SCHUBERT Franz, Piano Trio No.2 in E flat

1. Allegro
2. Andante con moto
3. Scherzando. Allegro moderato
4. Allegro moderato

 

Schubert composed the second of his piano trios in November 1827, the same month as he completed the great song-cycle Winterreise and nine months after the death of Beethoven in March 1827. This epic chamber work was, in fact, given one of its earliest performances at a concert by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna on 26 March on the anniversary of Beethoven’s death – one of the few occasions during Schubert’s lifetime when he enjoyed a major public success. Sadly this was not destined to last: the next known performance of the Trio was in January 1829, at a memorial concert for Schubert, who had died in November 1828. Just when Schubert’s music was at risk of slipping into neglect, it was Robert Schumann – an immensely perceptive critic as well as a composer of genius – who most regularly drew attention to the finest of Schubert’s chamber works. Schumann numbered this E flat Trio among the very greatest, describing it as his ‘last and most individual work of chamber music’ and comparing it with the more genial Trio in B flat major. Schumann wrote that the E flat Trio, which appeared in print just days before Schubert’s death, has travelled ‘across the ordinary musical life of the day like an angry thunderstorm … inspired by deep indignation and boundless longing … spirited, masculine and dramatic.’

In a letter to Heinrich Probst – the Leipzig publisher who had the foresight to publish the piece in 1828 – Schubert gave instructions for performances of the work: ‘Be sure to have it played for the first time by capable people, and particularly to maintain a continual uniformity of tempo at the changes of time signature in the last movement. The minuet at a moderate pace and piano throughout, the trio on the other hand vigorous except where p and pp are marked.’ The sheer scale of the work is extraordinary. Very few chamber works of the time unfold with such timeless nobility, but its length did attract some criticism at the time, and Schubert cut almost 100 bars from the finale before the first edition was issued.

NIGEL SIMEONE, 2010

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