Piano Trio no.4 in E Minor, ('Dumky') —— Antonin Dvořák (1841 - 1904)
i. Lento Maestoso, ii. Poco Adagio, iii. Andante, iv. Andante Moderato, v. Allegro, vi. Lento Maestoso.
A 'dumky', according to Wikipedia, is a "Slavic (specifically Ukrainian) epic ballad … generally thoughtful or melancholic in character." It traditionally alternates cheerful with melancholic moods, and its importance in music is that it is not sonata-form. Dvořák wrote several dumky movements but in this work each of its 6 sections is a 'dumky'. The first 3 sections (in the related keys of E, C♯, A) run together forming a complex first movement; the last 3 sections are in the less related keys of D, E♭ and C respectively. In 1891, at the age of 50, Dvořák was already an international celebrity with his Stabat Mater, his violin concerto, 3 of his 4 trios, 5 of his 8 quartets, and 8 of his 9 symphonies behind him; but his three greatest and best loved works were still to come — the American quartet ('93), the New World symphony ('93), and the cello concerto ('94). He composed this piano trio in 1891 and, at its premier in Prague, he himself played the piano part. It was a great success and, before Dvořák left in 1892 to take up a 3-year appointment at the conservatory in New York, the trio was played all over his homeland in a 40 concert tour.
Piano Trio no.2 in E minor, Op.67 ——— Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)
i. Andante, ii. Allegro con brio, iii. Largo, iv. Allegretto
The terrible, 3-year-long, siege of Leningrad began in early 1941 while Shostakovich was teaching at the conservatory there. He volunteered for action, but was rejected because of his short-sightedness. He contributed, however, by making speeches and composing. By Christmas '41, after all birds, rats and pets had been eaten, there were reports of cannibalism, and those who could do so escaped, including the Shostakovich family. In May '42 the score of his heroic 7th symphony was smuggled back into the city across German lines and on 9th August the symphony was played by the skeletal Radio orchestra of Leningrad (augmented by anyone who could play an instrument) and broadcast on loudspeakers throughout the city and out towards the German lines. That date marks the turning point of the siege which nevertheless lasted till January 1944. Shostakovich (aged 38) then started work on his 2nd piano trio which was premiered in Leningrad 10 months after the lifting of the siege. The first half of the Andante is rather desolate, on muted strings, but gathers energy, which is the 'keynote' of the 2nd movement. In the last movement plaintive Klezmer melodies alternate with anger (hypnotic and obsessively repetitive), till a degree of resolution is achieved in the last dozen bars. There is no doubt that Shostakovich's eventual response to the war was not heroic, but deeply negative. Jewish melodies (as in the last movement) are a recurrent theme in this as in much of Shostakovich's post war work but his pro-semitism was purely sympathetic; his close friend, the Jewish polymath Sollertinsky, to whose memory the work is dedicated, died February 1944.
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Piano Trio no.1 in B flat major D898 ——— Schubert (1770 - 1827)
i. Allegro moderato, ii. Andante un poco mosso, iii. Scherzo (allegro), iv. Rondo (allegro vivace)
It has been said "No chamber work by Schubert is more popular than the B flat major Trio". Commenced in 1827, completed in 1828, the last year of Schubert's life, it nevertheless carries no traces of the anguish that appears in "Der Winterreise" and the string quintet. Schubert always had devoted admirers but little public fame. However, in 1827 he was brought to Beethoven's deathbed and (if the story is correct) received praise. In that year also he began to be approached by publishers, and was finally acknowledged by the Musikverein of Vienna.
The first movement has several captivating themes which rotate. As the movement unfolds you think you have heard this tune before; and you have of course, but in a subtly different key. The only sombre touch is towards the end where there is a bar of complete silence; the effect is astonishing, as though a gap in the continuum of time momentarily opens, to reveal…... The Andante is a perfect example of Schubert's counterpoint — three voices each saying entirely different things yet completely agreeing, and never obscuring each other. The scherzo is rhythmic rather than tuneful, but has a softer and more melodic trio section. The finale is a rondo, with tune after tune chasing each other as in the first movement, though rhythmically it is more like the scherzo. The tremolo sections are spooky but not sinister. The Schubertian key-changes are again a little spooky as you shoot suddenly off into a parallel universe. Throughout the trio the piano balances the strings perfectly; in the first movement mostly giving us three voices, but in the Rondo more often two voices with the strings doubling each other in octaves like the piano.