Archive for January, 2013

Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition (arr. for Piano Trio)

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Modest Mussorgsky, 1839-1881

Pictures at an Exhibition (A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann), 1874

Modest MussorgskyModest Mussorgsky is one of the most elusive composers in history. A brief citation from the beginning of his biography in Grove Music is a perfect summary:

His life was disjointed, ending in loneliness and poverty, and at the time of his death some of his most important compositions were left unfinished. His greatest achievements were as a composer of operas and solo songs. Largely self-taught and highly intellectual, he discovered a way of writing for the voice that was both lyrical and true to the inflections of speech. He was the most strikingly individual Russian composer of the later 19th century and an avatar of modernism for the generation of Debussy and Ravel.

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Beethoven, 14 Variations, Op. 44 (for Piano Trio)

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827

14 Variations (on an original theme), Op. 44, ca. 1792

Ludwig van BeethovenBeethoven’s 14 Variations on an original theme for piano, violin and cello were published as Op. 44 in 1804 but there are sketches of the work dating back as far as 1792, the year now conventionally assigned as the composition date. In 1792, Beethoven was a mere 22 years old, still living in Bonn and yet three years away from publishing his official first opus, a set of three full-blown four-movement piano trios. It is not known how much Beethoven might have edited Op. 44 before its publication in 1804 but if 1792 witnessed the majority its creation, it is the earliest of Beethoven’s compositions you are likely to hear on the concert stage. Descriptions of the piece have included disclaimers such as “early”, “not as revolutionary as mature Beethoven”, “nothing profound here” and even “conventional”, but such comments overlook something essential. In this single-movement piece lasting some 14 minutes, there is already the craft, range, development and originality to mark Beethoven as a phenomenon as well as highlighting his unsurpassed lifelong mastery of the theme and variations form. (more…)

Chausson, Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 3

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Ernest Chausson, 1855-1899

Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 3, 1881

Ernest ChaussonIf you are interested in exploring the canon of French chamber music, you might pursue a tempting chronological thread by cherry-picking one composer per decade revealing this sequence: Franck, Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Chausson, Debussy and Ravel. Even if you restricted yourself to piano trios, you would have a goldmine. Of these names, Chausson is easily the most obscure. He died young at the age of 44 (from a bicycling accident) and he left a relatively small oeuvre comprising an opera, a symphony, some songs and a clutch of chamber works, of which his most well known is the Concert for violin, piano and string quartet. Composed in 1881 when Chausson was 26, this “youthful” piano trio is a hidden treasure of great beauty and significant craft. Representing a renaissance of distinctively French chamber music launched by Chausson and his compatriots in the late 19th century, the trio offers a fresh perspective on music otherwise dominated by German romanticism and French opera. (more…)