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Robert Schumann

Altenberg Trio Wien

Complete Works for Piano Trio

  • Type CD
  • Label Challenge Classics
  • UPC 0608917205329
  • Catalog number CC 72053
  • Release date 01 January 1997

About the album

On this album you can listen to the complete works for piano trio by Robert Schumann. 

Schumann composed four trios for violin, cello and piano: in D minor, Op. 63; in F major, Op. 80 (both from 1847); and in G minor, Op. 110 (1851) and the unnumbered Phantasiestücke (1842). The first of these, in D minor, is generally regarded as the strongest work of the three. An experimental approach to harmony in the F major Trio is usually given as a weakness when the piece measured against its Classical-era models, while the G minor Trio shows some signs of the decay that accompanied the composer's encroaching mental illness. The intimate chamber music genres allowed Schumann to indulge his preference for intricate figurations and subtle harmonic inflections that are such a salient feature of his solo piano pieces. Not surprisingly, the piano chamber works are clearly piano driven, with the strings either following the keyboard part or acting in opposition to it as a unified block. 

Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 63

For Schumann, the year 1847 was relatively "dry" in terms of composition. He revised the final scene of his Scenes from Goethe's Faust, which he had written three years earlier. In April, he sketched the overture to his opera, Genoveva, which he set aside until the next year. During the rest of 1847, he composed a few songs, the brief choral work, Beim Abschied zu singen, and two Piano Trios, No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63, and No. 2 in F major, Op. 80. 
The sonata-form first movement of the Piano Trio in D minor is in 4/4 meter and marked, "Mit Energie und Leidenschaft" (With energy and passion). Throughout the expansive first theme, the pianist plays rapid arpeggios outlining the harmony. During the secondary theme, however, the piano traces the melody with the strings before the closing section, which consists of a return to the first theme, now on F major and rhythmically diminished. Schumann's most ingenious stroke in the movement is the new theme in the development section. 
Constrained energy marks the second movement, "Lebhaft, doch nicht zu rasch" (Lively, but not too fast) a Scherzo and Trio in F major. Its 3/4 meter is always clear in the piano part, supporting the rising, dotted melody in the strings. The rising melody appears again in the Trio, although here it is much slower and more relaxed, and rounds off with a descent. 
Marked "Langsam, mit inniger Empfindungen" (Slowly, with inner feeling), the third movement is a ternary structure (ABA) with a wandering harmonic structure. Beginning on C major, the violin melody moves toward a new harmony after eight measures. After passing through C minor, a new section begins, firmly in F major, and the piano becomes clearly subservient to the violin and cello, providing repeated chords and creating a 12/8 meter. In the return of the A section, Schumann follows the opening for only seven measures; in the eighth the melody changes and the harmony heads toward A major. The movement ends with a powerful French sixth chord (in D minor) moving to an A major triad, the dominant of D major, which is the key of the Finale. The shape of the first theme of the movement is very much like that of the violin theme opening the first movement. 
The Finale, marked "Mit Feuer" (With fire), begins without a break after the slow movement. Schumann links the finale to the first movement through thematic reference. The first four violin notes of the first movement appear, rhythmically altered, in the piano melody of the second and third measures of the Finale.

Trio No. 2 in F Major, Op. 80

Marked "Sehr lebhaft" (Very lively), the first movement of the F major Piano Trio is in an ebullient 6/8 meter and cast in sonata form. The hesitant first theme is the almost entirely the property of the violin and cello, which play in parallel throughout. The unusual harmonic adventures that characterize the movement include an emphasis on D major, which becomes the dominant of G major, the harmony of the second theme group. What is unusual is that, in the key of F major, G major functions as the dominant of C major in the works of Schumann's predecessors, not as a key area of its own. The melodic role of the piano increases in the second group, which gives way to an expansive closing theme in the violin over a light accompaniment in the piano. An imitative, contrapuntal episode at the beginning of the development section provides contrast to the homophonic music played thus far, although much of the development is concerned with the lyrical closing theme, which also ends the movement. 
Contrapuntal layering occurs at the beginning of the second movement, "Mit innigem Ausdruck" (With intimate expression). Dotted rhythms in the string melody contrast with the constant triplets in the piano part, the left hand of which provides yet another layer of melody. Although it begins in D flat major, the movement quickly shifts to A major for a rapid violin line. A central, "Lively" section introduces new, detached material before the highly modified return to the opening. 
A scherzo with canonic tendencies, the third movement, "In mässiger Bewegung" (In a moderate movement), is in 3/8 meter and begins in B flat minor. In contrast to Schumann's first Piano Trio, Op. 63, the triple-meter movement is in third position. The brief canons appear between the violin and cello at the beginnings of the movement and the contrasting scherzo theme. In the sparse Trio, the imitative passages are between the piano and cello, just before a transformation of the main scherzo theme. A coda brings the movement to a quiet, hesitant close. 
Marked "Nicht zu rasch" (Not too fast), the Finale returns to F major. The dense piano part dominates the movement as each appearance of the opening idea is further transformed.

