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Centaur CRC 3238
Recorded on December 20-22, 2012
at Airshow Mastering, Inc., Takoma Park, MD
Engineered by Charlie Pilzer
Cover Design: Hao-Chin Chang
Centaur Records

Mendelssohn Piano Trio

Ya-Ting Chang, piano
Peter Sirotin, violin
Fiona Thompson, cello

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Piano Trio in G Major, Hoboken XV: 41

    I.   Allegro
    II.  Menuet
    III.  Adagio
    IV.  Finale: Allegro

Piano Trio in A-flat Major, Hoboken XV: 14

    I.   Allegro moderato
    II.  Adagio
    III. Rondo: Vivace

Piano Trio in F-Sharp Minor, Hoboken XV: 26

    I.   Allegro
    II.  Adagio cantabile
    III. Tempo di menuetto

Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Hoboken XV: 10

    I.   Allegro moderato
    II. Presto

Piano Trio in C Major, Hoboken XV: 27

    I.   Allegro
    II.  Andante
    III. Finale: Presto


      Haydn’s voluminous output alone does not explain his powerful musical and cultural influence. His some 45 piano trios, though daunting in number, are also overwhelming in their stylistic breadth and ingenuity. They move across the boundaries of the Baroque and the Classical and even lick the edges of Romanticism. The move to a freer, more emotional expression came with the end of Haydn’s 29–year tenure as Kappelmeister in the court of the Hungarian Prince Paul Anton Esterhàzy. That, coupled with two highly successful visits to London between 1791 and 1795 gave Haydn a wider musical exposure and a more democratic approach to music that freed him from the decorative style demanded by aristocratic players and audiences.

      Members of the Mendelssohn Trio have noted that the trios on this recording were chosen not to honor chronological order but to create an effective concert program. Interestingly, their choices include trios of two, three, and four movements that cover a wide span of Haydn’s compositional life.

Piano Trio in G Major, Hoboken XV:41                                                         
      Despite its later numbering, the G Major Trio is grouped with the early trios since it appeared first as a Divertimento in the 1760’s. The directness of the opening statement soon gives way to complex elaborations by the piano. The cello provides a firm ground but is remarkably dramatic in the harmonic shifts that occur throughout the work. Haydn employs the traditional French dance form in the Menuet but transcends it with lyrical piano and violin parts. Trills, grace notes, and an improvisational spirit govern the third movement as the piano wanders freely while the violin and cello hold the fort. The cheerful opening of the Finale quickly darkens, but we find here the happiness too generally associated with Haydn. He ends, as he began, with a firm statement and his mask of propriety and charm in place.

Piano Trio in A–flat Major, Hoboken XV:14                                                              
      Haydn offered the A–Flat Major Trio to his publisher on January 11, 1790 for ten ducats. It also appeared in the same year as the Sonata for Harpsichord or Pianoforte with Violin and Violoncello Accompaniment, a form more familiar to the public ear than Haydn’s s ground–breaking piano trios that brought equality to the three instruments. For us, the Sonata title is misleading since it implies a different balance of instruments than that which really exists in the work.

      The first movement is well ahead of its time in emotional expression and daring in its use of harmonic changes and sudden silences. The beautiful opening melody of the Adagio is described by Charles Rosen as “of such uncomplicated beauty, it could be used at a funeral to be absolutely certain of a few tears. ” In the Rondo, Haydn jokes with tonality in a creative and unexpected way by his purposeful use of “ wrong” notes.

Piano Trio in F–Sharp Minor, Hoboken XV:26                                                     
        The remarkable F–Sharp Minor Trio of 1795 was one of three dedicated to Haydn’s pupil, Rebecca Schroeter, the young widow with whom he fell in love despite his marriage. “No language can express half the love and affection I feel for you, ” she wrote in a letter to Haydn that he copied into his notebook. Whether the strain of this relationship caused the dark tone of the Trio remains a question, but at least we can clearly identify its emotionalism.

      The first movement opens with a statement often repeated to drive home its seriousness. Here Haydn also uses the persistent chromatic changes, a technique that will be taken to its fullest in the trios of Schubert. Coupled with intensity are virtuosic demands, especially for the piano.

      The slower second movement is both sad and lyrical. The violin sings over a simple piano accompaniment before the two instruments reverse roles while the cello provides solid ground. The piano then offers exquisite lyricism in the right hand while the left provides a rolling triplet accompaniment. Chromaticism, repeated chords, and dramatic rests all add to the intensity of this movement inspired by Haydn’s Symphony No. 102.

      Things brighten in the final movement but intensity remains. Dotted rhythms and staccato notes, which might cause a happier mood in ordinary works, here add to the tension because of their persistence. The low registers of piano and cello increase the darkness. We are in a world far from the first trio on this recording.           

Piano Trio in E–flat Major, Hoboken XV:10

            The two–movement E–Flat Piano Trio was composed in 1785 and later issued as an arrangement for string quartet. The energetic first movement is based on one strong theme with a particularly rich development. The fast second movement is marked by a repeated eighth–note figure that suggests the employment of mottos, a device that would be developed to its fullest by Beethoven and Brahms. Here, again, is Haydn leading the way.

Piano Trio in C Major, Hob. XV:27                                                        
    Haydn’s ground–breaking efforts in the piano trio form are evident in his late C Major Trio from its strong opening statement, often repeated, through its lovely Andante, to the conclusion of its challenging and virtuosic Finale. Composed in London in 1794–95, it was one of three written for piano virtuoso Therese Jansen, a student of Clementi. While Haydn wrote all his London trios for women, those for Jansen are the most challenging, and, according to Charles Rosen, “the most difficult Haydn ever wrote, ” and “a formidable musical and intellectual achievement. ” Rosen refers to the “ wrist–breaking octave passages” which he views as originally intended as glissandi that would make them easier to play. The Mendelssohn Trio chooses the difficult and effective octave way. 

      The brilliant but gracious first movement is filled with motifs, rhythmic contrasts, and dramatic silences uncommon to music of the 18th century. The middle movement is another Haydnesque surprise with a dramatic minor section that Rosen describes as “close to brutality. ” In the final movement, Haydn pulls off one of his well–known musical jokes with both rhythmic and harmonic eccentricities that are well ahead of their time.  © Lucy Miller Murray

Lucy Miller Murray is founder of Market Square Concerts in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and author of Adams to Zemlinsky: A Guide to Chamber Music published by Concert Artists Guild of New York.

©Lucy Miller Murray                                                                                                                             (lucymillermurray.com)

©  by Mendelssohn Piano Trio since Dec. 1999
Last Update: May 10, 2019