Piano Trio (Clara Schumann)

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The Piano Trio in G minor, opus 17 by Clara Schumann was written in 1846, and was the only piano trio she wrote.[1] The trio was composed during her presence in Dresden 1845-1846. During the development of the Trio, she was going through hardships in life. Her fourth child, Emil had died a few years back and her husband Robert Schumann was extremely ill. This trio was completed during the summer of 1846 when they traveled to Norderney in attempts to improve Robert's health conditions. While in Norderney, Clara suffered from miscarriage. A year after the composition of her piano trio, Robert composed his first piano trio, op.63. It is seen that Clara's trio has had great influences on Robert's trio as they both share many interesting similarities. Their works were frequently paired at concerts.[2]

Clara Schumann's compositions include 29 Lieders (songs), choral music, solo piano pieces, 1 piano concerto, chamber and orchestra works. The Piano Trio has been called "probably" the "masterpiece" among her compositions.[3] The work is written for a piano trio comprising piano, violin, and cello. It was her first attempt writing music for other instruments other than the voice and piano.[4]


The composition is in four movements:[5]

  1. Allegro moderato in G minor, in common (4/4) time with a tempo of 152 crotchets to the minute.
  2. Scherzo and Trio in B-flat major and E-flat major, respectively. The Scherzo is in 3/4 time and has a tempo of 160 crotchets to the minute. The Trio is also in 3/4 time and shows no change in tempo from the Scherzo.
  3. Andante in G major, in 6/8 time and 112 quavers to the minute.
  4. Allegretto in G minor, in 2/4 time and 96 crotchets to the minute.

Details on each Movement[edit]

Movement 1[edit]

The overall key of this movement is G Minor, with a lot modulation to close and distant keys. The structure of the movement is Sonata form (made up of the Exposition, Development, and Recapitulation), with a Codetta and then a Coda.[6] It is in Allegro moderato. It relies on energy and chromaticism to attract the audience.[4] Throughout the movement, each instruments has their own soloist moment on top of exceptional balance between three instruments. This balance depicts that Clara had a great understanding of three instruments although she was a pianist.[1]

Movement 2[edit]

The 2nd movement consists of three sections; Scherzo, Trio, and Scherzo. The Scherzo is in B-flat major, the same key as the relative major of the first movement, and it instructed to play in the "Tempo di minuetto" which means slow, graceful and playful.[1] The melody is often played by the violin, while the cello accompanists the melody through pizzicato as the piano play chords. These contrasts between the cello and piano successfully create the mood of the "Tempo di minuetto". After Scherzo, a contrasting section, Trio, appears. It is in E-flat major and is more lyrical than Scherzo. However, the overall mood of the piece is still playful. At last, it goes back to Scherzo and finishes up the movement.[4]

Movement 3[edit]

The 3rd movement, Andante, is in G major and begins with 8 measures of a piano solo. Soon after, violin takes over the lovely theme. In the middle of movement, all three parts play dotted rhythms, which contribute to the contrast of the emotion of the piece.[1] The piece could be described as "bittersweet".[4]

Movement 4[edit]

The last movement, Allegretto, is in Sonata form again.[2] The opening is similar to the opening theme of the first movement, which resembles "dramatic intensity".[4]

Use in Education[edit]

The first movement of the trio was chosen by exam board Pearson Edexcel to feature as one of the new A-level music set works, with first examination taking place in 2018. It is one of three works in the 'Instrumental Music' area of study, the others being Vivaldi's Concerto in D Minor op.3, and the first movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique .[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Murray, Lucy Miller,. Chamber music : an extensive guide for listeners. Lanham. ISBN 9781442243422. OCLC 893557941.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b Reich, Nancy B., (2001). Clara Schumann : the artist and the woman (Rev. ed.). Ithaca [N.Y.]: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801468302. OCLC 856430972.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Hall, George, "Schumann, Clara (Josephine)," in Oxford Companion to Music, Alison Latham, ed., Oxford University Press, 2002, p.1124.
  4. ^ a b c d e Nemko, Deborah Gail (1997). Clara Schumann as innovator and collaborator: The Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17(PhD). The University of Arizona. pp. 23, 27–36.
  5. ^ Anderson, Keith (2005). Liner notes: Clara Schumann: Piano Concerto in A Minor/Piano Trio in G Minor] (CD). Naxos Records. 8.557552. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  6. ^ "A Level Music Schumann Piano Trio Op. 17, Movement 1 Support Guide" (PDF). BSC Music.
  7. ^ "Pearson Edexcel A-Level Music Specification" (PDF). Pearson Edexcel.

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