Leopold String Trio: Beethoven - String Trios
“It would be wrong to regard Beethoven’s string trios as apprentice works... they are authentic masterpieces in their own right, and can stand comparison with the composer’s first string quartets”
"It would be hard to over-praise the Leopold Trio’s performances" Gramophone
Includes HD Video & Audio files
- Information and credits
- Leopold String Trio
- Beethoven and the String Trio
- String Trio in E Op. 3
- Serenade in D Op. 8
- String Trio in G Op. 9 No. 1
- String Trio in D Op. 9 No. 2
- String Trio in C minor Op. 9 No. 3
Concerts at Wigmore Hall
Saturday 26 September 2009
Beethoven Trio D maj Op 9/2 – 25 minutes 6 seconds
Beethoven Trio C min Op 9/3 – 24 minutes 33 seconds
Beethoven Serenade Op 8 – 31 minutes 52 seconds
Sunday 27 September 2009
Beethoven Trio Eb, Op 3 – 19 minutes 50 seconds
Beethoven Trio G maj, Op 9/1 – 28 minutes 51 seconds
HD Video and Audio
Sound Engineer and Mastering – Darius Weinberg
Camera – Brighton TV
Video Editing – Matthew Jolly
Colour Correction – Denni Bakardji
Produced by Lyndon Jones and Matthew Jolly
Special thanks to Friends of theLeopold String Trio
Isabelle van Keulen – violin
Lawrence Power – viola
Kate Gould – cello
The Leopold String Trio is firmly established at the forefront of the international music scene. Since its formation in 1991 the Trio has championed the often neglected medium of the string trio with interpretations of the core repertoire while seeking out lesser-known masterpieces and giving premières of works by composers including Kurtág, Henze, Judith Bingham and David Matthews. This commitment has led to awards and accolades including selection for the inaugural BBC New Generation Artists Scheme, the ECHO Rising Stars Scheme and the Royal Philharmonic Society Chamber Ensemble Award in 2005.
A recent Borletti/Buitoni Award helped them mount ‘Leopold String Trio: The Series’, a cycle of concerts at Wigmore Hall and Turner Sims Concert Hall Southampton. The Series, which ran from 2005 to 2008, consisted of six pairs of concerts linked by various themes, expressing the scope and versatility of the string trio repertoire. Many of the programmes included guest artists such as pianists Pascal Rogé, Marc-André Hamelin and Paul Lewis, cellist Natalie Klein, and oboist Nicholas Daniel.
The Leopold String Trio’s many recordings for Hyperion Records include the complete Beethoven String Trios, Dohnányi, Martinu° and Schoenberg Trios, the Brahms Piano Quartets with Marc-André Hamelin and Taneyev String Trios.
Beethoven’s friend and early biographer Franz Wegeler recounts how the composer was asked in 1795 by Count Apponyi (to whom Haydn had recently dedicated his six quartets Opp. 71 and 74) to compose a string quartet. ‘I repeatedly reminded Beethoven of this commission,’ says Wegeler, ‘and he settled down to work on it twice. However, the first attempt turned into a grand string trio, and the second into a quintet.’ Wegeler’s reminiscence was written more than forty years after the event, and it needs to be treated with caution – not least because the quintet in question (Op. 4) was actually a reworking of an earlier wind octet – but Beethoven’s hesitation in approaching the hallowed medium of the string quartet is understandable enough. His five early string trios were a means of dipping a toe into quartet waters without invoking direct comparison with the great legacy of Haydn and Mozart. There was, too, an element of self-discipline involved, since the string trio is actually a more exacting medium than the quartet. With only three instruments at his disposal the composer cannot afford a single superfluous note, and is forced to think more in horizontal than vertical terms – unless, that is, he resorts to double-stopping in order to create a virtual string quartet, as Beethoven does, for instance, at the opening of the slow movement in the last of the three Trios Op. 9, and in the opening march of the Serenade Op. 8.
