Schubert, Trio No. 2, Op. 100, Andante con moto | Ambroise Aubrun, Maëlle Vilbert, Julien Hanck
Schubert spent the majority of his brief but prodigious life writing and performing music within the intimate and convivial company of family and friends. Almost entirely without patrons, commissions nor aristocratic associations, he flourished within a small, cultured middle-class Viennese community where the majority of his music would remain, unknown to the larger world until after his death. Schubert wrote reams of music ideal for the setting: over six-hundred songs, numerous piano works for two and four hands, and a sizable canon of chamber music. In his final decade, Schubert produced a mature series of highly original chamber music that ranks among the greatest ever created including the Trout Quintet, the last four String Quartets, two Piano Trios and a breathtaking final work, the String Quintet in C major.
Despite his rapidly declining health, his final year yielded the Piano Trios, the Quintet, three Piano Sonatas and a towering Symphony in C major. It would seem that Schubert’s music just got better and better right until the end. Dying at the age of only thirty-one, Schubert may have departed with still “fairer hopes”, but the music he left behind could easily occupy a much longer life in the service of appreciating it all.
The last Piano Trio in E-flat major, Op. 100, D.929, is a gigantic masterpiece that, with Beethoven’s Archduke, could be considered among the few greatest piano trios in the traditional repertory. It is gigantic in length and breadth, wealthy in thematic ideas, constant transformations and ingenious details of construction. A typical performance runs to nearly forty-five minutes and this without taking the repeat in the first movement, and, after Schubert’s edits in the finale, removing its repeat as well as some one hundred additional measures. “Heavenly lengths”, as Schumann would write. Like much of Schubert’s “late” music, it is grand and profound in a way that goes well beyond the relatively modest context in which he wrote.
It was among the few pieces performed in the only public concert featuring Schubert’s music held during his lifetime, the only work published outside Austria before his death. Schumann wrote, “a Trio by Schubert passed across the musical world like some angry comet in the sky”. More intense than its worthy companion, the Piano Trio in B-flat major written around the same time, it flairs with passion, pathos, perhaps even anger, but it is equally saturated with joy, grace and triumphant beauty.
The first movement sonata in moderate tempo is full of Schubertian lyricism and energy, with as many as six separate thematic ideas in the exposition alone. Careful inspection reveals that they are related. Swept along within Schubert’s typical flow of songlike themes, it is easy to overlook the ways in which he equally excels with a set of key motives that interrelate and recur throughout the trio in a wonderful organic unity. While vast, the trio is also highly integrated. The development is concerned chiefly with the last theme working this generous sonata into surprising dramatic heights.
The slow movement begins with a somber, poised march with a singing cello lament in a minor key. A second theme melts the chill into a tender, bright warmth of smooth motion, a contrast that generates another unexpected epic, the most memorable movement of the trio. Twice, it swells into a blinding heat of monumental passion before cooling again into the restrained, unforgiving march.
The Scherzo delights with sparkling play and clever invention: it is a canon throughout with piano and strings imitating each other in a variety of shifting combinations interlacing two and three-part textures in a genial dance like so many Schubert wrote for his Viennese friends. The trio section is more rustic and bold with heavy accents and a recall of one of the troubled, rhythmic themes from the first movement charmed into dance through a loving contrapuntal embrace.
The finale is combination of rondo and sonata forms with no less than three additional melodies, as though Schubert had an inexhaustible font of new music pouring out of his racing, mortal imagination. Midway through, Schubert reintroduces the march theme from the second movement, reminding us of something important we may have forgotten. Now, at least four distinct themes weave in an out of a tapestry of dazzling color and virtuosity with music that perhaps exceeds even Mozart with its lyrical bounty. For a final transformation of tremendous effect and compelling unity, Schubert returns to the march theme yet again, this time reborn in a final triumphant major key.
A casual listen to Schubert sometimes provokes the reaction that he is a bit long-winded, maybe even a bit repetitive. A more attentive listening reveals that Schubert never says the same thing twice. With his masterful handling of an ever-changing texture, his uncanny use of color within a chamber ensemble, his expert rhythmic sense and his exotic, emotionally keen harmonic modulations, Schubert always invests his recurring thematic material with new meaning, ultimately building a large-scale narrative where nothing is redundant and everything necessary. His music demands from the listener only an equivalently generous presence of heart and mind.
The Trio No. 2 in E-flat major for piano, violin, and violoncello, D. 929, was one of the last compositions completed by Franz Schubert, dated November 1827. It was published by Probst as opus 100 in late 1828, shortly before the composer’s death and first performed at a private party in January 1828 to celebrate the engagement of Schubert’s school-friend Josef von Spaun. The Trio was among the few of his late compositions Schubert heard performed before his death. It was given its first private performance by Carl Maria von Bocklet on the piano, Ignaz Schuppanzigh playing the violin, and Josef Linke playing cello.
Like Schubert’s other piano trio, this is a comparatively larger work than most piano trios of the time, taking almost 50 minutes to perform. The second theme of the first movement is based loosely on the opening theme of the Minuet and Trio of Schubert’s G major sonata (D. 894). Scholar Christopher H. Gibbs asserts direct evidence of Beethoven’s influence on the Trio.
The main theme of the second movement was used as one of the central musical themes in Stanley Kubrick‘s 1975 film Barry Lyndon. It has also been used in a number of other films, including The Hunger, Crimson Tide, The Piano Teacher, L’Homme de sa vie, Land of the Blind, Recollections of the Yellow House, The Way He Looks, Miss Julie, the HBO miniseries John Adams, The Mechanic, two episodes of American Crime Story, and as the opening piece for the ABC documentary The Killing Season.
The first movement is in sonata form. There is disagreement over the break-up of thematic material with one source claiming six separate units of thematic material while another source divides them into three themes each with two periods. There is to an extent extra thematic material during the recapitulation. At least one of the thematic units is based closely on the opening theme of the third movement of the earlier Piano Sonata in G major, D 894. The development section focuses mainly on the final theme of the exposition.
II. Andante con moto
The second movement takes an asymmetrical-double-ternary form. The principal theme is based in the Swedish folk song Se solen sjunker, which the composer had heard in the Fröhlich sisters’ house, sung by the tenor Isak Albert Berg.
III. Scherzo: Allegro moderato
The scherzo is an animated piece in standard double ternary form.
IV. Allegro moderato
The finale is in sonata-rondo form. Schubert also includes in two interludes the opening theme of the second movement in an altered version. Schubert also made some cuts in this finale, one of which includes the second-movement theme combined contrapuntally with other material from the finale.
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