The real influence of Mozart and Haydn was slow to show itself in Beethoven’s style, and what did eventually appear was the integration of Mozart’s and Haydn’s resources, with results that transcend all possibility of resemblance to the style of their origins, and are nowhere more transcendent than in a work like the E flat Trio, Opus 70, No.2 where Beethoven discovers new meanings for Mozart’s phrases and Haydn’s formulas.
Donald Francis Tovey, Beethoven (1944)
Our April concert displays at least three attributes of great chamber music making in three ‘new’ works by well-known masters, Ludwig von Beethoven, David Rakowski of Brandeis, and Robert Schumann from Leipzig!?!**
Although not his first, nor considered his greatest, Beethoven’s E-flat Trio, Opus 70, No. 2 is the place where he gave new meaning to long established patterns and extended the life and immediacy of the medium. The work opens with a slow introduction (as might a work by Haydn), seemingly in mid-sentence, with a cello phrase that is immediately taken in response by violin, and by piano. Rather than having the feel of introduction, it feels more like wandering and searching for what will become the dominant character of the movement. His returns to this same tempo and music later in the movement as transition to his second theme and as introductory to the coda illustrate Tovey’s observation of how Beethoven ‘discovered’ new meanings, or uses, for old structures.
David Rakowski’s contribution to the fine efforts of our BCMS Commissioning Club to make chamber music relevant to our time is appropriately entitled Entre nous. He writes:
“Entre nous is cast in a traditional three-movement structure, fast-slow-fast. The first movement begins pizzicato, which speeds up and develops into an antsy fast music where the instruments trade licks like they’re passing around a hot potato. It comes to a suddenly loud close. The second movement is a slow movement designed to highlight oboist Peggy Pearson’s marvelous playing; in it the oboe gets long lines against slow harmony, and, in the middle section, running notes in the strings. The finale is a devilish scherzo that develops entirely out of an opening tutti.”
His title and description of Entre nous remind us of the necessary intimacy of our medium and how a clever opening can lead to surprising conclusion.
Piano Quintet, Op. 44 (1842) by Robert Schumann was the first to combine piano and string quartet. Like Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and the Op. 70, No. 2 Trio, the quintet contains four movements, and is in the key of the E-flat major. Further parallels to the Eroica Symphony includes a slow movement in C Minor that may be heard as a funeral march; a Scherzo movement that some associate with the trio of a Haydn String Quartet (Op. 76, No. 6), and a rousing conclusion with the full weight of all forces that made this one of the first chamber works to be heard to great effect in large halls. **Although dismissed at first as ‘too Leipzigerish’ by Franz Liszt, (Schumann had studied at Leipzig University), the world’s first piano quintet soon gained wide praise and public acceptance. It remains a BCMS favorite.