It would be wrong, however, to regard Beethoven’s string trios as apprentice works. With the exception of the curiously retrogressive Op. 8 Serenade they are authentic masterpieces in their own right, and can stand comparison with the composer’s first string quartets, Op. 18 – indeed, the C minor Trio Op. 9 N o. 3 is arguably a more successful work than its counterpart in the string quartet series. The ‘grand string trio’ to which Franz Wegeler refers was the one in E flat major Op. 3 – a work whose six-movement form recalls the incomparably great trio Divertimento K563 of Mozart. It was followed by the Op. 8 Serenade, issued in 1797; and in that same year Beethoven embarked on the three Trios Op. 9 – his only symphonically conceived works of the kind.
When the three string trios Op. 9 were published, in the summer of 1798, they bore a personal dedication to Count Johann Georg von Browne, in which Beethoven described the music as ‘la meilleure de mes oeuvres’. The Count, an officer in the Imperial Russian army, was one of the composer’s earliest Viennese patrons, and besides the Op. 9 trios Beethoven dedicated to him his Piano Sonata Op. 22, the variations for piano and cello on the duet ‘Bei Männern’ from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, and the Six Songs Op. 48 on sacred texts by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert. The last of these dedications may have been prompted by Beethoven’s shock at the early death, in 1803, of the Count’s wife, to whom he had inscribed his three piano sonatas Op. 10.
Allegro con brio
The first of Beethoven’s string trios was published in 1796, though he had almost certainly begun composing it some years previously. The English music-lover William Gardiner acquired a copy of an early version of the work in 1794, from the chaplain to the Elector of Cologne, who had emigrated to England for political reasons, and brought a copy of Beethoven’s piece with him in his luggage. Gardiner played the trio together with two local musicians in a room in Leicester, where, according to one later account, it was received ‘with surprise and delight, several years before the works of Beethoven were introduced in London.’
It was in 1794 that Beethoven made his own copy for study purposes of Haydn’s E flat major String Quartet Op. 20 No. 1, and the finale of that work has an off-tonic theme rather similar in shape to the principal subject of the finale in Beethoven’s work. For the rest, however, Beethoven’s model seems to have been not Haydn, but Mozart. As already mentioned, the six-movement design of the work as a whole gives a nod in the direction of Mozart’s string trio Divertimento K563, though it is interesting to note that much later in life Beethoven made a return to the multimovement divertimento form where we might least have expected him to do so – in his late string quartets.
One aspect of the Op. 3 Trio Beethoven will have learned from Mozart’s example is the transparency of its texture. It is true that it begins with a full-blooded fanfare whose initial chord has the violin and viola playing in double-stops, but the opening movement thereafter is commendably light and airy. Particularly felicitous from this point of view is the main second subject, given out in the form of a duet for violin and cello. Only once the melody has run its full eight-bar course does the viola enter with a syncopated accompaniment, before the opening stage of the theme and its accompaniment are transferred to the cello and viola, respectively, with the violin adding a new accompanimental layer.
Even more diaphanous is the second movement – one of those moderately-paced scherzo-like pieces, largely played in a quiet staccato, of the kind we meet again in the second movement of the C minor String Quartet Op. 18 No. 4. Here, Beethoven pares down the sonority still further, and has the restatement of the opening theme given out by violin and viola in octaves, above a ‘rocking’ cello accompaniment. No less delicate is the second subject, with its rustling trills, and – in its restatement – its imitative writing for viola and cello. Beethoven is careful to arrange the part-writing differently in the recapitulation, before a short coda allows the piece todisappear in a gentle pizzicato. The rhythmically playful first minuet movement, with its twonote phrases separated by irregular pauses that throw the music disturbingly out of kilter, has a much smoother and more symmetrical trio, as well as a coda that draws the threads of the two sections together. Following this comes the work’s expressive heart – an A flat major Adagio whose turn-like main theme, heard against a ‘rocking’ accompaniment that moves from the middle of the texture to the top, is counterbalanced by a ‘sighing’ second subject that unfolds to the heartbeat of a single repeated-note.
