Piano Trio No. 43 in C Major, Hob. XV:27 Haydn

The C Major Trio, Hob. XV: 27 was first in a set of three that Haydn published under a French title that translates as “Sonatas for the Pianoforte with Accompaniment of Violin and Violoncello.” Haydn dedicated the set to Therese Bartolozzi, an accomplished British pianist whom he had met in London. The composition's virtuosic piano writing testifies to her skill at the keyboard. The work also lives up to its original title in that the string parts were composed with skilled amateurs in mind, rather than professionals.

The first movement is in sonata form and it opens with a fanfare-like figure that begins the exposition. The first theme is more lyrical than the vigorous second. The development section begins in the minor mode; after Haydn revisits the fanfare, he treats the first theme again to some rigorous counterpoint. The fanfare returns in the Trio’s home key, signaling the recapitulation and close of the movement. The simple opening of the Andante evinces an elegant, restrained quality that reminds us that Haydn composed these trios for private performance in an upper-class London household. This opening alternates with stormier episodes, but Haydn maintains a careful balance between the two moods, such balance being one of the hallmarks of the classical style.

The Finale, a delightful rondo, is high spirits from start to finish, with vigorous writing for all three instruments, especially the piano. The trio is one of Haydn’s most accomplished in the genre, and it’s no surprise that London loved his works, especially when they were as extroverted and charming as this one.

Piano Trio in G Minor, op. 15 Smetana

Bedrich Smetena is often credited as the father of Bohemian music and the pre-eminent Czech musician of his era, for creating themed orchestral pieces extolling the beauty of his country.

The Piano Trio in G Minor, an early work in his career, is sadly one of just a handful of chamber music pieces he composed, yet it has established itself firmly in the repertoire, beloved by audiences and performers alike. The opening violin cadenza brims with Bohemian fire, introducing a movement whose tightly argued themes boil to the surface in a series of passionate climaxes lead by the piano. This highly structured development owes much to Franz Liszt, champion of nationalist causes throughout Europe and a master of thematic development. Liszt’s influence is also clearly heard in the dominant piano writing, at times almost orchestral in size. But one can also clearly discern the influence of Chopin, one of Smetana’s favorite composers, in the delicate piano flourishes. Brahms, ever partial to the viola, gives the lead to that instrument in the third movement. In the trio section the second violin is heard in an amusing effect as the bariolage technique is used (alternating stopped/open sounds for the same note) while the viola is given oscillating octaves next to pizzicatos in the outer voices. The Allegro finale returns to the drive and arch shape of the first movement, sporting an impatient athletic pace that increases to the end.

Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, op. 49 Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, completed in September 1839, is known as one of his greatest works, along with his Octet, Op. 20. The first movement, in sonata form, begins without introduction with a cantabile main theme played by the cello, while the piano provides a syncopated accompaniment. The violin then joins the cello with a distorted version of the theme. The piano introduces the second movement, with the eight bar melody in the right hand and the accompaniment divided between the hands, as in a number of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words. Below this, the bass line in the piano moves methodically, carefully balancing with the accompaniment and the melody. After the piano has played the main theme, the violin repeats it with a counterpoint on the cello. The short and light scherzo is essentially in sonata form. As in the prior movement, the main theme is first played on the piano, which then reduces itself to fragmentary accompaniment almost at once. A rhythmical motif of the main theme is present throughout the movement, except in the more lyrical central section, whose theme resembles material from the first movement. On advice from fellow composer Ferdinand Hiller, Mendelssohn did revise the last Finale movement and gave to the piano a very busy part. Various keyboard techniques are called upon in the movement, from close chords to sweeping arpeggios and chromatic octaves. The cantabile moments provide a refreshing contrast. The trio then finishes with a shift to D Major shortly before the end.