Piano Trio No. 1 (Brahms)

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The Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8, by Johannes Brahms was composed during 1854. The composer produced a revised version of the work in 1889.[1][2] It is scored for piano, violin and cello, and it is the only work of Brahms to exist today in two published versions, although it is almost always the revised version that we hear performed today. It is also among the large multi-movement works to begin in a major key and end in the tonic minor; another being Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony.

The trio is in four movements:

  1. Allegro con brio
  2. Scherzo
  3. Adagio
  4. Allegro

First movement[edit]

This movement is a sonata form movement in B major, with a broad theme that begins in the cello and piano and builds in intensity. It is counterpoised by a more delicate anacrustic second theme in G sharp minor. This theme appeared only in the second version of the trio, replacing a more complex group of themes and a fugal section in the first version.

Second movement[edit]

The B minor scherzo combines delicate filigree passages with fortissimo outbursts. The exuberant mood of the first movement returns in the trio section. A tierce de picardie sets the scene for the Adagio. The only alterations Brahms applied to this movement in his revision of the work were a doubling of the climactic trio melody in the cello, and a reworking of the coda.

Third movement[edit]

This movement, returning to B major, opens with a spacious chordal theme in the piano, counterpoised by a middle section in which the cello plays a poignant G sharp minor melody making use of chromaticism. In the first version, a different second theme was used, and an Allegro section was included near the end of the movement.

Fourth movement[edit]

Back in B minor, the first theme of this movement is highly chromatic and slightly ambiguous tonally, with a very agitated dotted rhythm. This is perhaps the movement Brahms altered the most between the two versions, with the cello's original smooth second theme in F sharp major—an apparent allusion to Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte, also quoted in Schumann's Fantasie Op. 17—being replaced by a more vigorous arpeggiated piano theme in D major. After a B major episode recalling the mood of the first movement, the music returns to minor and ends very turbulently. The original ending was even more overtly tragic, and it is worth recalling that 1854 was the year Brahms's friend and mentor Schumann attempted suicide and was confined to an asylum.


  1. ^ IMSLP; yes, published in 1891, but premiered in early January 1890. Brahms wrote to Clara on September 3 1889 that he had rewritten his B major trio. See notes to Kennedy Center performance.
  2. ^ Conrad Wilson: Notes on Brahms: 20 Crucial Works (Edinboro, Saint Andrew Press: 2005) p. 8

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