Clara-Jumi Kang (violin), Hana Chang (Violin), and Amihai Grosz (viola) perform Antonín Dvořák’s Terzetto in C major, Op. 74 (B. 148), a chamber work for two violins and viola, published in 1887. This performance was recorded during the Evening Concert of the International Chamber Music Festival Utrecht on December 29, 2022, at TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Antonín Dvořák’s Terzetto in C major, Op. 74
Dvořák’s Terzetto in C major, Op. 74, is a notable piece in the chamber music repertoire, composed by Antonín Dvořák, a celebrated Czech composer, in 1887. This work is distinctive due to its instrumentation and the context of its creation.
The Terzetto was written for two violins and a viola, a rather unusual combination in chamber music. This unique instrumentation was a result of Dvořák’s personal circumstances. He composed it for a friend, Josef Kruis, an amateur violinist, intending it to be played at home with Dvořák himself on the viola and another violinist, Jan Pelikán. However, the piece turned out to be too challenging for Kruis, leading Dvořák to write the Miniatures, Op. 75a, a simpler piece for the same ensemble.
Musically, the Terzetto is characterized by Dvořák’s signature blend of classical structure with Bohemian folk elements. This fusion is a hallmark of his style, where he incorporates folk melodies and rhythms into classical forms, creating music that is both approachable and rich in national character. The work exudes a warm, intimate quality, likely influenced by the intended setting of home performances. It’s a testament to Dvořák’s ability to write music that is technically sophisticated yet emotionally resonant, reflecting his deep roots in the folk traditions of his homeland.
Despite its initial purpose for amateur performance, the Terzetto stands out as a work of professional caliber. Its technical demands and musical complexity have made it a valued piece in the chamber music repertoire, admired by professional musicians and enthusiasts alike.
Dvořák’s Terzetto, therefore, occupies a special place in the chamber music genre. It represents a blend of the personal and the professional, the simple and the complex, and most distinctively, the intersection of classical music traditions with the rich folk culture of Bohemia. This piece not only showcases Dvořák’s compositional prowess but also his ability to infuse classical music with a distinctive national character, making it both a delight to play and to listen to.
1. Introduzione: Allegro ma non-troppo
The first movement of Dvořák’s Terzetto in C major, Op. 74, is marked “Introduzione: Allegro ma non troppo.” This opening movement sets the stage for the entire work, showcasing Dvořák’s skill in blending classical forms with Bohemian folk elements.
The movement begins with an introduction that is both inviting and expressive. The “Allegro ma non-troppo” marking indicates a brisk but not overly fast tempo, allowing the music to breathe and express its lyrical qualities. The interplay between the two violins and the viola is central to this movement, highlighting the conversational nature of chamber music. Each instrument has a distinct voice, yet they come together in a harmonious dialogue.
Dvořák’s use of melody in this movement is particularly noteworthy. The themes are memorable, infused with a folk-like simplicity that is characteristic of his style. These melodies are not just simple tunes; they are crafted with a sophistication that allows for emotional depth and variation. The movement also demonstrates Dvořák’s mastery of form. While it adheres to classical structures, there is a fluidity and naturalness to the progression of themes, avoiding any sense of rigidity.
The movement is characterized by its warm, rich harmonies, which are a staple of Dvořák’s music. These harmonies contribute to the overall intimate and inviting atmosphere of the piece. The textural interplay is another element of interest, with Dvořák expertly weaving the three string parts together, creating a tapestry of sound that is both intricate and cohesive.
The second movement of Antonín Dvořák’s Terzetto in C major, Op. 74, is a Larghetto, which serves as a striking contrast to the first movement. This movement is often celebrated for its lyrical beauty and emotional depth, embodying some of Dvořák’s most tender and introspective writing.
In this Larghetto, Dvořák demonstrates his exceptional ability to craft melodies of profound expressiveness and simplicity. The pace, indicated by the term “Larghetto,” is slow and measured, allowing each phrase to unfold with a sense of natural ease and grace. This slower tempo provides a canvas for Dvořák to explore a more reflective and intimate musical landscape, drawing the listener into a world of quiet contemplation and emotional nuance.
