From Vienna to America

Sunday, February 25 @ 3:30pm

Two classical Viennese piano trios grace the first half of this program. Franz Joseph Haydn’s Piano Trio in F sharp minor, Hob.XV:26 shifts between charming and more melancholic moods, yet always maintains its elegance. This is followed by Ludwig van Beethoven’s masterpiece, his Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70, No.1 “Ghost” so nick-named due to its somewhat eerie sounding slow movement and the suggestion that this movement may be connected to the Macbeth opera that Beethoven was contemplating writing at the time. A viola and second violin join in on the second half of this concert to perform the rhapsodic and intense Piano Quintet, Op. 67 by American composer Amy Beach.

Piano Trio No. 40 in F Sharp Minor, Hob. XV:26
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

  • Allegro
  • Andante cantabile
  • Tempo di menuetto

Franz Joseph Haydn was the most prolific of the Viennese composers, writing 45 piano trios amid hundreds of other compositions. Keyboard music was transitioning from harpsichord to the new and expressive “fortepiano” during his lifetime, and Haydn’s last ten trios were specifically composed with this new instrument in mind. They are affectionately called his “London Trios” as he composed them during his second celebrated trip to London.

His Piano Trio No. 40 in F sharp minor was one of his last ten and was written in 1794. It was dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter, a society lady, and excellent amateur musician and love interest of Haydn’s. The first movement, Allegro, has an upbeat opening theme in F sharp minor, crisp and lively contrasting with the second theme in A major. The second movement, Andante cantabile, exhibits gorgeous and expansive writing that sounds so at ease with the world. He used this same theme in the Adagio movement of his Symphony No. 102, and it was a particular favourite with Rebecca Schroeter and he incorporated it into this trio in tribute to her. In keeping with the practices of the day, the work ends with a dance movement, Tempo di menuetto. The menuetto is poised and delicate contrasting its trio section which offers all the lilt and charm of an English country dance.

Piano Trio in D major, Op.70, No.1 “Ghost”
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

  • Allegro vivace e con brio
  • Largo assai ed espressivo
  • Presto

Ludwig van Beethoven composed his celebrated “Ghost Trio” in the autumn of 1808 during his stay at his patroness Countess Marie von Erodody’s estate just outside of Vienna, and premiered it for her that Christmas. It was published in the summer of 1809 and dedicated to the Countess in appreciation for her intervention in securing him an income from various aristocrats as long as he didn’t leave town as he thought he might do, and promised to remain in Vienna. And for an annual salary of 4,000 florins, he did! The countess was an accomplished pianist herself and lifetime friend and supporter of Beethoven.

The first movement, Allegro vivace e con brio, fairly sparkles with an exuberant first theme, but gentler second theme. The second movement, Largo ed espressivo is suspenseful and haunting and somewhat fragmented. Rich string harmonies float above a ghostly piano part thus earning the trio its nickname. A sketch of this same music was found among his papers depicting the witches’ scene in an opera of Shakespeare’s MacBeth that never did come to fruition. The third movement, Presto, bursts forth to dispel all haunting chill. Its boisterous and lively main theme continually reappears and comically gathers its energy towards various pauses throughout the music as if winking at its audience.

Piano Quintet in F sharp minor, Op. 67
Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944)

  • Adagio – Allegro moderato
  • Adagio espressivo
  • Allegro agitato

Amy Beach was from Boston and was one of the most accomplished pianists and composers of new England in early 20th Century America. She proved an amazing talent from a very young age, but with the repressive Victorian upbringing that befitted a girl of the era, her training was limited and controlled, so as a composer, she was almost entirely self-taught. She learned in all things that to succeed was to conform, so her writing was traditionalist and she aspired to follow the masters, in particular Brahms. She made a marriage to a much older man, Dr. Henry Beach, who in keeping with propriety in high society, didn’t wish his wife to perform beyond a few concerts for charity, but composing he encouraged. In this, she found a most happy outlet for her remarkable creative abilities, not pursuing her performing career again until after her husband’s death in 1910.

Beach wrote her Piano Quintet, Op.67 in 1908, which has been considered her response to Brahms’ Piano Quintet, a piece she loved and performed frequently. Her Quintet was premiered on Feb. 27th of the same year with the Hoffman string quartet and Beach at the piano. The first movement, Adagio-Allegro moderato, opens with a slow and stark theme whose intensity is carried forward by the first violin in the first theme of the following Allegro. In contrast, the piano offers a heartfelt second theme interlaced with triplets. A reference to the slow introduction occurs towards the end of the movement. The second movement, Adagio espressivo, is extraordinarily rich and dense and expressive with much sharing of the melodic material amongst the parts. The third movement, Allegro agitato, exhibits a scherzo-like mood, brilliant and light. The Adagio from the opening of the first movement makes a startling re-emergence towards the end of the piece, before the music eventually culminates in a triumphant finish.