Piano Trio No.1 in B flat D.898

Composer: Franz Schubert (b. 1797 - d. 1828)
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Composer: Franz Schubert (b. 1797 - d. 1828)

Performance date: 02/07/2018

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1827

Duration: 00:42:02

Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ

Instrumentation: vn, vc, pf

Instrumentation Category:Trio

Artists: Barry Douglas - [piano]
Christopher Marwood - [cello]
Mairead Hickey - [violin]

Mairéad Hickey [violin], Christopher Marwood [cello], Barry Douglas [piano]

Franz Schubert [1797-1828]

Piano Trio No.1 in B flat D.898 [1827]

1. Allegro moderato

2. Andante un poco mosso

3. Scherzo – Allegro & Trio

4. Rondo – Allegro vivace

Schubert’s early death and traumatic last years have given commentators the opportunity to relate the darkness of much of his late music directly to the suffering he was experiencing. However the relationship between art and life is subtler than this, though there can be no doubt that the lonely journeys so vividly described in his music must have reflected his own experiences. Nonetheless it can but excite our curiosity when a work as outwardly cheerful as this wonderful Trio comes to be composed in the middle of his most famous tale of inward suffering and loneliness, Winterreise. It is as though the act of composing music of the intensity of Winterreise necessitated the composition of its polar opposite, a work brimful of youthful vigour and freshness.

The opening movement takes off in a joyfully light-hearted mood full of Viennese charm. This opening theme is expanded and explored at some length before the cello sings out the irresistible second theme over a flowing piano accompaniment. A disturbing and dramatic pause leads to a hesitant resumption in strange and reflective accents, a typical Schubertian stroke, which then imperceptibly leads the music back to the exposition repeat and, second time around, into the development. This takes us on one of Schubert’s many unpredictable journeys through unexpected harmonic regions so, by the time this huge movement ends, we have travelled a long way from the outward certainties of its opening.

The yearningly expressive Andante gives us a classic example of Schubert’s ability to create seemingly endless melodies within a continuously evolving structure. Behind the music’s form lies the idea of a ternary design, with the contrasting middle section unfolding in a gently agitated C minor. Once again the reprise of the principal theme does not coincide with a return to the home key, Schubert again saying we have to move on for nothing can stay the same. 

The Scherzo is a delightful interlude, rhythmically temperamental in the main section, giving way to pure melody in the simple seeming but harmonically enigmatic Trio. The work is crowned by one of Schubert’s most exhilarating finales, beginning once again with youthful nonchalance and rapidly progressing into distant tonalities and capricious, asymmetrical rhythms. A mood of cheerful playfulness suffuses the movement with a glow of good humour that makes this one of his most popular creations. 

Francis Humphrys