Piano Trio No.1 in B major Op.8

Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)
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Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)

Performance date: 02/07/2017

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1854 revised 1889

Duration: 00:35:43

Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation Category:Piano trio

Artists: Huw Watkins - [piano]
Christopher Marwood - [cello]
Mairead Hickey - [violin]

Here again is one who comes as if
sent from God! He played us sonatas and scherzos of his own, all of
them rich in fantasy, depth of feeling and mastery of form. Robert
could see no reason to suggest any changes. It is truly moving to
behold him at the piano, his interesting young face transfigured by
the music, his fine hands which easily overcome the greatest
difficulties (his things are very difficult), and above all his
marvellous works.
Clara Schumann on first meeting with Brahms Oct
1853.

This meeting changed Brahms’ life, he
had walked into the Schumann household on the brink of the terrible
catastrophe of Robert Schumann’s mental breakdown four months
later. Schumann spent the rest of his life in a sanatorium at
Endenich, where he died three long years later. For all of this
period Brahms did his best to look after Clara and her seven
children, living under the same roof and gradually falling in love
with her; an almost impossible situation that is reflected in the B
major Trio composed at the centre of this storm of conflicting
emotions.

This music is only for the young or the
young in heart, something Brahms demonstrated in the most dramatic
way possible by rewriting the whole work thirty-five years later.
This is the version we hear tonight; the original is a wild,
passionate but sprawling affair. There are few if any composers who
could have remained so close to their youth and the style of their
youth that they could so seamlessly recompose such an ardent and
tempestuous work.

The Trio opens with one of Brahms’ most
sublime tunes, a long, spacious theme that accumulates power as it
sweeps along with tidal force, a force that speaks of unattainable
beauty and irrepressible longing. The transition theme retains this
ardent momentum before slowing for the broader lyricism of the second
subject. But this also grows progressively more assertive before we
are swept up again into the repeat of the exposition. Second time
around we are led into a passionate development that focuses on the
triplet rhythm of the transition passage. The recapitulation sneaks
in unannounced with the kind of mastery that the youthful composer
could never have created. The gorgeous tranquil reverie of the coda
also reveals the master’s vision of the dreams of youth from which he
only rouses himself in the very last bars.

The form of the Scherzo always appealed
to Brahms and he mastered its complexities early in his life – the
collaborative FAE Sonata written as a birthday surprise for Joachim
that fateful autumn of 1853 by Schumann, Dietrich and Brahms found
Brahms inevitably writing the hard-driven and brilliant Scherzo. So
this movement comes to us almost unchanged in the revised version
apart from a new coda. It begins almost delicately in the
Mendelssohnian way but soon explodes into Brahms’ heroic style that
seems to call for the full orchestra and suddenly we find ourselves
deep in another magnificent, long-spanned, luxurious theme that is
the Trio. This works itself up to a full-bodied climax complete with
tremolo violin soaring above a thunderous accompaniment. The new coda
grows fluidly out of the piano’s characteristic falling arpeggio
figure.

The Adagio opens with serene
chorale-like chords from the piano, evocatively answered by the
strings. We are led quietly to an elegiac cello tune that heralds the
central section of what has become a simple ternary design. The
reprise is allowed to decorate the solemn opening theme but no more.
The Finale has two main themes, a restless, hypnotic first subject in
B minor and a crude popular tune in D major. Brahms shortened this
movement by some 200 bars and changed it from a rondo to sonata form,
but it remains a full-voiced exposition of youthful high spirits
concluding with a full-blown intensification of all available
material and a ferocious final chord in B minor.