Morrison Artists Series: Trio con Brio Copenhagen
- Haydn (1732–1809): Trio in C Major, Hob. XV:27
- Nørgård (1932–): Trio Breve—Three Fragments (After a Dream) for violin, cello and piano (2012)
- Martin (1890–1974): Trio sur des Mélodies Populaires Irlandaises (1925)
- Ravel (1875–1937): Piano Trio (1914)
Please note: For this concert, cellist Mathias Beyer-Karlshoj replaces Soo-Kyung Hong.
The Morrison Chamber Music Center is supported, in part, by a generous gift from the May Treat Morrison Chamber Music Foundation. Additional support is provided by The Mervyn L. Brenner Foundation.
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809): Trio in C Major, Hob. XV:27
Joseph Haydn is credited with the composition of an estimated 44 surviving piano trios. The exact number is veiled in uncertainty, owing to destroyed scores and doubts about authenticity.
The three Piano Trios Hob. XV: 27 to 29 were dedicated to Therese Jansen-Bartolozzi, a pupil of Muzio Clementi and an esteemed keyboard player of the day. It is not exactly clear when the scores were written, but they were published in 1797 and described as “sonatas for the piano-forte, with an accompaniment for violin and violoncello.” It is thought that Haydn likely composed the works while on tour in England in 1795 before his homeward departure.
The opening work of the set, the Piano Trio in C Major Hob. XV:27, has been described as the most virtuosic of all the trios. The piano leads but in places is joined by the violin as an equal partner with the cello following the piano bass line. The dazzling final movement, Presto, is notable for its electrifying main theme. Pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen has described the work as the most humorous of all Haydn’s movements.
Per Nørgård (1932–): Trio Breve—Three Fragments (After a Dream) for violin, cello and piano (2012)
Per Nørgård (pronounced “Pair Ner-gore”) is the most prominent Danish composer after Carl Nielsen, and one of the most original figures in the cultural life of Denmark. His signature can be found almost anywhere in Danish music as a result of his animation, teaching, thought-provoking theories and cultural criticism. For more than 30 years his widely embracing musical personality has inspired and influenced a host of Scandinavian composers. Nørgård has written works in all categories, for amateurs and professionals: from large-scale operas to modest hymns, from simple movements to imposing edifices. He received the Wilhelm Hansen Composer Prize in 2000.
During the late 1950s, Nørgård explored the possibilities in Central European modernism. His occupation with new structural approaches led to the discovery of the so-called infinity row, a serial system or musical growth principle, which can be compared to the symmetrical formations of nature. This way of composing has been compared with fractal geometrical forms—repeating structures in an infinite, hierarchical system.
For Nørgård, the artistic universe is connected from beginning to end as one big work in progress. This is paradoxical, since in his music through the years, the composer has continuously broken with his own traditions, in the name of self-transgression: ironic pastiches, infinity rows, Golden Section proportions, beauty-seeking metaphysics in the ’70s, via the wrestling of the ’80s with great existential questions, centered around a large group of works inspired by the schizophrenic artist Adolf Wölfli, to the experiments in the ’90s with what the composer calls “tone lakes.”
Nørgård’s art constantly creates the vision that the potential of music is far greater than we think. The renowned conductor Sergiu Celibidache predicted: “Only the mind of a new time in the new millennium will be able to understand the scope of Nørgård’s music.”
Nørgård composed Trio Breve—Three Fragments (After a Dream) for Trio con Brio Copenhagen. Its world premiere performance of the piece closed the 2012 Stockholm Contemporary Music Festival, which celebrated Nørgård’s 80th birthday.
Nørgård writes, “The title refers to the fragmentary character of the work. Short expressive phrases—dream-like pictures—that shift between light and dark, fast and slow—but with introverted melodic features in common. As in the world of dreams the stories are vague, tentative and evocative. Different motives from the three movements occur and reoccur. Like in a mosaic.”
Frank Martin (1890–1974): Trio sur des mélodies populaires irlandaises (1925)
This trio by Swiss composer Frank Martin was a type of experiment. In 1925, when it was written, every composer in Europe was exploring rhythm. Bartók and Stravinsky adapted rhythms from folk music, Hindemith in his notorious Suite 1922 made use of popular music, and Milhaud and Honegger used elements of jazz.
