Piano Trio No. 1 (Brahms)

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The Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8, by Johannes Brahms was completed in January 1854, when the composer was only twenty years old, published in November 1854 and premiered on 13 October 1855 in Danzig.[1] It has often been mistakenly claimed that the first performance had taken place in the United States.[2] Brahms produced a revised version of the work in summer 1889 that shows significant alterations so that it may even be regarded as a distinct (fourth) piano trio.[3][4] This “New Edition” (Neue Ausgabe), as he called it, was premiered on 10 January 1890 in Budapest and published in February 1891. The trio 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 is being performed today. Among the piano trios known to have been written by Brahms it is the only one that ends in a minor key. The design of the work is monotonal, two movements are in the key of B major, two in B minor.[5] 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): (a performance typically takes around 42 minutes)

  1. Allegro con moto – Tempo un poco più Moderato – Schnell (494 bars)
  2. Scherzo: Allegro molto – Trio: Più lento – Tempo primo (459 bars)
  3. Adagio non troppo – Allegro – Tempo primo (157 bars)
  4. Finale: Allegro molto agitato – Un poco più lento – Tempo primo (518 bars)

Revised version (Neue Ausgabe) (1889): (a performance typically takes around 33 minutes)

  1. Allegro con brio – Tranquillo – In tempo ma sempre sostenuto (289 bars)
  2. Scherzo: Allegro molto – Meno allegro – Tempo primo (460 bars)
  3. Adagio (99 bars)
  4. Finale: Allegro (322 bars)

First movement[edit]

(B major, 4/4, alla breve in revised version)

This movement is a sonata form movement in B major. It begins with a broad theme in the cello and piano and builds in intensity. Brahms made little alterations in the first roughly 80 bars, but omitted little interjections by the violin that he supposedly only included in the first version to meet a desire of Joseph Joachim.[6] In the first trio, the second group in G minor and E major (b. 126) includes various thematic elements. Instead of repeating all elements, the recapitulation presents a fugue in stile antico (b. 354) that takes up one of the thematic cells of the exposition. In the revised trio, the first subject is counterpoised by a more delicate anacrustic second theme in G minor. In a new Tranquillo-coda, both subjects are combined to produce a serene impression.

Second movement[edit]

(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.

Third movement[edit]

(B major, 4/4)

This movement, returning to B major and following a simple ternary form, 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 (b. 33). In the first version, a different second theme was used - a quotation from Franz Schubert's Am Meer from Schwanengesang[7] (b. 33) - and an Allegro-section was included near the end of the movement (b. 82).

Fourth movement[edit]

(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 (b. 105)—an apparent allusion to Beethoven's Nimm sie denn hin, meine Lieder from An die ferne Geliebte, also quoted in Schumann's Fantasie Op. 17—being replaced by a more vigorous arpeggiated piano theme in D major (b. 64). The combined contour and rhythm of this new theme in its first four bars bear a striking resemblance to "The Star-Spangled Banner".[8] After a B major episode recalling the mood of the first movement, the music returns to B minor and ends very turbulently.


  1. ^ Struck, Michael (1997). "Zwischen Alter und Neuer Welt. Unbekannte Dokumente zur Uraufführung und frühen Rezeption des Klaviertrios op. 8 von Johannes Brahms in der Erstfassung". In Hortschanksy, Klaus. Traditionen – Neuansätze. Für Anna Amalie Abert. pp. 663–676. 
  2. ^ Sunday Classics: Which mainstay of the chamber music literature was first heard in 1855 in, of all places, NYC? - Down With Tyranny!
  3. ^ Oechsle, Siegfried (2009). "Klaviertrios, Klavierquartette, Klavierquintett". In Sandberger, Wolfgang. Brahms-Handbuch. Metzler/Bärenreiter. pp. 408–436. ISBN 978-3-476-02233-2. 
  4. ^ Conrad Wilson: Notes on Brahms: 20 Crucial Works (Edinboro, Saint Andrew Press: 2005) p. 8
  5. ^ Moseley, Roger (2007). "Reforming Johannes: Brahms, Kreisler Junior and the Piano Trio in B, Op. 8". Journal of the Royal Musical Association. 132 (2): 252–305, here 260. Retrieved 7 March 2017. 
  6. ^ Tovey, Donald F. (1929). "Brahms". In Cobbett, Walter Willson. Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music (A–H). pp. 158–182, here 162. 
  7. ^ http://www.kammermusikfuehrer.de/werke/2785
  8. ^ "The Star-Spangled Banner", service version, attributed to John Stafford Smith

External links[edit]