BRAHMS Johannes, Piano Trio No.2

Brahms composed the first movement of the C major Piano Trio at Bad Ischl in Austria’s Salzkammergut region in June 1880. It was always one of the composer’s favourite spots, where he was able to compose in peace. The other works to emerge from the 1880 visit were Brahms’s two concert overtures: the Academic Festival Overture and the Tragic Overture, and when he returned in 1882, his summer produced not only the rest of the C major Trio, but also the String Quintet Op.88 and the Song of the Fates Op.89 for chorus and orchestra. 

Brahms’s earlier piano trio (in B major, Op.8) was a large-scale and rhapsodic work from his early years (to which he returned in 1889, making extensive revisions), but the C major Trio shows the composer in a much more concise frame of mind. The striding opening theme – first heard in octaves on the violin and cello – has a strong sense of rhythmic energy that is used to propel much of the first movement. The ‘Andante con moto’ similarly opens with a theme in octaves on the strings, but this time it’s a plangent melody in the minor which becomes almost defiant at the movement’s climax. The ghostly ‘Scherzo’ is complemented by a radiant swaying theme in the central Trio section. The main theme of the finale is marked by the use of a sharpened fourth note of the scale (F sharp in C major) that gives it a particular character, and this memorable tune drives the movement to a thrilling conclusion. 

The first performances were given in Cologne and Frankfurt am Main in December 1882, with Brahms himself at the piano in the Frankfurt concert.  


© Nigel Simeone 


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