Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Programme Notes: Dvořák Op. 87 & Schubert 'Trout' Quintet

Variations in E flat major, Op. 44 —— Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)

In 1792 when Beethoven, primarily a virtuoso pianist, set off for Vienna to study with Haydn, Count Waldstein encouraged him by predicting he would inherit the mantle of Mozart via the hands of Haydn, and it is worth noting that his first published works (Op.1 & 2) are for the Haydnesque medium of the piano trio. There seems little doubt that our Opus 44 set of variations, ostensibly dating from 1802 or 1803, was actually composed in 1792 shortly before the move to Vienna, the high opus number probably being assigned in 1804 for financial reasons. The theme is original but barely more than an harmonic sequence. It is followed by 14 variations and a coda.

Piano Quartet No2 in E flat major, Op. 87 —— Antonin Dvořák (1841 - 1904)

i. Allegro con fuoco, ii. Lento, iii. Allegro moderato, grazioso, iv. Finale. Allegro, ma non troppo

Dvořák 's 2nd Piano Quartet (in E flat major, Op. 87), was written in 1889, 14 years after his 1st venture in this medium, and was premiered the following year. So it is contemporary with the 8th symphony but precedes his "Dumky" trio, and his trip to America (1892-5). The quartet, while not devoid of Bohemian folk influences, exemplifies his earlier Brahmsian and Germanic outlook. Very classical, very structured, it is nevertheless full of the tuneful melodies that make Dvořák a favourite with audiences. In the first movement the piano appears in opposition to the strings, and, to hold its own, plays octaves in the right hand. The second movement is dominated by a singing melody of such sumptuous languor that it could only be played on the strings, and indeed on the cello. This gives way to a sequence of melodies in different keys, tempi, and moods, before returning finally to its (remote) home key of G major, and the original cello melody. The 3rd movement is the most 'folky' with its Ländler-like 3/4 time signature, the extended interval of the harmonic minor, its Cimbalom-like tremolos and its syncopations. The finale, like the first movement, is a structured sequence of motifs and progressive key-changes. The work overall is a highly original (but little heard) masterpiece of the chamber music repertoire, uniquely positioned between exploring the structure of music and indulging the moods of the romantic.


Piano Quintet in Amaj, D667 (The 'Trout')  —— Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)

i. Allegro vivace, ii. Andante, iii. Scherzo & trio, iv. Theme & 6 Variations, v. Allegro giusto

Composed in 1819, the 'Trout' quintet gets its name because its 4th movement is a set of variations on a song Schubert had written two years earlier; a pretty tune laid over a rising triplet figure that is the basis of the song's accompaniment.  However the quintet's unusual instrumentation was because Paumgartner wanted a companion piece using the same instrumentation as the Hummel quintet written 17 years earlier. (The bass, uncommon in classical chamber music, was nevertheless popular in Vienna at the time, often tuned F,A,D,F#,A (so-called "Viennese tuning"), and often plucked; perhaps a stray from the gypsy band.) Schubert here produced a work less tightly constructed than his final great chamber works, but, at 22 years old, he was already completely confident in his originality. The 'Trout' has a unique sonority, with the pianist's hands playing in parallel octaves riding high over the bass-rich strings, or alternating with them. Its modulations are also unusual, for besides the common A→E transition we get A→D and  A→F (perhaps suggested by (and exploiting) the "Viennese tuning"). In the second movement we get sequential chromatic transitions (Fmaj→ Fmin→ Gmaj→ Amaj→ Amin→ Fmaj); and a very arresting Gmaj→Amaj modulation. The 4th movement (Dmaj) states the 'Trout' theme on strings without the triplet accompaniment figure. It is only in the Allegretto (effectively a 6th variation) that we get theme and figure combined as in the song. (A pretty movement; but the original song goes deeper.) The finale is a happy collection of melodies and motifs built out of the previous movements.

L. Cawstein

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