The easy-going second minuet has a gypsy-like trio in the minor whose high-lying violin solo is underpinned by a drone-like accompaniment from the remaining two players. In keeping with its improvisatory character, its second half is through-composed, and ends inconclusively with a link back to the reprise of the minuet. As for the finale – a piece that underwent considerable revision – its first two themes share a common melodic shape, though the second of them forsakes the main rondo theme’s nervously abrupt style for something broader and melodically more relaxed. At the centre of the piece stands an agitated episode in C minor, whose counterpoint is more illusory than real, though it nevertheless enables Beethoven to generate considerable tension before the rondo theme returns with the music still poised on the threshold of C minor. Towards the end, the violin breaks into rapid across-the-strings arpeggios of a kind Beethoven may have re m e m b e red from the minuet movement of Mozart’s late String Quartet K589. The ending itself, however, perhaps owes more to Haydn than to Mozart, with the rondo theme wittily being slowed down to a crawling pace before a sudden rush of energy brings the work to an abrupt close.
Marcia. Allegro – Adagio
Adagio – Scherzo. Allegro molto – Adagio
Allegretto alla Polacca
Andante quasi Allegretto – Marcia. Allegro
Despite its status as an unashamed entertainment-piece, the Op. 8 Serenade has features that anticipate later developments in Beethoven’s more serious music – not least, the fact that its opening March returns at the end, to round the work off in circular fashion. It’s true that this was common practice in serenades, with the musicians playing a march as they proceeded towards the place where they were to perform, and repeating it afterwards, as they repaired, no doubt, to the local inn; but in Beethoven’s case the procedure is one that looks forward to the circular designs of his song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte (‘To the Distant Beloved’), and the Mass in C major Op. 86. The idea of using a march as the outer framework of a string trio impressed Dohnányi sufficiently for him to borrow it for his C major Serenade Op. 10 – the most brilliantly-written among early 20th-century string trios.
No less prescient of forthcoming developments in Beethoven than the Op. 8 Serenade’s cyclic form is the manner in which its central movement consists of a slow movement and scherzo rolled into one – an idea that resurfaces in the second of Beethoven’s string quartets Op. 18. In the Serenade, an Adagio in the minor unfolding throughout in a two-stranded texture that has its theme played in octaves by violin and viola while the cello accompanies with the simplest of figuration in constant semiquavers, alternates with a bouncing Allegro whose lightness of touch is intermittently, and rudely, disrupted by a loud cello chord. Following a literal reprise of the Adagio, the scherzo makes a fragmentary reappearance before a brief coda returns us to the mood and material of the movement’s beginning. The notion of fusing the elements of two contrasting movements in this fashion is one that was taken up among later composers by Brahms, in particular, in such pieces as his F major String Quintet Op. 88, and the Clarinet Quintet in B minor.
Surprisingly, Beethoven follows his opening march not with a sonata-form Allegro, but by an Adagio. Its violin melody is accompanied initially by the viola in imitation of a pair of horns, and by a pizzicato cello line. The already intricate melodic line is further elaborated in the recapitulation, before the piece sinks to a pianissimo conclusion over a rocking cello accompaniment in delicate widely-spaced arpeggios. There are more horn-calls in the minuet third movement , whose emphatic initial chords return as an echo of their former selves in a coda that has horns dying away into the distance, before the pizzicato cello appends a final cadence.
The dual-purpose middle movement is followed by a polonaise – a piece that rapidly became popular in its own right. It appeared as a self-contained item in a large number of anonymous arrangements – among them, a version for flute and guitar, and another for solo piano. Beethoven later wrote a piano polonaise of his own (Op. 8 9), but the finest of his pieces in this style is the finale of the Triple Concerto, whose central episode is a veritable orgy of polonaise rhythm.
The penultimate movement of the Op. 8 S erenade is a set of variations – a form that allowed Beethoven to share the melodic interest equally among the players. In the first two variations the melodic line is given to violin and viola, respectively; while following a syncopated variation the minor, the spotlight falls on the cellist. The lively concluding variation is interrupted in dramatic fashion for a return to the theme’s original rhythm and tempo, though the music now finds itself in the ‘wrong’ key. Towards the end of this coda, Beethoven throws in a hint of the ‘dotted’ rhythm from the opening march, and a full reprise of the march itself duly follows without a pause to round the work off.
