered. He remained there for nine years, returning to Spain just as World War I began. Many young Spanish composers of this era devoted themselves to Spanish subjects and to creating a specifically Spanish music. Turina was very much part of this nationalist movement, as compositions such as Sinfonia sevillana, La oración del torero, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda make clear. But among his generation of Spanish composers, it was Turina who remained most strongly attracted to the classical forms developed by German composers: sonatas, trios, and quartets.

In Madrid, Turina conducted and composed, and in 1930 he was named Professor of Composition at the Madrid Conservatory. His Piano Trio No. 2 in B Minor, Opus 76 dates from 1931, shortly after his appointment to the faculty of the Madrid Conservatory. Though Turina uses no actual folktunes in this music, it nevertheless has a particularly “Spanish” atmosphere: the Trio is full of the rhythms and melodic shapes characteristic of Spanish music. The first movement opens with a quiet–and very brief–Lento introduction before the Allegro molto moderato surges to life with the exciting main theme. Turina writes a playful second subject for the violin, and this dynamic opening section gives way to a reflective central episode introduced by the cello; the opening material returns to drive the movement to the piano’s powerful concluding chord. The Molto vivace is in ABA form. The piano has the musical interest at the beginning while muted strings race along quietly as accompaniment; at the center of this movement, the strings have a lyric duet before the opening material returns. The finale is episodic in structure: it is essentially a series of dances, and along the way there are many changes of speed and mood. The most lively and colorful of the movements, it provides a fitting conclusion to the Trio.

Piano Trio in E Major, Hob.XV:28 (1797*)
Allegro moderato
Rondo: Allegro

* Composition Published

Born April 1, 1732, Rohrau, Austria
Died May 31, 1809, Vienna

Haydn’s two extended visits to England in the 1790s came as a revelation to the sixty-year-old composer. More accurately, they came as a shock. For thirty years Haydn had been Kapellmeister to the Esterházy family at their remote palace forty miles east of Vienna. There, as a staff musician, Haydn had worn a uniform, conducted and composed, and put on concerts for his prince and invited guests. But when Prince Nikolaus died in 1790 and the impresario J.P. Salomon invited him to England, Haydn discovered–to his astonishment–that he was famous. Salomon’s concerts were open to the enthusiastic English public, which bought tickets, crowded the halls, and cheered Haydn’s music. Haydn was introduced to George III, had an extremely active social life (at the end of his first week in England, he observed that he had “had to dine out six times up to now, and if I wanted, I could have an invitation every day”), and made a huge amount of money. He called his years in England the “happiest” of his life and observed pointedly that he “became famous in Germany through England.”

One of the most invigorating aspects of Haydn’s years in England was his contact with a middle-class audience, which not only came to hear music but also played it. This may help explain why he composed a number of piano trios while in England–it was music that could be purchased and performed by the growing number of amateur musicians in England. The present Trio in E Major is one of a set of three that Haydn appears to have begun in London and finished in Vienna; it was published in London in 1797.

This music may be progressive in the sense that it was composed with an emerging middle class in mind, but its roots lie in a form that was in the process of disappearing, the accompanied sonata. We may think of this piece as a piano trio, but Haydn did not: he published this set of trios under the title “Sonatas for the pianoforte with an accompaniment for the violin and violoncello.” Where later composers would balance the musical duties more evenly, Haydn felt that the piano is the dominant instrument here, with the two stringed instruments playing a subordinate role: the cello often doubles the pianist’s left hand, though the violin is offered somewhat more independence. The Trio in E Major is marked by the lyric spirit that was a part of Haydn’s chamber music in these years. The Allegro moderato is based on the piano’s singing opening phrase, in which every single note is decorated by a gracenote; the Allegretto features the piano prominently, and the trio concludes with a brisk rondo marked Allegro.

Piano Trio in A Minor, Opus 50 (1882)
Pezzo élégiaco
Tema con variazioni
Variazione finale e coda: Allegro risoluto e con fuoco

Born May 7, 1840, Votkinsk, Russia
Died November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg

Nikolai Rubinstein, brother of the pianist Anton Rubinstein, had hired Tchaikovsky to teach composition at the Moscow Conservatory and later encouraged him as a composer, conducting and championing his music. When Nikolai died on March 23, 1881, at the age of 46, Tchaikovsky resolved to write a work in his memory, but it was difficult for him to choose the form for such a piece. Nikolai had been a pianist, but a piano concerto did not seem a proper memorial piece. Tchaikovsky disliked the combination of piano and strings in chamber music but eventually overcame this aversion to write the Trio in A Minor as the memorial to Rubinstein; it was the only time Tchaikovsky used a piano in his chamber music. He began work on the trio in December 1881 while living in Rome and completed the score on February 9, 1882. The manuscript is inscribed: “In memory of a Great Artist.”

A particular memory came back to Tchaikovsky as he worked on this music: in 1873, after the première of Tchaikovsky’s The Snow Maiden (which had been conducted by Rubinstein), faculty members from the Moscow Conservatory had gone on a picnic in the sunny, blossom-covered countryside. Here they were surrounded by curious peasants, and the gregarious Rubinstein quickly made friends and had the peasants singing and dancing. As he set to work on the trio, Tchaikovsky remembered how much Rubinstein had liked one of these songs.

The trio as completed has a very unusual form: it is in two massive movements that last a total of almost 50 minutes. The first movement in particular has proven baffling to critics, who have been unable to decide whether it is in sonata or rondo form. It is built on two sharply contrasted themes: the cello’s somber opening melody–which Tchaikovsky marks molto espressivo–and a vigorous falling theme for solo piano, marked Allegro giusto. Tchaikovsky alternates these themes through this dramatic movement, which closes with a quiet restatement of the cello’s opening theme, now played in octaves by the piano.

The second movement is a huge set of variations. The theme of these variations is the peasant melody Rubinstein had liked so much on the picnic in 1873, and Tchaikovsky puts this simple tune through eleven quite different variations. Particularly striking are the fifth, in which the piano’s high notes seem to echo the sound of sleigh bells; the sixth, a waltz introduced by the cello; the eighth, a powerful fugue; and the tenth, a mazurka introduced by the piano. So individual and dramatic are these variations that several critics instantly assumed that each must depict an incident from Rubinstein’s life and set about guessing what each variation was “about.” Tchaikovsky was dumbfounded when this was reported to him; to a friend he wrote: “How amusing! To compose music without the slightest desire to represent something and suddenly to discover that it represents this or that, it is what Molière’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme must have felt when he learnt that he had been speaking in prose all his life.”

The trio concludes with a final variation so huge that many have considered it a separate movement. It comes to a somber end: Tchaikovsky marks the final page Lugubre (“lugubrious”), and over a funeral march in the piano come fragments of the cello’s theme from the very beginning of the first movement, now marked piangendo: “weeping.” This theme gradually dissolves, and the piano marches into silence.