MENDELSSOHN Felix, Piano Trio No.1 in D minor

Molto allegro ed agitato
Andante con moto tranquillo
Scherzo. Leggiero e vivace
Finale. Allegro assai appassionato

Mendelssohn’s First Piano Trio was started in February 1839, but it was not until the summer that he got down to serious work (on the autograph manuscript the first movement is dated ‘6 June 1839’ and the last ’18 July 1839’), and he put the finishing touches to it in September. It was a busy year for Mendelssohn, not only as a composer but also as a conductor: on 21 March he conducted the world première of Schubert’s ‘Great’ C major Symphony.

The first performance of Mendelssohn’s D minor Trio took place in the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 1 February 1840, played by Mendelssohn himself with the violinist Ferdinand David and cellist Carl Wittmann. Robert Schumann’s review in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik was ecstatic: he hailed Mendelssohn as ‘the Mozart of the nineteenth century’ and ‘the most brilliant of modern musicians.’ High praise indeed, but fully justified by a work that has a brooding passion that is at once very much of its time but also harks back to the Mozart of the Don Giovanni Overture and to the D minor Piano Concerto (K466) – a work which Mendelssohn performed on a number of occasions and for which he composed cadenzas. The Mendelssohn scholar Larry Todd has echoed Schumann’s view, describing the work as ‘a masterful trio with subtle relationships between the movements, and a psychological curve that incorporates the agitated brooding of the first, subdued introspection of the second and the playful frivolity of the third. The finale combines all three moods, before reconciling them in the celebratory D-major ending.’

© Nigel Simeone


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