Program Books/Vienna Piano Trio

Vienna Piano Trio

Saturday, April 9, 2022, 8pm
First Congregational Church, Berkeley

Stefan Mendl, piano
David McCarroll, violin
Clemens Hagen, violoncello

This performance will last approximately 2 hours, including intermission.

From the Executive and Artistic Director

Jeremy Geffen

This weekend’s programming at Cal Performances offers instructive—and delightful—examples of the eternal changeability and flexibility of music. Over the course of three extraordinary concerts, we’ll sample a selection of music that ranges from the masterpieces of Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert, to cutting-edge compositions by a group of today’s most gifted composers.

We begin on Friday evening with the music of today, as the brilliant yMusic serves up a feast of contemporary works, the oldest of which was written only six years ago. I’m particularly proud that the group’s program features the West Coast premiere of Difference (2019), a Cal Perfor­mances co-commission by American composer Andrew Norman, “one of the most gifted and respected composers of his generation” (New York Times). As ensemble member and award-winning radio host Nadia Sirota promises in her program note, it’s “immediate, unexpected, physical, and a blast to play.” Those of you who saw yMusic’s brilliantly creative concert on last year’s Cal Performances at Home streaming series will have some idea of the musical treasures that lie in store; for everyone else, get ready for a real treat!

Then, two ensembles working in the grand European tradition, present programs featuring some of the most sublime classical music ever written. The esteemed Vienna Piano Trio, making its Cal Performances debut in a rare—and final—West Coast appearance, arrives with a deep dive into Schubert’s chamber music comprised of the composer’s two magisterial piano trios played back-to-back. And on Sunday afternoon, renowned conductor John Eliot Gardiner and his esteemed English Baroque Soloists—the period-instrument ensemble Gardiner founded more than 40 years ago—make an exceedingly rare stateside appearance in a bracing program of Mozart and Haydn.

March and April finds Cal Performances operating at full speed as we approach the April 20 announcement date for our brilliant 2022–23 season. (We just released our beautiful new 42-page season brochure to the printer; I can’t wait to share it with you!) From now through the beginning of May, the remainder of our current season is filled with adventurous programming. You won’t want to miss…

  • Angélique Kidjo, our 2021–22 artist-in-residence, in her new music-theater piece Yemandja (a much-anticipated Cal Performances co-commission and Illuminations event, Apr 23).
  • highly anticipated concerts with superb classical artists including Germany’s Tetzlaff Quartet (Apr 23), another favorite from last season’s Cal Performances at Home; pianist Daniil Trifonov (Apr 28), making his Cal Performances solo debut; and the Danish String Quartet (Apr 29)—a particular favorite of our chamber music audience—delivering the next installment in its ongoing Doppelgänger Project, a series of concerts that pairs late Schubert string quartets with newly commissioned works (on this occasion, a new quartet by the fascinating Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski).

Fasten your seatbelts; we have all of this—and more—in store before the season ends!

I know you join us in looking forward to what lies ahead, and to coming together—as we do today and have done so often in the past—to encounter the life-changing experiences that only the live performing arts deliver. We can’t wait to share it all with you!

Jeremy Geffen
Executive and Artistic Director, Cal Performances

Jeremy GeffenThis weekend’s programming at Cal Performances offers instructive—and delightful—examples of the eternal changeability and flexibility of music. Over the course of three extraordinary concerts, we’ll sample a selection of music that ranges from the masterpieces of Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert, to cutting-edge compositions by a group of today’s most gifted composers.

We begin on Friday evening with the music of today, as the brilliant yMusic serves up a feast of contemporary works, the oldest of which was written only six years ago. I’m particularly proud that the group’s program features the West Coast premiere of Difference (2019), a Cal Perfor­mances co-commission by American composer Andrew Norman, “one of the most gifted and respected composers of his generation” (New York Times). As ensemble member and award-winning radio host Nadia Sirota promises in her program note, it’s “immediate, unexpected, physical, and a blast to play.” Those of you who saw yMusic’s brilliantly creative concert on last year’s Cal Performances at Home streaming series will have some idea of the musical treasures that lie in store; for everyone else, get ready for a real treat!

