Tchaikovsky – Piano Trio in A minor (Trio Concorde)

Trio Concorde, a student piano trio from Taiwan, performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50. The piece was written by the Russian composer in Rome between December 1881 and late January 1882 and subtitled “In memory of a great artist“, in reference to the Russian pianist, conductor and composer Nikolai Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky’s close friend and mentor, who had died on 23 March 1881.

There are two movements:

  1. Pezzo elegiaco (Moderato assai – Allegro giusto) (in A minor)
  2. (A) Tema con variazioni: Andante con moto (in E major) – (B) Variazione Finale e coda (in A major – A minor)

Trio concorde:
Livan (Yifan “Ivan” Lin), piano
Zenas Hsu, violin
Yina Tong, cello

The work is scored for the usual combination of piano, violin, and cello; in fact it was the only work Tchaikovsky ever wrote for these three instruments. When his patron Nadezhda von Meck wanted him to write a piece for these instruments, the composer replied:

“You ask why I have never written a trio. Forgive me, dear friend; I would do anything to give you pleasure, but this is beyond me … I simply cannot endure the combination of piano with violin or cello. To my mind the timbre of these instruments will not blend … it is torture for me to have to listen to a string trio or a sonata of any kind for piano and strings. To my mind, the piano can be effective in only three situations: alone, in context with the orchestra, or as accompaniment, i.e., the background of a picture.”

But, despite the initial refusal, a year later, he composed the piano trio without being asked to do so. He wrote: “… in spite of this antipathy, I am thinking of experimenting with this sort of music, which so far I have not touched. I have already written the start of a trio. Whether I shall finish it and whether it will come out successfully I do not know, but I would like very much to bring what I have begun to a successful conclusion … I won’t hide from you the great effort of will required to set down my musical ideas in this new and unusual form. But I should like to overcome all these difficulties…”

He completed his rough sketches on 20 January 1882, and completed the scoring by 25 January. On that day he wrote to von Meck again: “The Trio is finished … now I can say with some conviction that my work is not all bad. But I am afraid, having written all my life for orchestra, and only taken late in life to chamber music, I may have failed to adapt the instrumental combinations to my musical thoughts. In short, I fear I may have arranged music of a symphonic character as a trio, instead of writing directly for the instruments. I have tried to avoid this, but I am not sure whether I have been successful.”

He put the finishing touches to the Trio by 9 February (the score is annotated “Rome 28 January-9 February 1882”), and sent it to his publishers on 11 February, asking that Sergei Taneyev appear as piano soloist at the first performance. Taneyev, the cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen and the violinist Jan Hřímalý were given access to the score, and they made a number of suggestions for improvement, which Tchaikovsky accepted.

A private performance with the above-named soloists was held at the Moscow Conservatory on 23 March, the first anniversary of Nikolai Rubinstein’s death, while Tchaikovsky was in Italy. He returned to Russia in April and heard the Trio for the first time, at another private performance, after which he made revisions. These included inserting a break before the Andante coda and rewriting the piano part in the Finale. Taneyev also rewrote Variation VIII, a change Tchaikovsky approved.

Sources

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