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Franz Schubert - Piano Trios

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Piano Trio in B flat major, D. 898

Schubert wrote two complete Piano Trios and two movements tor Piano Trio, one of which may have been a try-out for inclusion in one of the two complete trios. The Trio in B flat op. 99, D. 898 was probably written in 1827 and the original autograph score is lost.

It is in four movements, opening with a bright first subject on the violin and cello, repeated on the piano, the cello then introduces the second melody. This is a wonderful tune, charming, lyrical and adventurous. It always surprises with its various turns of invention. The slow movement which follows also has the cello as a principal instrument. There is a somewhat brooding middle section, rather portentous before we return to the first melody.

The bright Scherzo has a charming little trio and then comes the Rondo finale with the violin taking the first melody. There is a splendidly turbulent middle section, full of invention and excitement followed by a brief rapid coda leading to the close.

Listen to the Trio in B flat D. 898

Piano Trio in E minor opus 100, D. 929

While the autograph score of the B flat major Trio has long since been lost, in the case ofi ts companion in E flat, D. 929, we have not only Schubert's final manuscript, but also a working draft of the first three movements. The latteris a fascinating document, and it reveals how radically he altered some of the music's details as he worked. This is particularly true of the slow movement, whose entire shape was changed between the draft and the final version. In the opening movement, Schubert's most far-reaching modification was to alter the key in which the pianissimo second theme appears, from F sharp minor to B minor. The repeated-note rhythm of this theme casts its shadow over the entire work; and it is in the key of B minor that Schubert is later to introduce one of his most profound surprises, the re-appearance of the slow movement's theme during the course of the finale.

The recapitulation, which is approached with a forceful variant of the quiet bars that had concluded the exposition. The dramatic re-appearance of these bars, with their harmonic shape retained intact, will, later in the movement, generate the expectation of a further return of the main theme in the home key. Schubert, however, thwart such an expectation with a side-stepping modulation, and effectively begins his recapitulation in the "foreign" key of G flat major, only returning to B flat for the main theme's delicate counter statement.

Listen to the Trio in E minor D. 929

The yearningly expressive slow movement provides a wonderful example of Schubert's ability to create seemingly endless melodies within a structure that evolves continuously. Behind the music's form lies the notion of a ternary design, with the contrasting middle section unfolding in a gently agitated C minor.

Following the Scherzo, with its touchingly simple trio in waltz style, Schubert rounds the work off with a finale of considerable complexity. His own heading for the piece is 'Rondo', though the failure of the opening theme to return before the central section lends it the appearance of a highly individual sonata form.

The final is an Allegro moderato, with the piano as the leading instrument. This movement has some glorious tunes, some with an eastern touch, others vaguely folk-tune-like. They all lead to a spirited and convincing conclusion. The start of the development coincides with a change in time-signature and an elaboration of the main theme's characteristic dactylic rhythm, now transformed into a kind of sublimated ecossaise.

The B flat Trio's opening movement was described as 'graceful and original' by Schumann in his review in the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik. Given the forceful march-like nature of the Trio's main theme, however, this seems a little surprising. No doubt, though, Schumann was thinking either of the counter statement, where the melody is given out in octaves by the piano, while the violin adds an accompaniment in gentle repeated quavers, and the cello interjects the march rhythm in a subdued pizzicato; or of the second subject, played initially by the cello over a flowing piano accompaniment.

Sonatensatz in B flat major, D. 28

The Sonatensatz in B flat is an early work written in July and August 1812, when Schubert was fifteen years old and also the year in which his mother died. This is the first time he had tried to compose for a Piano Trio. Like many of Schubert's compositions, he probably got tired of writing it, put it aside to return to some time in the future and never did so.

We are left with a single movement, an Allegro, very reminiscent of Haydn and showing the influence of Salieri with whom Schubert was having counterpoint lessons at the time. The whole thing is very decorative, with some clever use of the three instruments and several lovely tunes. The middle section with the violin flying, bird-like. over the piano is particularly lovely.

Notturno op. posth 148, D. 897

The Notturno, D. 897. is probably an initial slow movement for the first Piano Trial the B flat, discarded by Schubert. As a single piece it stands very well and has a noble quality with some beautiful instrumentation. The piano opens with a series of rolling arpeggio chords and there then follows a song-like duet for the strings. The piano repeats this theme. There is an agitated central section before we return to the main theme on the piano and a quiet close. This piece is not as well known as it should be, which is surprising considering the invention in the music, the clever usc of dynamics and its overall quality.

Sonatensatz D. 28

Notturno D. 897

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