Beethoven and Mahler

Piano Quartet in A Minor

by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

  • Nicht Zu Schnell

Austro-Bohemian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler wrote his single movement Piano Quartet in A minor when he was just fifteen or sixteen years of age, towards the end of his first year of study at the Vienna Conservatory. The premiere was given on July 10th, 1876, with Mahler at the piano. He performed it on a handful of occasions before putting it aside. It seems the piece was lost for many decades before being re-discovered by his widow Alma in the 1960s, along with twenty-four bars of a Scherzo movement. It was finally published in 1970 and is in fact his only surviving piece of purely instrumental chamber music. Interestingly, Martin Scorsese used the piece as part of a soundtrack for his film Shutter Island (2010).

The three-note pleading motive that opens the piece echoes amongst all the instruments and sets the stage to music that is foreboding, dramatic and intensely felt throughout. It seems to convey a sense of loss, loneliness and the unknown. Mahler displays here a musical maturity well beyond his years, anticipating the great symphonic composer he would one day become. The music makes us long for more.

Piano Trio in B flat major, Op.97, The Archduke

by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

  • Allegro
  • Scherzo – Allegro
  • Andante cantabile ma pero con moto
  • Allegro moderato – Presto

Archduke Rudolph of Austria, as the youngest of twelve children of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, was free to pursue his interest in music over matters of state. At the age of sixteen, he replaced his palace music teacher with Ludwig van Beethoven, thus beginning a lifelong relationship that included tutelage, royal patronage and above all, friendship. Beethoven dedicated fourteen compositions to Rudolph including the Piano Trio in B flat major, Op.97. Its nickname “The Archduke” has immortalized Rudolph far more than his high station in life ever could. Beethoven made a sketch of the piece in the summer of 1810, completing it in March of 1811. It wasn’t premiered until April 11, 1814 as part of a charity concert in Vienna. Beethoven insisted on playing the piano part for the premiere despite his encroaching deafness; the public consequently praised the trio, but not its bungled execution. Much to the composer’s grief, a performance of the work a few weeks later was his last public performance.

The Archduke Trio is the final piano trio Beethoven wrote and is widely considered his most beautiful. The first movement, Allegro, is majestic, expansive and ever gracious, featuring much motivic conversation amongst the parts. The second movement, Scherzo, offers a carefree and breezy contrast that holds a darker, more dramatic middle section. The main theme of the third movement, Andante, is presented by the piano in a simple hymn-like setting. What follows is a set of glorious variations strewn with sublime moments and tinged with sorrow. The playful fourth movement, Allegro moderato, bursts forth like a ray of sunshine -- it gives us a jaunty and energetic finale to one of the greatest and most celebrated chamber works of all time.

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