Martin’s stay in Paris in 1924–25 further sharpened his fascinating with rhythm. He immersed himself in the rhythms of ancient Greece, Bulgaria and the Far East. The results of this study can be heard both in this trio and in his orchestral work Rhythms, and ultimately led to Martin’s appointment as professor of improvisation and rhythmic theory at the Jacques Dalcroze Institute of Geneva.
The Trio on Irish Folk Tunes was commissioned by a wealthy American patron of the arts, himself an amateur musician, who requested that Martin make use of popular Irish folk melodies. Instead, however, Martin went to the Bibliotèque National de Paris, where he looked for forgotten Irish songs from earlier centuries, which were unfamiliar to his American patron. This, combined with the trio’s great difficulty of execution, led to the patron canceling his commission.
The result, however, is breathtaking. The melodies are distributed over the trio’s three movements and recombined with each other in innumerable ingenious ways. They are transformed, shortened and extended, but above all they are used as counters in a game of continuously changing meters and polyrhythms in which violin, cello and piano apparently proceed on independent courses. But the superimposed layers that do not interfere with each other, the long, arching phrases, the wealth of rhythmic diversity and Martin’s own highly recognizable idiom (in addition to the influences of Bartók, Ravel and jazz) make this trio a true milestone in Martin’s early oeuvre.
Maurice Ravel (1875–1937): Piano Trio (1914)
By 1914 Ravel had already been toying with the idea of writing a piano trio for some eight years and is even reported to have said to his friend and pupil Maurice Delage: “I’ve written my trio. Now all I need are the themes.” But in an autobiographical note he dictated in 1928, his only comment on the completed work was that it was “Basque in coloring.” This puzzled commentators until, some years after his death, the opening theme of the first movement was discovered among sketches for his unfinished work for piano and orchestra Zaspiak Bat (The Seven Provinces), based on Basque themes.
The first movement is in sonata form, but inevitably Ravel introduces his own modifications, as with the second theme, which appears unconventionally in the tonic A minor. In the development, Ravel builds up tension by means of continually fluctuating tempi, while at the reprise the first theme on the piano is reduced to its 3+2+3 rhythm to accommodate the simultaneous presentation of the second theme in the strings (it may be worth recording that Ravel spoke admiringly of the reprise in the first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, likewise disguised). In the matter of instrumental balance, Ravel frequently doubles violin and cello at a distance of two octaves, placing the right hand of the piano between them.
Pantoum, the title of the second movement, is taken from a Malay verse form, imitated by Hugo, Gautier and Baudelaire among others, in which the second and fourth lines of each quatrain become the first and third lines of the next. For years it was rather casually assumed that in adopting this title Ravel was merely indulging vague exotic inclinations. But nothing about Ravel’s composing was ever vague, and in 1975 the British scholar Brian Newbould proved that Ravel does, in fact, adhere closely to the structure outlined above. Furthermore, Newbould observes a further requirement of the original form—that the poem (or movement) deal with two separate ideas pursued in parallel, in this case, the brittle opening theme on the piano and the subsequent smoother one in the strings, two octaves apart. Each of these themes thus has a real continuation (which we hear in performance) and a notional one (which is unheard but provided the composer a private satisfaction).
These exigencies would be enough to keep most composers occupied, but Ravel goes one step further and superimposes these games on a traditional ABA form, whose middle section is in a different meter! It could be that he was trying to outdo Debussy, who had set Baudelaire’s pantoum Harmonie du soir in 1889. At any rate, this extraordinarily intricate structure lends some credence to his remark about only needing the themes.
In contrast with the whirling motion of the Pantoum, the Passacaille that follows is obsessively linear—11 statements of an eight-bar phrase, rising to a climax and then receding again. Even more than the Pantoum, perhaps, this movement is a tribute to the teaching of André Gedalge, the work’s dedicatee, to whom Ravel was ever grateful for his technical advice. In the last movement, the alternation of 5/4 and 7/4 bars returns us to the metric instability of the first movement, but the structure is even more firmly that of sonata form with a second theme in the shape of massive piano chords. Ravel’s work on this movement coincided with the declaration of war in August, which may possibly explain the trumpet calls in the development. Typically, he wrote off this work, in which his technical mastery is seen in all its dazzling perfection, as “just another Trio.”
That disclaimer was, however, to some extent for public consumption. In his heart, Ravel was passionate about compositional technique and about his role in its progress: To close friends he would occasionally unbutton to the extent of saying: “Well, you know, nobody has ever done that before!”