The Smetana Trio

The Smetana Trio



Franz Joseph Haydn
G Major Trio, No. 25, Hob: XV 25,
“Gypsy Rondo”

Dmitri Shostakovich
Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor, Op. 8

Felix Mendelssohn
Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49

See program notes

FEBRUARY 27th, 2018

Tuesday at 11:30 a.m.

The Smetana Trio

The Smetana Trio is an exciting Czech piano trio with a long history. The group was founded in 1934 and continues today in its second generation. The cellist is the son of the original pianist, the pianist is a renowned interpreter of Czech music for solo piano, and the violinist (now 27 years old) is concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic.

The Smetana Trio website

Program Notes

G Major Trio No. 25, Hob.XV:25, “Gypsy Rondo”
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)

The keyboard was Haydn’s touchstone for inspiration. His more than forty authenticated trios were written initially for the harpsichord and clavichord of his youth and later for the fortepiano that became available in the 1780’s. His concept of the genre evolved from the Baroque trio sonata to the fully conceived Classical style. The G Major Piano Trio is one of fifteen late trios written between 1794 and 1797 during his second visit to London and were all clearly intended for the new instrument rather than the harpsichord. While these trios were composed after those of Mozart who had granted the violin and cello greater independence, Haydn adhered to the traditional concept of an accompanied sonata with its prominent keyboard role and limited string parts. The Trio first appeared in print in 1797 with two other trios published as “Sonatas for the pianoforte with accompaniment for the violin and violincello.”

The G Major Trio offers a good example of varied form in Haydn’s later trios. Rather than the usual Sonata Allegro opening, the first movement is an Andante consisting of an extended binary theme and four variations. The first and third variations are set in minor keys. The third variation in E minor provides an example of unusually elaborate, concerto-style, violin writing.

The second movement marked Poco Adagio set E major, is in a somewhat distant key relative to the G major key of the trio. It features a lovely melody played above a triplet accompaniment by both the piano and violin.

The virtuoso element of many of the ‘London’ trios may well have been encouraged by the keyboard skills of two ladies resident in that city who were particularly close friends of Haydn — Rebecca Schroeter and Theresa Bartolozzi (née Jensen). Prominent among the works dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter is the famous “Gypsy” rondo (the finale of Hob. XV:25). The piano part demands considerable resolution to preserve its moto perpetuo style, and to control its fast passages in thirds in the first minore episode. The “Gypsy” spirit permeates the violin part with prominent syncopations and spirited “fiddling” in the parallel minor key.

Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 8
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)

In 1923, at the age of seventeen and while still a student at the Petrograd Conservatory, Shostakovich wrote his Piano Trio Op. 8 in C Minor. It was the first of two piano trios the composer would compose. The Second Piano Trio, Op. 67, in E Minor, was written in 1944 in memory of his close friend musicologist Ivan Sollertinsky. Piano Trio No. 1 is dedicated to Tatanya I. Glivenko, daughter of an eminent Moscow philology professor, to whom Shostakovich developed a romantic attachment during his summer vacation at Gaspra in the Crimea in 1923. On returning to Petrograd, Shostakovich began to compose his piano trio. He incorporated a theme from a discarded piano sonata he had composed three years earlier as the second subject of the work and asked Tanya’s permission to dedicate it to her.

An initial motive of three notes in the high register of the cello (G flat, F, E) serves as a unifying element in each of the episodes of this single movement work where melancholy sections alternate with passages in quick kinetic tempos. Notable is the lush romantic second theme in E flat major, first played by the cello and heard over a shimmering accompaniment. The theme becomes the focus of the brilliant C major coda.

Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 49
Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847)

Mendelssohn’s early chamber music includes a number of works for piano (his performing instrument) and strings. The years 1822 to 1824 saw the composition of three piano quartets and a sextet for piano and strings. In 1832 he had written his sister Fanny that he would “like to compose a couple of good trios.” He would go on to compose two piano trios, the D Minor Trio, Op. 49 of 1839 and his C Minor Trio, Op. 66, of 1845. The D Minor Piano Trio was composed between June and July 1839 and immediately underwent a thorough revision in September. Ferdinand Hiller, influenced by the pianism of Chopin and Liszt that he had observed in Paris, induced Mendelssohn to entirely rewrite the piano part. Mendelssohn played the piano in the first performance of the trio with his friend Ferdinand David for whom he wrote his famous violin concerto. The Trio was an immediate success and Robert Schumann hailed it as “the master trio of the age” equating it with the great trios of Beethoven and Schubert.

The Trio begins with the opening theme played by the cello accompanied by syncopated chords in the piano. The theme is taken up and expanded by the violin and then again by the ensemble. Sudden ascending arpeggios launch the music forward before the cello is again given the lead in presenting a gorgeous second theme of this massive sonata form movement.

The second movement is an andante in ternary form. The opening music of the movement brings to mind the composer’s short piano works, which he titled Lied ohne Worte (Songs without Words).

The third movement is a masterful example of a Mendelssohnian elfin-like scherzo characterized by breathtaking speed and lightness. Two famous examples are to be found in his incidental music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and his Octet for Strings, Opus 20.

The finale cast as a rondo follows the pattern of primary theme and contrasting sections. A poetic convention, the dactyl, an accented syllable followed by two beats without accent, is heard throughout the entire Finale. The agitated opening theme contrasts with the songlike second alternating section that recalls the Leid ohne Worte of the Andante.  The movement ends with a fleeting reference to the Scherzo before coming to a triumphant close.

Program notes by James L. Franklin, M.D.

The Chicago Chamber  Music Society

P.O. Box 350
Kenilworth, IL 60043

Phone: 847.251.1400
ext. 0


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