Program Notes

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Hummel Piano Trio No. 1 Op. 12 in Eb major (1804)

I. Allegro agitato
II. Andante
III. Presto

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was not only considered one of the most important composers of his time but was also widely regarded as the greatest piano virtuoso of his era. It is well known that he was a student of Mozart, but less well known that Mozart had no regular students except for Hummel.

Hummel’s compositional output was huge, much of which involved the piano. This includes seven piano trios, a piano quartet, a piano quintet (like Schubert’s Trout quintet it is scored for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass), nine piano sonatas, five piano concertos and two septets with piano and mixed strings and winds. The piano concertos were much admired by Chopin, and the influence on Chopin’s own concertos is evident.

The first piano trio was written in 1804, and is contemporaneous with such Beethoven works as the Appassionata Sonata, the third Symphony, and the Ghost piano trio. Generally considered a classical composer, Hummel really is a bridge between the classical and romatic eras, and this is evident even in the first trio. All of his piano compositions sound very fluent, and it is hard for the casual listener to realize that all the piano parts are very difficult indeed.

Hummel’s work was neglected for many years, perhaps because it was overshadowed by Beethoven and Schubert. Fortunately more scores have recently become available and it is being played more.

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Schumann, Violin Sonata No. 1 Op. 105 in A minor (1851)

I. Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck (with passionate expression)
II. Allegretto
III. Lebhaft

This sonata was composed in five days, September 12 – 16, 1851, and was first performed in 1852. This first performance was not a success, but was redeemed the next year by the violinist Joachim, who left an unforgettable impression with his brilliant interpretation. Performance counts.

Moxart and Christopher Lee chose this sonata because it is not played much, and because it is the template for so many later violin sonatas. It is in three movements:

This sonata and the Schumann No. 2 set the tone for the late romantic violin sonatas. There are few others by well known composers at the time. The unimpressive FAE sonata (an collaboration involving Schumann, his student Albert Dietrich and Brahms) should hardly count. There is a sonata by Lalo from 1853, but it is hard to find any others. The earlier romantic violin sonatas were much earlier: 1817 Schubert; 1838 Mendelssohn.

The Schumann sonatas thus influenced many later works: 1868 Franck; 1879 Brahms No. 1; 1880 Dvorak; 1885 Saint-Saens No. 1; 1887 Grieg No. 1, plus of course later works.

To put the composition in context we must look at other types of music, for example the Liszt piano concerto No. 1 (1849) and the Saint-Saens piano concerto No. 1 (1858). Chopin wrote his last works in 1849; Mendelssohn in 1847 (all choral).

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Brahms Scherzo in C minor (Sonatensatz) (1853)

This is an early work by Brahms – he was 20 years old in 1853 when he composed the Scherzo as the third movement of the FAE sonata. That movement is a standout in the sonata, which was composed as a birthday gift to the violinist Joachim. Joachim finally released the Scherzo for publication 1906. This is a short,excellent work, very worth hearing; but also interesting in the context of the Schumann violin sonatas from that period.

While the late works of Brahms are played a great deal, the earlier works tend to be neglected. This is curious because the early works are such good music. The Scherzo is just one example. The three piano sonatas were also written that year; , the four ballades, Op. 10, for piano solo, and the original version of the B major piano trio were written just a year later in 1854. The mature Brahms is awesome, but the young Brahms is compelling.

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Ravel Piano Trio (1914)

I. Modéré
II. Pantoum (Assez vif)
III. Passacaille (Très large)
IV. Final (Animé)

For this well beloved and often played piano trio, there is extensive information online, so we provide only a few comments here. The early 20th century was a very fertile time for composition, as the composers broke with the Romantic era, and explored new forms.

Chamber music from the era includes Ravel’s trio, string quartet and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet; Debussy wrote a String Quartet and quintet for harp and strings; Chausson’s piano quartet and string quartet; Janacek’s violin sonata; Rachmaninoff’s cello sonata and second piano trio; Stravinsky’s string quartets; and much more.

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