ROMANTIC PIANO TRIOS

Leonore Piano Trio

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Tuesday 8 October 2024, 7.00pm

Tickets
£22
£14 UC, DLA & PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students 

Book Tickets
Leonore Piano Trio featuring violinist Benjamin Nabarro, pianist Tim Horton and cellist Gemma Rosefield

HAYDN Piano Trio No.44 in E Hob. XV:28 (18’)
BEETHOVEN Piano Trio Op.1 No.2 (33’)
R SCHUMANN Piano Trio No.1 Op.63 (31’) 

The beguiling Leonore Piano Trio continues to trace this most intimate form of music, the piano trio, from its origins in works by Haydn, through the stately trios of Ludwig van Beethoven and onwards to the great Romantic masters.  

This time, Robert Schumann’s celebrated Trio No.1 takes centre stage. From its restless, tumultuous opening full of brooding intensity, to its majestic, triumphant conclusion, this is an epic work full of romance and humanity.  

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HAYDN Joseph, Piano trio in E Hob XV:28

Piano sonatas with accompaniments for violin and cello were a popular style of domestic music in the late eighteenth century and were the origin of the form that soon started to be called the piano trio. Haydn’s status as one of the great musical innovators is unassailable: to be known as the ‘Father of…’ both the symphony and the string quartet – and to be a composer of genius – gives him a unique place in the history of music; but the same could be said of his development of the piano trio. The present example is one of a set of three first published in London in 1797 and written for the pianist Therese Jansen. She was a pupil of Clementi, and Haydn was a witness at her wedding to the art dealer Gaetano Bartolozzi. Much admired by musicians, Jansen had little or no public career despite her gifts – a typical state of affairs for female pianists at the time. On the evidence of the virtuoso piano writing in the E major Piano Trio, she must have been an exceptional player. Haydn creates some extraordinary musical effects right from the start: the opening theme is presented by the piano, shadowed by pizzicato strings, over a staccato bass line. After this ethereal start, there’s a complete contrast in the rapid piano figuration that follows.  In the development section, the opening theme is transformed into a kind of chorale, in the remote key of A flat major. The expressive range of this movement is remarkable, as is the striking change of mood for the Allegretto that follows. Written in E minor, it opens with a theme in continuous quavers playing by all three instruments in octaves, and this idea then becomes the bass line for the whole movement. Different ideas are heard over the top of it, and unlike a Baroque ground bass, Haydn’s snaking line evolves and modulates. The finale is just as unpredictable. The opening theme sounds straightforward enough, but Haydn stretches out its second phrase in an unpredictable way. And while a section in E minor is conventional enough for a finale in E major, the brief excursion into E flat minor must have caused consternation at the time. So, too, must the passages near the close where the music pauses on highly chromatic chords before finally heading to an affirmative close.  

Nigel Simeone © 2015 

BEETHOVEN Ludwig van, Piano trio Op.1 No.2

The second of Beethoven’s Op.1 piano trios was first performed along with the other two in the set (in E flat major and C minor) at a private concert in Vienna at the house of Prince Karl von Lichnowsky, to whom the whole set of was dedicated, before they were published by Artaria in 1795. Applauded by Haydn at the private performance, Beethoven’s new trios attracted a starry list of subscribers including Count Appony (who first suggested to Beethoven that he should write a string quartet) Countess Anna Maria Erdödy (dedicatee of the two piano trios Op.70 and the cello sonatas Op.102), Prince Lobkowitz (dedicatee of both the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies), Count Rasumovsky (the Russian Ambassador in Vienna and dedicatee of the three String Quartets Op.59) and Prince Lichnowsky, to whom Beethoven dedicated his Op.1 and in whose home the pieces had first been played.  

The G major Trio is the only one of the set to begin with a slow introduction – an expansive Adagio in which Beethoven gives a foretaste of the main theme of the Allegro vivace, which begins in a state of harmonic uncertainty that is clarified only gradually (the first unambiguous G major tonic chord is not heard until the sixteenth bar of the Allegro). The slow movement, in the remote key of E major, was likened to a passionate love song by Romain Rolland, while the Scherzo is fast but relatively subdued, an ideal prelude to the exciting finale in which the music is driven by incessant repeated semiquavers for much of the movement.  

Nigel Simeone © 2015 

SCHUMANN Robert, Piano trio in D minor Op.63

Schumann spent much of the summer of 1847 at work on his D minor Piano Trio – the work was sketched in June and the movement were completed in August and September. It was probably written as a response to the Trio that his wife Clara had composed the previous year. The first private performance was given on 13 September with Clara at the piano – it was her birthday, and just six days after Schumann had finished the finale. In the first movement (marked ‘with energy and passion’) the music alternates between the volatile minor-key opening and a more serene theme in the major. A remarkable and innovative feature of this movement is Schumann’s writing for the instruments: during a wonderfully evocative passage in the central development section the strings are instructed to play on the bridge (‘sul ponticello’) while the piano uses the una corda (left-hand) pedal. The effect is extraordinary. For all its apparent straightforward high spirits, the second movement – a Scherzo – gave Schumann a lot of trouble, especially the central Trio section where the three instruments play a rising and falling scale-like theme in imitation. The slow movement is back in a minor key, and is marked ‘with intimate expression’. Its opening theme (on the violin) unfolds hesitantly at first, but this initial idea grows into a long, sinuous melody. As in the famous Piano Quintet (written in 1842), the finale of the Trio includes a transformation of the theme that opened the first movement, but now the mood is exultant and untroubled.  

Nigel Simeone © 2010 

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