Adagio – Allegro con brio
Adagio, ma non tanto, e cantabile
None of Beethoven’s string trios is more beautiful than the G major work he placed at the head of his Op. 9 series. It is a close relative of the G major middle work from Beethoven’s set of Piano Trios Op. 1, and like that earlier piece it has a s l ow introduction fore s h a d owing the main theme of the following Allegro, as well as a serene slow movement in the radiant key of E major.
Beethoven’s slow introduction is knitted together with the main body of his opening movement with considerable subtlety. Following an imperious initial gesture, a quiet unaccompanied violin phrase comes to rest with a group of four notes, and it is this unassuming four-note motif that is subsequently used to launch the Allegro. The Allegro’s understated beginning is followed by a swaggering march; and this, together with the ubiquitous four-note phrase forms the entire basis of the movement’s central development section. As he so often liked to do, Beethoven disguises the start of the recapitulation by presenting it as an integral part of the preceding musical argument, in such a way that the listener is not aware of the arrival of this structural landmark until it is already under way.
The move to E major for the deeply-felt slow movement lends the music an other-worldly character. The use of more remote key-relationships of this kind between successive movements in order to impart an effect of enhanced expressiveness was something Beethoven may well have learned from Haydn. Haydn’s famous ‘Rider’ Quartet Op. 74 No. 3, of 1793, juxtaposes an opening movement whose final stage is in G major and a profound slow movement in E major – a pattern followed, as we have seen, in Beethoven’s G major Piano Trio Op. 1 No. 2, probably composed in the following year. (Another of Haydn’s works using the same juxtaposition of keys is the ‘Gipsy Rondo’ Piano Trio.) As though to illustrate the distance traversed in the Adagio of the first of the Op. 9 string trios, the reprise of its opening theme gives way to a developmental passage beginning with a forceful shift tow a rds the work’s main tonality of G, before the music finds its way back to the home key for the second main theme.
At some stage after the Op. 9 trios we re published, Beethoven expanded the scope of the scherzo third movement by providing it with an additional trio section, throwing the spotlight onto the cello. The new trio may well have been destined for a specific performance, though Beethoven’s autograph score of the additional page contains the comment: ‘the second trio must be written out and inserted.’ Players wanting to incorporate it face the problem of how to treat the reprises of the scherzo. In its published version, the movement has an ornamented da capo; but it is by no means clear at what stage, in its expanded form, that decoration should be applied.
The finale is a quietly scampering piece in a constant quaver motion which ceases during the course of the exposition only for a broader, soaring theme involving a sudden switch of key. In the movement’s development section, Beethoven introduces a new countersubject to the main theme, in the shape of a descending chain of equally-spaced melodic intervals; and by a stroke of genius, the countersubject, in turn, generates a sustained passage in which the same descending intervals appear in long note-values, casting a mysterious shadow over the remainder of this portion of the piece. The final pero ration is brilliantly handled: over a single long-held note in the cello, the violin gives out the principal theme at half speed, and pianissimo, while the viola adds a bubbling inner voice, until, as though unable to contain itself any longer, the music bursts out into a riotous conclusion.
Andante quasi allegretto
Beethoven’s high opinion of his Op. 9 trios is amply borne out by the music, and particularly by the outer panels of the triptych. The D major middle work is scarcely less fine, though it is a more relaxed and leisurely work. Its third movement is not a scherzo, as in the companion pieces, but a minuet; and rather than a ‘presto’ finale, it is brought to a close with a rustic Allegro. This D major Trio differs from the outer works of the series, too, in managing to do without a genuine slow movement: in place of such a piece stands an ‘Andante quasi Allegretto’. No doubt it was the relatively broad tempo of the opening movement – again an Allegretto – that prompted Beethoven to follow it with a more flowing type of piece.
