1795: Beethoven: Trio Op. 1 No. 3 in C minor, age 24

Beethoven liked this one so well that he rewrote it 22 years later for a wind quintet, which in this case is a quartet with an extra viola. At the age of 18 Beethoven was given a post as viola player in the Bonn court orchestra. So he had a special knowledge of the viola, how to play it, and what it could do.

Kavakos-Hagen-Hamelin

  1. Allegro con brio (C minor)
  2. Andante cantabile con Variazioni (E-flat major)
  3. Minuetto. Quasi allegro (C minor, with a trio in C major)
  4. Finale. Prestissimo (C minor, concluding in C major)

I only know the pianist, but this group to my ears sounds just wonderful, and I love the sound

Istomin-Stern-Rose

  1. Allegro con brio (C minor)
  2. Andante cantabile con Variazioni (E-flat major)
  3. Minuetto. Quasi allegro (C minor, with a trio in C major)
  4. Finale. Prestissimo (C minor, concluding in C major)

This group is famous, and perhaps one day this will be my favorite recording, but I find the sound very closed in, not as good as modern recordings. The performance is wonderful, but I feel the miking is improving, so on earphones it is not as spacious as I’d look, and Stern was never my favorite violinist.

Instruments:

  • piano
  • violin
  • cello

1st performance:

In August 1795, Beethoven performed his newly composed three Piano Trios opus 1 in the salon of Prince Lichnowsky, with Haydn – who had just returned from London – as guest of honour.

Beethoven hurried over to Haydn to see what he thought. Haydn, who was present, had recently returned from his second triumphant London visit. He warmly praised the E flat and G major trios. But he suggested that the third trio, in C minor, would not be easily understood by the Viennese public. Haydn suggested that the third trio needed more work on it before it was published. The always touchy Beethoven put that down to envy.

In fact, the 3rd trio may be best of the three. So: why was Haydn so wrong? And was he wrong?

Haydn – 63 years of age – was tired.

The trip to London had been exhausting, and he had a grueling commission to fulfill. The three Trios, in performance, comprise more than an hour and a half of music. By the end of the third and final trio, Haydn was seriously tired.

In defense of Haydn:

I don’t want to hear 90 minutes of new music without a break, even if I’m rested, and the tendency of Beethoven to program so much music in one program was not a one time thing. He did it many times, and in my opinion always to the detriment of the music he was introducing. It’s one thing to listen to an hour or two of music you already know and love, but trying to hear music for the first time for such a long period often makes you stop paying attention and gives you a negative feeling about music that you might love, if only it were presented differently.

To experience what Haydn heard, the way he heard it, you have to listen to all three trios in order, never having heard them before, then form an opinion from that experience.

The last one is a downer, mostly minor, and mostly minor in the last movement. The ending, in major, almost sounds like an afterthought. On it’s own I think it’s great, but as the last of the three, I absolutely do not like the effect.I listened to the third before the others, and I know that in the future I don’t want to hear all three back to back.

Haydn was an absolute genius at programming, and likely he had the same impression as I do. He was probably too tired to formulate a more tactful reply, because the 3rd trio, as a stand alone piece, is a stunner.

Presentation counts:

If you want the world to love what you write, make sure you present it in the best way possible, either alone or part of a group of compositions that complement each other. Beethoven clearly was not very good at that.

Haydn never taught Beethoven anything?

That’s what Beethoven said, and he never acknowledged Haydn as his teacher. But if you think about it, as a formal teacher Haydn was just not there. He was famous, busy, and elsewhere. So in that sense, yes, Haydn either taught Beethoven nothing or very little.

However, in a larger sense Haydn was his greatest teacher, because Beethoven studied his scores, and obviously Haydn had an enormous influence on him, just as was true for Mozart. Everyone knew Haydn and his music that time. The real issue was that the old lion criticized the music of the young genius, who  was not an easy-going, forgiving person. However, it is unlikely that Haydn’s negative impression was more than over saturation on a day he was dead-tired.

No scherzo:

Unlike the other piano trios in this opus, the third trio does not have a scherzo as its third movement but a minuet instead. However, the important thing here is that the first two had scherzos, and that’s important. Later that became a signature of Beethoven, replacing minuets. However, this did not happen in one step, because Haydn had already written minuets marked with fast tempos. One was marked presto. So Haydn wrote scherzos before they were called scherzos. Beethoven just took this idea to the next step.

1817: Beethoven: C minor string quintet, Op. 104, age 36

  1. Allegro con brio (C minor)
  2. Andante cantabile con Variazioni (E-flat major)
  3. Minuetto. Quasi allegro (C minor, with a trio in C major)
  4. Finale. Prestissimo (C minor, with a tierce de picardie)

All the great masters stole from themselves:

More than two decades later, in 1817, an amateur composer named Herr Kaufmann submitted to Beethoven an arrangement he had made for a string quintet, with two violas. Beethoven had it copied out, decided he could do better, and made wholesale improvements to the part-writing.

Ouch!!!

At the top of the score Beethoven wrote a preface, mocking Kaufmann’s efforts as a “three-voice quintet” which he had raised “from the greatest wretchedness to some respectability”, sacrificing the original”‘as a solemn burnt offering to the gods of the underworld”.

The final arrangement:

Beethoven did not jettison Kaufmann’s ideas altogether; and the final arrangement, published in 1819 as Op 104, was a composite effort.

Did Beethoven “rework it”?

My answer: “sorta, kinda”.

In the finale the recapitulation was originally introduced by a flamboyant chromatic scale for the keyboard. For the quintet arrangement this lead-back becomes ‘thematic’ rather than decorative: the lower parts sound the first four notes of the main theme, while the chromatic scale, now in the first violin, is reduced from eight bars to four. There are probably more differences I would only know by carefully examining both scores and doing a ton of listening. But even the fact that Beethoven changed a few things suggest to me that perhaps he grudgingly paid attention to Haydn. But most of all I think the former trio shines best when played by itself.r, to C major. But the ending is uneasy and equivocal, with minimal sense of resolution (the recent memory of F minor is too strong for that), let alone of major-keyed optimism.

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