Trio No. 3 in G Minor, Op. 110

The G minor trio here, like the other three, is cast in four movements, the first of which is the longest and most rewarding. Marked Bewegt, doch nicht zu rasch (Agitated, but not too fast), it opens with a dark, restless theme of Romantic temperament played first by the violin, but quickly taken up by the cello. The music is full of passion and mystery here, Schumann achieving a profound expressive depth. A sweeter second theme is presented and the exposition is then repeated. After a stormy and imaginative development, the themes are reprised and the movement quietly concludes. The second movement, marked Ziemlich langsam (Rather slowly), features a lovely, passionate theme played by the strings and a turbulent middle section that leaves the impression its violent music is an intrusion on the serene beauty of the outer sections. The ensuing panel (Rasch -- Rapid), at about four minutes, is the shortest of the four movements. Its anxious, descending main theme alternates with a sweetly lyrical melody, then later with its chipper variant, both perfect foils for their dark sibling. The finale is marked Kräftig, mit humor, but the humor here comes across more as playfulness and charm. The main theme is ebullient in its folk-like charm and infectious downward runs, graceful and bright in its chipper mood. The thematic development that comes later is deftly imagined, as is the alternate material.

Fantasiestücke, Op. 88

The Phantasiestücke is really a trio and often simply listed as Schumann's Trio for violin, cello, and piano in A minor. The work came at a happy time in the composer's life: Schumann had married his beloved Clara Wieck in 1840 after her father had made many attempts to thwart their matrimonial plans. The four pieces, or movements, comprising the trio are "Romanze," "Humoreske," "Duett," and Finale. The "Romanze" opens in a tentative, mysterious mood, but then turns warmly Romantic, the piano dominating throughout. Lasting only two-and-a-half minutes or so, this is the shortest of the four pieces. The ensuing "Humoreske," marked Lebhaft (Lively), is the longest at about seven minutes and, by contrast, quite chipper and playful in its outer sections, featuring one of Schumann's catchiest themes. Its repetitive rhythmic downward turn gives this piece its self-deprecating wit, or its "humorous" manner. The interior panel here is lively and heroic, but does not completely break with the playful character of the opening. Following a driving, intense episode based on the main theme, the theme returns to its original guise to close out the movement. The "Duett" that follows, marked Langsam und mit ausdruck (Slowly and with feeling), is for cello and violin, the piano providing a soft, running accompaniment to their passionate singing. The Finale, designated Im Marsch-Tempo (In march tempo), exhibits a heroic character at the outset, but turns lighter and more playful in succeeding variations. The main theme returns and the subdued, lively ending is sheer magic in its feathery nonchalance, its graceful instrumental exchanges, and sense of joy.

Studien Für Den Pedal-Flügel, 6 Pieces in Canon, Op. 56 (Arr. Theodor Kirchner) 

Schumann composed his Op. 56 Etudes, entitled Sechs Stücke in kanonischer Form (Six Pieces in Canonic Form), in the spring and summer of 1845. Along with the Four Sketches, Op. 58 for pedal piano, the Six Fugues, Op. 60, for organ, and the Four Fugues, Op. 72, for piano, the Etudes are the result of an intense "course" of counterpoint Schumann undertook with his wife, Clara, early in 1845. In an attempt to master the polyphonic style, Schumann wrote pieces in imitation of the works of J.S. Bach.
The Six Pieces in Canonic Form was published in September 1855 by F. Whistling in Leipzig as "Volume I." The second volume, however, never appeared, and the Four Sketches may have been intended as its contents. Schumann dedicated the canons to his first piano teacher, Johann Gottfried Kuntzsch, who was organist at St. Mary's in Zwickau.
Mozart is known to have used a pedal attachment for his piano in 1785. Around 1800, Johann Gottlob Wagner developed a pedal keyboard to add to a larger, square piano. By this time, two types of pedal pianos had developed, the first a device that used the same strings as the fingered keyboard, the second a separate unit placed under the grand piano, employing hammers to strike its own strings. It is most likely the latter type that the Schumann's possessed, primarily to practice playing organ works.Schumann expected the instrument to become popular, but this never happened, and his Op. 56 Etudes were arranged for piano two- and four-hands.
Schumann's Op. 56 Etudes bear a strong resemblance to Bach's Inventions in their texture. The first of the six is a strict canon at the octave in C major that touches on D minor in its second half. The canon deviates from it strict path only in the last two measures, all the while with a harmonic underpinning of sustained notes. The second piece, in A minor, features repeated chords in the left hand supporting a canonic texture in the right hand alone. The pedal part becomes very animated in the middle of the work, which closes in A major. After a brief introduction, the third Etude becomes a canon at the fourth below. Again, all the contrapuntal material appears in the right hand as the left plays a figuration that is clearly a nineteenth century idea. The fourth is much like the third in its distribution of material, the canon appearing in the right hand at first, but both hands sharing material when a new canon begins. No. 5 sounds the least Baroque of the set because of its detached chords; however, it becomes clear that a canon spins out between in the upper notes of the right and left hands. Halfway through the piece, a more legato canon begins. A two-part canon opens the final piece, which boasts the most active pedal part of the set.

John Palmer

Descriptions from:

Edison nominations for Challenge!


image April 16th, 2009 the Edison nominations were announced quite a few nominations for Challenge Classics!The Nominations are:Category Chamber Music:Malawski/Mayer – Polish Piano Trios – Altenberg Trio Wien (CC 72310)Category Baroque:Monteverdi – Vespro della Beata Vergine – La Petite Bande o.l.v. Sigiswald Kuijken (CC 76613)Category Medieval and Renaissance Music:Gaultier d’Épinal – Remembrance – Ensemble Syntagma o.l.v. Alexandre Danilevski(CC 72190)Moreover there is a beautiful nomination for the Public Award:Various – ...

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