Then, two ensembles working in the grand European tradition, present programs featuring some of the most sublime classical music ever written. The esteemed Vienna Piano Trio, making its Cal Performances debut in a rare—and final—West Coast appearance, arrives with a deep dive into Schubert’s chamber music comprised of the composer’s two magisterial piano trios played back-to-back. And on Sunday afternoon, renowned conductor John Eliot Gardiner and his esteemed English Baroque Soloists—the period-instrument ensemble Gardiner founded more than 40 years ago—make an exceedingly rare stateside appearance in a bracing program of Mozart and Haydn.

March and April finds Cal Performances operating at full speed as we approach the April 20 announcement date for our brilliant 2022–23 season. (We just released our beautiful new 42-page season brochure to the printer; I can’t wait to share it with you!) From now through the beginning of May, the remainder of our current season is filled with adventurous programming. You won’t want to miss…

  • Angélique Kidjo, our 2021–22 artist-in-residence, in her new music-theater piece Yemandja (a much-anticipated Cal Performances co-commission and Illuminations event, Apr 23).
  • highly anticipated concerts with superb classical artists including Germany’s Tetzlaff Quartet (Apr 23), another favorite from last season’s Cal Performances at Home; pianist Daniil Trifonov (Apr 28), making his Cal Performances solo debut; and the Danish String Quartet (Apr 29)—a particular favorite of our chamber music audience—delivering the next installment in its ongoing Doppelgänger Project, a series of concerts that pairs late Schubert string quartets with newly commissioned works (on this occasion, a new quartet by the fascinating Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski).

Fasten your seatbelts; we have all of this—and more—in store before the season ends!

I know you join us in looking forward to what lies ahead, and to coming together—as we do today and have done so often in the past—to encounter the life-changing experiences that only the live performing arts deliver. We can’t wait to share it all with you!

Jeremy Geffen
Executive and Artistic Director, Cal Performances

Franz Schubert
Piano Trio  in B-flat major, D. 898
Piano Trio in E-flat major, D. 929

Composed in 1827.

The B-flat Trio was premiered privately on January 28, 1828 at the Vienna home of Schu­bert’s friend Josef von Spaun by pianist Carl Maria von Bocklet, violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, and cellist Josef Linke.

The E-flat Trio was premiered on March 26, 1828 in the hall of the Gesellschaft der Musik­freunde; Bocklet and Linke again played the piano and cello, but Schuppanzigh was replaced by violinist Joseph Böhm.

On January 31, 1827, Franz Schubert turned 30. He had been following a bohemian existence in Vienna for over a decade, making barely more than a pittance from the sale and performance of his works and living largely by the generosity of his friends, a devoted band of music-lovers who rallied around his convivial personality and extraordinary talent. The pattern of Schubert’s daily life was firmly established by that time: composition in the morning; long walks or visits in the afternoon; companionship for wine and song in the evening. The routine was broken by occasional trips into the countryside to stay with friends or families of friends—he visited Dornbach, near the Vienna Woods, for several weeks in the spring of 1827, and Graz in Sep­tember. A curious dichotomy marked Schu­bert’s personality during those final years of his life, one well suited to the Romantic image of the inspired artist, rapt out of quotidian experience to carry back to benighted humanity some transcendent vision. “Anyone who had seen him only in the morning, in the throes of composition, his eyes shining, speaking, even, another language, will never forget it—though in the afternoon, to be sure, he became another person,” recorded one friend. The duality in Schubert’s character was reflected in the sharp swings of mood marking both his psychological makeup and his creative work. “If there were times, both in his social relationships and his art, when the Austrian character appeared all too violently in the vigorous and pleasure-loving Schubert,” wrote his friend the dramatist Eduard von Bauernfeld, “there were also times when a black-winged demon of sorrow and melancholy forced its way into his vicinity; not altogether an evil spirit, it is true, since, in the dark concentrated hours, it often brought out songs of the most agonizing beauty.” The ability to mirror his own fluctuating feelings in his compositions—the darkening cloud momentarily obscuring the warm sunlight—is one of Schubert’s most remarkable and characteristic achievements, and touches indelibly the incomparable series of works—including Winterreise, the “Great” C major Symphony, the final three piano sonatas, the String Quintet, the and the two piano trios—that he created during the last months of his brief life.

