Piano Trio No. 1 (Schubert)
The Trio No. 1 in B-flat major for piano, violin, and cello, D. 898, was written by Franz Schubert in 1827. The composer finished the work in 1828, in the last year of his life. It was published in 1836 as Opus 99, eight years after the composer's death. Like the E-flat major trio, it is an unusually large scale work for piano trio, taking around 40 minutes in total to perform.
The first movement (4/4, B-flat) is in sonata form with two main themes in the exposition. The first theme is characterized by dotted rhythms and irregular phrase lengths while the second theme by contrast has lyrical melodies and regular phrases. As is typical in a classical piece, the development section expounds on both themes, going into remote keys and often becoming turbulent. One of the high points of the movement is the last section of the development where fragmented versions of the main theme are presented in a succession of keys, each closer to the central key than the previous one. The second movement (6/8, E-flat) is in the style of a gondola song with a lilting melody and swaying rhythm - it cannot be taken too slowly. Like some of Schubert's other late slow movements, there is a contrasting section which is more turbulent - no excesses are permitted here however. Pretty soon, calm is restored. The third movement (3/4, B-flat) is in the classical minuet form. The scherzo proper features heavy counterpoint, with the three instruments constantly imitating each other - the feeling however is that of play and not combat. The trio section is a relaxed waltz. The principal theme of the last movement (rondo, 2/4, B-flat) resembles that of one of Schubert's songs, "Skolie", although this resemblance might be accidental. A two-bar rhythm is prevalent, giving the marked impression of alla breve time rather than 2/4, almost as if Schubert notated it 2/4 to avoid the frequent syncopations (in the equivalent alla breve, the music starts from the weak beat) which, though sounding smooth in actual performance, look clunky and cumbersome on the score. The sections in 2/4 are interrupted three times by passages in 3/2 time, in the style of a polonaise. These give further credence to the theory that the minim is in fact the basic time unit in this movement. The music ends with the tempo raised to Presto.
The primary feature of this trio is its light-hearted mood. Schubert's last period works are mostly known for their complex moods, with light and shadow, major and minor often alternating rapidly, ecstasy giving way to depression, agitation being quickly followed by calmness. This chiaroscuro is almost completely absent however in this Trio, almost throughout the mood is bright and carefree. Major keys play major roles in all movements, especially the finale which resembles the works of Mozart in its gaiety and unsullied high spirits.
- Gibbs, Christopher (1997). The Cambridge Companion to Schubert. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge University Press.
- Einstein, Alfred (1951). Schubert: A Musical Portrait. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Piano Trio No.1: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
- Performance of Piano Trio No. 1 by the Eroica Trio from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in MP3 format
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