The texture of this movement is notably rich and warm. The interplay between the two violins and the viola is more subdued compared to the first movement, yet it retains a sense of intricate dialogue. Each instrument contributes to the overall mood, with melodies and harmonies intertwining to create a lush, cohesive sound. The use of dynamics plays a crucial role here, with subtle shifts in volume adding to the expressive quality of the music.
Harmonically, the Larghetto is characteristic of Dvořák’s style, blending traditional harmonic progressions with his unique sense of tonal color. The harmonies support the melodic lines, enhancing their emotional impact without ever overpowering them. This movement showcases Dvořák’s skill in creating music that is both accessible and sophisticated, with a depth that rewards careful listening.
3. Scherzo: Vivace – Trio: Poco meno mosso
The third movement of Antonín Dvořák’s Terzetto in C major, Op. 74, is marked “Scherzo: Vivace,” and it presents a lively and spirited contrast to the preceding Larghetto. This Scherzo is a testament to Dvořák’s ability to infuse classical forms with vivacity and rhythmic energy, often drawing from Bohemian folk music traditions.
Characterized by its brisk tempo, indicated by “Vivace,” the Scherzo is full of rhythmic vitality and playful musical ideas. The movement is structured in the traditional scherzo and trio form, common in classical and romantic chamber music. The scherzo section typically features a fast-paced, rhythmic theme, while the trio offers a contrasting melody, usually more lyrical and subdued.
In this movement, Dvořák’s skill in melody-making is evident. The main theme of the Scherzo is catchy and rhythmic, likely inspired by Czech folk dances. This theme is not just a simple tune; it’s crafted with intricacies that allow for dynamic interplay between the two violins and the viola. The music bounces along with a light-hearted, almost dance-like quality, inviting listeners to imagine a lively Bohemian dance scene.
The trio section provides a contrast to the energetic scherzo. Here, the tempo slows slightly, and the music takes on a more lyrical, perhaps even dreamy quality. Dvořák’s use of harmony in the trio section adds depth and color to the melody, creating a moment of calm before returning to the spirited scherzo theme.
Dvořák’s use of dynamics and articulation in this movement adds to its playful character. The sharp contrasts between loud and soft, the staccato notes and the rhythmic drive all contribute to the lively and spirited nature of the music.
4. Tema con Variazioni
The finale of Antonín Dvořák’s Terzetto in C major, Op. 74, is marked “Tema con variazioni,” which translates to “Theme with Variations.” This movement is a masterful display of Dvořák’s compositional skill, showcasing his ability to take a simple theme and explore its musical possibilities through a series of variations.
The movement begins with the presentation of the main theme, which is typically Dvořák in its character – melodious, straightforward, and tinged with a folk-like quality. This theme serves as the foundation for the entire movement, with each subsequent variation exploring a different aspect of it.
Dvořák’s approach to the variations is both inventive and diverse. Each variation alters the theme in distinct ways, exploring different tempos, rhythms, harmonies, and textures. This not only demonstrates Dvořák’s creativity but also his deep understanding of the instruments for which he is writing. The interplay between the two violins and the viola is continually evolving, with each instrument given moments to shine both individually and as part of the ensemble.
One of the remarkable features of this movement is the way Dvořák maintains the integrity and recognizability of the theme throughout the variations. Despite the wide range of treatments, the original theme is always present, whether it’s being elaborated, harmonized, or rhythmically transformed.
The variations progress, each one adding a new layer of complexity and interest. Dvořák explores different moods and textures, from lively and rhythmic sections to more lyrical and expressive ones. The use of dynamics is also notable, with contrasts between loud and soft passages adding to the expressiveness of the music.
The movement, and thus the entire Terzetto, concludes with a final variation that brings the work to a satisfying close. This conclusion often encapsulates the essence of the entire piece, reflecting on the journey from the first movement through to the end.
- Terzetto in C major (Dvořák) on Wikipedia
- Terzetto, Op.74 (Dvořák, Antonín) on the International Music Score Library Project website
- “Terzetto in C for Two Violins and Viola, Op. 74” on the Los Angeles Philharmonic website
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