Though there exists no documentary evidence concerning the provenance or purpose of the Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat, it was apparently composed during the summer or early autumn of 1827; its companion, the Trio No. 2 in E-flat, was written quickly the following November. Schubert himself assigned the works the consecutive opus numbers 99 and 100. These compositions, like many of the creations that cluster around them, show Schubert turning away from the modest song and keyboard genres that had occupied the heart of his early work in favor of the grander instrumental forms with which he hoped to expand his reputation. It is likely that the Trio No. 2 was conceived with the expectation of introducing it at a public concert entirely of his own music under consideration for the following spring, but Schubert seems to have had no similar plans for the B-flat Trio. The only time he is known to have heard the piece was at a private gathering on January 28, 1828 at the home of his old friend Josef von Spaun to celebrate Spaun’s engagement. Three of the best players in Vienna took part—pianist Carl Maria von Bocklet (to whom Schubert dedicated the D major Piano Sonata, D. 850 and Fantasy for Violin and Piano, D. 934), violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh (noted for his interpretations of the quartets of Beethoven, who had died just months before this trio was composed), and cellist Josef Linke (a member of Schuppanzigh’s quartet). When the performance had ended, Bocklet fell upon the composer with embraces and congratulations, and told him that the Viennese little realized what a treasure they had in him. Though Schubert took much trouble to get the E-flat Trio published, there is no indication of similar efforts concerning the Trio No. 1. It was not until 1836, eight years after the composer’s death, that Diabelli issued the parts in Vienna. One of Schubert’s earliest and staunchest champions, Robert Schumann, in a review for his journal, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, wrote glowingly of the two trios: “One glance at them—and the troubles of our human existence disappear and all the world is fresh and bright again.” The trios have remained among the most popular and beloved of Schubert’s creations, “the purest blend of the ‘sociable’ spirit with that of true chamber music,” according to the distinguished scholar Alfred Einstein.

As are many of Schubert’s instrumental works, the B-flat Trio has been accused of being prolix and overly long. Yet there is in the music of Schubert, perhaps the most easily lovable of all the great composers, not so much the sense of longueurs in his lengthy flights of wordless song as one of generosity, of an unstinting gift of the tones that welled up, day and night for his entire life, in his fecund imagination. Indeed, these works have delighted generations of music lovers precisely because the qualities of abundance and friendship and joie de vivre overshadow any faults of form or technique. The sense of conviviality and expressive bounty floods from the opening theme of the B-flat Trio, a sweeping melody for the strings that paraphrases Schubert’s song “Des Sängers Habe” (“The Singer’s Possession”) of February 1825, whose text virtually summarizes his music-bound existence: “Shatter all my happiness in pieces, take from me all my worldly wealth, yet leave me only my zither and I shall still be happy and rich!” The piano’s dotted-rhythm accompaniment to this theme provides material for the transition to the subsidiary subject, a lyrical inspiration sung by the cello above rippling piano triplets. Both themes figure in the development section.

One of the marks of Schubert’s Romantic stylistic tendencies was his wide-ranging, sometimes daring, use of unexpected tonalities to extend his music’s emotional expression. This adventurous quality is here apparent in the surprising areas that the main theme is made to traverse—G-flat major (violin) and E-flat minor (cello)—before the piano finally achieves the “proper” recapitulatory tonality of B-flat. This technique allows both the exploration of a glowing range of harmonic colors as well as several additional opportunities for Schubert to share his lovely melody. The second theme is reiterated by the violin before the movement works itself up to a dramatic climax, which is brought into perfect emotional balance by a brief, quiet coda.

The Andante is one of those creations of ravishing lyrical beauty that could have been conceived by no one but Schubert. Its outer sections, calm and almost nocturnal in expression, take as their theme a flowing cello melody that may be the most gentle of all barcarolles. An agitated, minor-key central section provides formal and emotional contrast. The Scherzo juxtaposes the two most popular Viennese dances of the day—the Ländler and the waltz, just the sort of thing Schubert loved to improvise to accompany the dancing of his friends at their soirées. Schubert called the finale a “Rondo,” but its theme returns with such extensive alterations that the movement’s formal type is closer to a developmental sonata form than to the traditional refrain-based rondo structure. Here, also, Schubert hinted in the main theme at an earlier song, “Skolie” (1815): “Let us, in the bright May morning, take delight in the brief life of the flower, before its fragrance disappears.”

