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PROGRAM NOTES: Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio: 40th Anniversary

Program Notes by Eric Bromberger, unless otherwise noted

Pas de Trois
Born April 30, 1939, Miami
Approximate Duration: 16 minutes

It is hard to believe that Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, who was for many years “a leading young American composer,” will soon be 80. Zwilich was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music–in 1983 for her Symphony No. 1–and over the last five decades she has become one of this country’s most successful and prolific composers. Her catalog of works lists five symphonies, numerous concertos (including many for unusual or unexpected combinations of instruments), orchestral works, chamber music, and vocal music. Trained as a violinist, Zwilich played for several years in the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski before deciding to devote herself full-time to composition. She studied with Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions and was the first woman to earn a Doctorate of Musical Arts from Juilliard. Zwilich, who is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, served for some years as the Francis Eppes Distinguished Professor of Music at Florida State University, and in 1994 she was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

Zwilich has had a long and productive relationship with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, and in fact Pas de Trois–premiered by the KLR Trio on September 18, 2016, in Cincinnati–is the sixth work she has composed for them. The composer has written a program note for this piece:

Pas de Trois was commissioned for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio in celebration of their 40th anniversary. I had the honor and pleasure of writing a Piano Trio to mark their 10th anniversary, and that was the beginning of a long and inspiring relationship. Since that time I’ve written a Double Concerto for Violin and Cello; a Triple Concerto for the Trio; a Septet for Piano Trio and String Quartet; and a Quintet for Violin, Viola, Cello, Double bass and Piano–all for my “musical family:” Joseph Kalichstein, Jaime Laredo, and Sharon Robinson.

My new piece, Pas de Trois, was designed to open a concert repeating the lengthy and intense program that brought the Trio together at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter in 1977.
I decided to model this shorter work on the ballet tradition of pas de trois. In the 1st movement (Entrée), the trio bounds onto the stage and engages in various interactions. The 2nd movement (Variata e Coda) gives each of the three a solo turn, followed by an ensemble conclusion.

Pas de Trois was commissioned by a consortium of presenters through the International Arts Foundation: Anne and Harry Santen for Linton Chamber Music, Cincinnati, OH; the Abe Fortas Memorial Fund of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC; Chamber Music Monterey Bay, Carmel, CA, Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; and La Jolla Music Society for SummerFest, La Jolla, CA.

Pas de Trois was written with great admiration and affection for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, to whom it is dedicated.

© Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, 2016

Piano Trio in C Minor, Opus 66

Born February 3, 1809, Hamburg
Died November 4, 1847, Leipzig
Approximate Duration: 30 minutes

Mendelssohn wrote his second and final piano trio in April 1845, just two years before his death at age 38. This trio comes from between the composition of two of Mendelssohn’s best-known works–the Violin Concerto of 1844 and the cantata Elijah of 1846–and was completed only weeks after the première of the Violin Concerto on March 13, 1845. It is dedicated to the German composer-violinist Ludwig Spohr, whom Mendelssohn had met when he was a boy of 13 and Spohr was 38.

This music is anchored firmly on its stormy outer movements. The markings for these movement are important. Not content to name them simply Allegro, Mendelssohn makes his instructions more specific and dramatic: energico e con fuoco and appassionato. These qualifications are the key to the character of this music–one feels at climactic points that this piano trio is straining to break through the limits of chamber music and to take on the scope and sonority of symphonic music.

The piano immediately announces the dark, murmuring main theme of the first movement; this idea recurs continually through the movement, either rippling quietly in the background or thundering out fiercely. Violin and cello share the soaring second theme, and the development is dramatic. By contrast, the Andante espressivo brings a world of calm. The piano sings the main theme, a gently-rocking chordal melody in 9/8 time, and is soon joined by the strings. The propulsive Scherzo: Molto allegro quasi presto rockets along in dark G minor; a steady rustle of sixteenth-notes flavors the entire movement. The trio section switches to bright G major before the return of the opening material and a sudden close on quick, quiet pizzicato strokes.

The finale gets off to a spirited start with the cello’s lively theme, and unison strings share the broadly-ranging second idea. One of the interesting features of this movement is Mendelssohn’s use of the old chorale tune known in English as “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” first heard quietly in the piano. As the movement nears its climax, the chorale grows in power until–with piano tremolando and multiple-stopped strings–it thunders out boldly.

Piano Trio in B Major, Opus 8
Born May 7, 1833, Hamburg
Died April 3, 1897, Vienna
Approximate Duration: 35 minutes

The Trio in B Major had a curious genesis: Brahms composed it twice. He wrote the first version in 1853, when he was only twenty, and the trio was played in that form for nearly forty years. Then late in life and at the height of his creative powers, Brahms returned to this work of his youth and subjected it to a revision so thorough that it amounted to a virtual re-composition. With characteristic understatement, Brahms said that his revision “did not provide it with a wig, but just combed and arranged its hair a little,” but a comparison of the two versions (both have been recorded) shows how greatly Brahms had refined his compositional techniques across the course of his career.

It was the development sections of the early version that bothered the mature Brahms most, and when he revised the trio, he kept the opening section of each movement virtually intact but wrote new second subjects for the first, third, and fourth movements. The development sections, which had been episodic and unfocused in the first version, became concise and economic in the second. Brahms had grown more adept not just at developing his material but also at creating themes capable of growth and change, and– as revised–the Trio in B Major combines some of the best features of early and late Brahms: his youthful impetuosity is wedded to an enormously refined technique. Brahms joked that perhaps he should change the opus number from 8 to 108 but finally decided to let the original number stand, and that is misleading–far from being an early work, the later version offers some of his most mature and sophisticated music.

Cello and piano open the first movement with a theme of such characteristic breadth and nobility that anyone hearing it recognizes the composer immediately. In the first version, Brahms had included the violin in this opening statement; in the later version, he made this glowing melody slightly more concise and eliminated the violin. Also in the revision Brahms eliminated a complicated fugue from the development section.
The scherzo was the one movement that Brahms kept almost intact, only substituting a new coda for the original. It is easy to understand Brahms’ affection for this music, with its propulsive opening rhythm and lyric second subject.

The Adagio profited greatly from revision, for Brahms composed a new second theme of such autumnal lyricism that it transforms this movement from the effort of a tentative beginner to the work of a master. The finale pulses darkly forward on dotted rhythms, and the conclusion is unusual in that the music ends not in the expected home key, but in B minor.

In its original form, the Trio in B Major was performed quickly and widely: the première took place in Danzig on October 13, 1855, and the first performance in America took place the following month, on November 27, 1855, in New York City. The violinist on that occasion was the twenty-year-old Theodore Thomas, who later moved to a raw town in the West and founded the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The première of the revised version took place in Budapest on January 10, 1890.