Piano Trio No. 1 (Brahms)
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. 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. Among the piano trios known to have been written by Brahms it is the only one that ends in a minor key. It is also among the few multi-movement works to begin in a major key and end in the tonic minor (another example being Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony).
The trio is in four movements:
Original version (1854):
- Allegro con moto – Tempo un poco più Moderato – Schnell
- Scherzo: Allegro molto – Trio: Più lento – Tempo primo
- Adagio non troppo – Allegro – Tempo primo
- Finale: Allegro molto agitato – Un poco più lento – Tempo primo
Revised version (1889):
- Allegro con brio – Tranquillo – In tempo ma sempre sostenuto
- Scherzo: Allegro molto – Meno allegro – Tempo primo
- Finale: Allegro
(B major, 2/2)
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♯ 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.
(B minor, trio section and ending in B major, 3/4)
The B minor scherzo combines delicate filigree passages with fortissimo outbursts. The exuberant mood of the first movement returns in the trio section in B major. A tierce de Picardie (Picardy third) which ends the movement in B major sets the scene for the third movement (also in B major). 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.
(B major, 4/4)
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♯ 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.
(B minor, 3/4)
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♯ 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. The combined contour and rhythm of this new theme in its first four bars bear a striking resemblance to "The Star-Spangled Banner" - perhaps a tribute to the fact that the work had been premiered in 1855 not in Europe but in Dodsworth's Hall, New York City. After a B major episode recalling the mood of the first movement, the music returns to B 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.
- 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.
- Conrad Wilson: Notes on Brahms: 20 Crucial Works (Edinboro, Saint Andrew Press: 2005) p. 8
- "The Star-Spangled Banner", service version, attributed to John Stafford Smith
- Sunday Classics: Which mainstay of the chamber music literature was first heard in 1855 in, of all places, NYC? - Down With Tyranny!
- Steven Isserlis on Robert Schumann | Music | The Guardian