It is likely that Schubert conceived the E-flat Trio in November 1827 with the expectation of introducing it at the concert of his music planned for March 26, 1828 in the hall of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, which would prove to be the only public program entirely of his works held during his lifetime. The event, prompted and sponsored by his circle of devoted friends, was a significant artistic and financial success, and he used the proceeds to celebrate the occasion at a local tavern, pay off some old debts, acquire a new piano, and buy tickets for Nicolò Paganini’s sensational debut in Vienna three days later. The E-flat Trio was the principal instrumental entry on the program; Bocklet and Linke again played the piano and cello parts, but Schuppanzigh was replaced by violinist Joseph Böhm. Though Schubert was much pleased with the local reception of his concert, his chief delight came the following month when the Leipzig house of H.A. Probst accepted the work for publication, his first score to appear outside Austria, an undeniable confirmation of his growing international reputation. Schubert instructed Probst that the trio was to be labeled, significantly, as his “Op. 100,” and that the edition was to bear no dedication to anyone “apart from those who find pleasure in it.” (“How pleasant that every music lover may have the luxury of knowing that Schubert dedicated a masterwork to him,” noted Robert Haven Schauffler.) Problems with the venture ensued almost immediately, however. Probst bargained Schubert down to a smaller-than-expected fee; the score took some 10 weeks to reach Leipzig, and the publisher did not see it for several more because of his business travels; Probst questioned the length and salability of the piece; the publication suffered delay after delay. Schubert waited patiently through the summer and into the autumn for the Trio to appear. Finally, in October, he pleaded, “I request that the edition should be faultless, and look forward to it longingly.” The score was finally issued later that month, but Schubert never saw it—he died on November 19, 1828 in Vienna, at the age of 31. The 60 florins Probst paid him for the work was the last fee he ever received.

The E-flat Trio’s opening movement is generously endowed with no fewer than five thematic entities: 1) a bold unison statement based on an arpeggiation of the tonic chord; 2) a small motive, presented a dozen measures later by the cello, which begins with a three-note gesture using the figuration: note–lower neighbor–note; 3) a darkly colored, dance-like phrase; 4) a flowing melody shared by the violin and cello above a rustling triplet accompaniment in the piano (the formal second theme); and 5) a hybrid phrase, given in chords by the ensemble, grown from the cello’s three-note motive. The discursive development section utilizes mainly the last of these five ideas. The recapitulation returns all of the earlier themes, with the dance-like phrase providing the material for the movement’s coda.

The elegiac Andante is based on a Swedish folksong titled “Se solen sjunker” (“The Sun Was Setting”) which was sung for Schubert by the visiting Swedish tenor Isaak Albert Berg, later director of the Stockholm Conservatory and teacher of Jenny Lind. Rather than use the song as the theme for a set of variations, however, Schubert chose to accompany it with a mournful marching rhythm, and bring it into formal opposition throughout the movement with a contrasting violin melody of more cheerful character. The Scherzo, written in canon (i.e., exact imitation) between the piano and strings, has a surprising harmonic excursion in its mid-region; the central trio section hints at the rhythm of the dance-like motive from the first movement. The finale, which mixes formal elements of sonata and rondo, is anchored by the presentations and recurrences of two contrasting themes: a graceful, tripping melody in triple meter given by the piano immediately at the outset, and a feather-stitched, duple-meter, repeated-note, minor-mode sentence initiated by the violin. Twice during the course of this vast movement the principal theme of the Andante returns to unify the overall structure of the Trio.

“Let us accept this work as a precious legacy,” wrote Robert Schumann, one of Schubert’s earliest and staunchest disciples. “However many and excellent the seeds of time may be, they will not soon produce another Schubert.”

© 2022 Dr. Richard E. Rodda

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