The Trio’s beginning, with a quiet violin melody, only intermittently harmonised, is in fact so unassuming that the arrival of the first forte, and with it of much ‘busier’ writing, lends the opening page in retrospect almost the aspect of a slow introduction. The more agitated passage also serves to throw into relief the lyricism of the main second subject when it arrives. This second subject, passing from major to minor, has the violin and viola singing above a repeated single-note accompaniment from the cello; and Beethoven 3 bases the latter half of the central development section on the same subject, with a new ‘running’ accompaniment adding fresh interest. Since the movement’s two main themes are so closely related in both character and shape (the second is essentially an inversion of the first), Beethoven is able to allow the recapitulation to emerge seamlessly out of this moment. He is, however, far too much of a craftsman to present his broad first subject in its original guise again: instead, he writes a syncopated version of its opening half, and has the theme shared between violin and cello.
The second movement does not aim for the tragedy and emotional depth of Beethoven’s two other important D minor pieces of the 1790s – the ‘Adagio e mesto’ of the Piano Sonata Op. 10 No. 3, and the ‘Adagio affettuoso ed appassionato’ of the String Quartet Op. 18 No. 1. It is, nevertheless, a remarkably beautiful piece, with its halting opening subject followed by a smoothly expressive violin melody, to which the viola adds a rocking inner- voice accompaniment, and the cello an intermittent pizzicato. The melody is answered by the cello, singing – as it had done at the start of the recapitulation in the opening movement – in its highest register, while the pizzicato is transferred to the violin. When the same texture returns in the latter half of the piece, the music paradoxically seems more poignant for being in major, rather than minor.
The cello steps into the limelight again at the start of the finale, playing its theme against a drone from the violin, while the viola, an octave below, provides an accompaniment whose strong off-beat accents lend the melody an engaging lilt. The off-beat accompaniment makes itself felt throughout the piece – now here more so than in the developmental central episode, set largely in the minor. Towards the end of the piece, following one of Beethoven’s characteristic excursions into a distant key, it makes a return, shared this time between viola and cello while the violin contributes a running commentary in regular quavers, before proceedings are wrapped up with a high-spirited final reprise of the rondo theme itself.
Allegro con spirito
Adagio con espressione
Scherzo. Allegro molto e vivace
Like Beethoven’s three piano trios Op. 1, the Op. 9 string trios are brought to a close with a work in Beethoven’s typically dramatic C minor vein. More over, both C minor works end inconclusively, with an unexpected turn to the major that allows the music to die away pianissimo. Beethoven was pleased enough with his composed fade-out to resort to the idea again in his very next published work, the Piano Sonata in C minor Op. 10 No. 1.
The chromatic four-note motif with which the C minor String Trio begins is one that seems to look forward across the decades, to the world of Beethoven’s late string quartets. The motif is given out in the form of a crescendo, throwing a s t rong accent onto the last of its four notes – a feature Beethoven is able to exploit much later in the movement, at the start of the recapitulation, where the motif appears in the two lower instruments, in the midst of a ‘running’ violin passage whose climax coincides with its last note.
If the start of the slow movement indulges in the luxury of a string quartet sonority, its second subject is a genuine trio texture of admirable lightness and elegance, in which violin and viola give out an intricate canon, above a delicate cello accompaniment. The development section is unusually expansive for a slow movement, and it concentrates exclusively on the main subject. No doubt for this reason, the beginning of the reprise is seve rely curtailed, making way for the second subject – its canon now unfolding between violin and cello – after only four bars.
The driving scherzo is unusually cast in 6/8 rhythm, producing not three beats to the bar, but two. Its tension is dissipated in a major-mode trio section which unfolds for the greater part at the pianissimo level. Beethoven has a surprise up his sleeve for the reprise of the scherzo, which instead of ending forcefully now disappears into thin air.
As for the finale, with its ‘rushing’ main theme, it is a distant forerunner of the concluding movement from the F major String Quartet Op. 18 N o. 1 – with the essential difference that this earlier piece, being in the minor, is dramatic rather than witty. Its concentration on the minor is, in fact, almost unrelieved – an aspect of the music that makes the ultimate fade-out in the major the more unsettling.