Trio: originally, a contrapuntal composition in three parts; in chamber music, it is a composition for three players. In the Classic Era, the piano trio began it's development into the form of three equal players that we know today. It started out mostly as a sonata for piano with accompaniment by violin (or flute) and cello but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), along with his predecessor, Joseph Haydn, took the trio form to a more mature level; freeing the cello from the supportive basso continuo part of the baroque era by giving it an equal voice and writing the violin/flute as a separate treble part to the right hand of the piano - not merely doubling it. Mozart was a consummate composer of opera where each character on the stage has a part important in the integrated whole. The same is true for his trios - which make them really fun to play. The Trio in C, K. 548, was written in the period of the last three symphonies and corresponds with some of the musical character of the Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter," also in C Major. Bernard Jacobson writes for a performance of the Beaux Arts Trio, "Both works open with specimens of those formalistic 'calls to attention'; both are full of little chromatic touches and intricate contrapuntal touches; and both have Andante cantabile slow movements in spacious 3/4 meter." The third movement is a rondo with a witty "hunting" theme passed between the piano and flute which returns slightly changed throughout and with ever more complicated voicing.
The Romantic era expanded the form of the piano trio both in terms of length and in harmonic/melodic textures. Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896) wrote her Trio in G, Op. 11 in 1846 and gave it to her husband, Robert, as a gift for their seventh anniversary. While the Romantic era trio still gives the bulk of the work to the piano, the flute and cello gain more independence and importance in the statement and exchange of musical ideas. Schumann's Trio is a prime example of a well-proportioned work in four movements with lyric melodies, thick textures, rich harmonic progressions and true interplay among all the instruments. Things of note to listen for: the interweaving of the two themes of the Allegro moderato, one melodic and the other rhythmic; the dotted "Scottish Snap" rhythm of the Scherzo contrasting with the long lyric phrasing in the Trio section; the straightforward simplicity of the Andante with the opening melody passing from the piano to the flute and returning in the cello; and the wonderful fugue in the Allegretto.
One simply cannot talk about Clara Schumann's work without talking about her life. Like Mozart, Clara's father trained her to be a quintessential musician: concert pianist, singer, composer. Clara was renown for her piano concerts and, throughout her life, championed music of Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Beethoven. She was considered among the ranks of Chopin and Liszt in her concertizing - no small feat for a woman at that time, who also continued to perform even during her pregnancies. Her life with Robert was filled with the wonderful exchange of rich ideas and shared compositional study - the Trio being one of her best works. Marriage to him, however, was also detrimental to her composing. She bore eight children and Robert was mentally unstable; eventually being committed to an asylum. Clara never considered herself a force in the composing world, partly because she and others compared her work to that of her husband and of Brahms and partly because the climate for female composers was so harsh. Even well composed pieces were met with reviews starting with, "Considering the composer is a lady..."
Not that the 20th century has been any kinder to women composers. Katherine Hoover (b. 1937) was raised in a non-musical family who actively discouraged her from pursuing a music career. She initially enrolled in an academic program at the Rochester University before transferring to the Eastman School of music where she majored in flute. Her composing didn't begin in earnest until later when she had moved to New York City. Since then she has won numerous composition awards and commissions. She was also active in producing the Festivals of Women's Music in New York from 1977-1981. The difficulties facing concerts of women's compositions were summed up by Hoover in an article in The Musical Woman, vol. 2 (Greenwood Press, 1987, pp 354,359): "The concerts were, as usual, musically rewarding and under attended. There was very little publicity...Obviously critics vary widely in their outlooks and perceptions... Most of these [prejudices] are, I think, the result of a conviction that if any of this material were worthy, they, as experts, would know of it after so many years in the field. Indeed, it is a mark of the sad, twisted history of women's compositions that so many scholars and critics don't know of them."
As for the Lyric Trio, Hoover writes, "In 1983, I was commissioned to write a piece for the Huntingdon Trio, a versatile group of musicians whose skills cover several instrumental combinations. I chose to write a substantial piece for flute, cello and piano, with more emphasis on melody than much of the music being written at that time, so I called it Lyric Trio. The long first movement has two main ideas; one energetic and rhythmic, the other lyric. Most of the movement concerns the interweaving of these ideas, with two dream-like interpolations. The second movement is a melodious serenade. Each instrument has its own solo to sing, and then these are brought together toward the end of the movement&endash;is a perpetul motion with overtones of jazz, odd sounds, and references to the first movement."
-- Notes by Cindy Woolley
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