NZTrio will be playing Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97 in our LEGACY 1 programme. It’s dedicated to Archduke Rudolf and is one of many important works that Beethoven dedicated to his friend and patron. Our programme notes, written by Charlotte Wilson, give you some background on their friendship and this work in particular.
This incomparable piano trio was written for Archduke Rudolf, the youngest child of Emperor Leopold II and Beethoven’s lifelong friend and patron. Sickly, also unencumbered by affairs of state, he devoted himself to music and by the time he was sixteen had dumped his piano teacher – the official music teacher to the Hapsburg princes – in favour of the 34-year old Beethoven who was making such a splash in Vienna. They became fast friends, despite the gap in their ages, and Beethoven even accepted him for composition as well as piano – the only composition pupil Beethoven ever had.
And, of course, the Archduke’s position meant that he could introduce Beethoven to the cream of Viennese society just when he needed it. Not only that, when it seemed Beethoven might leave Vienna – he’d been offered a job in Westphalia in northern Germany – the Archduke lured him to stay by teaming up with Princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky to guarantee him an annual salary, 4,000 florins for life; and when one was killed in a fall from his horse and the other went bankrupt, he took over sole responsibility and continued to pay Beethoven himself, even increasing for inflation until he died. Beethoven repaid his friend by dedicating some fourteen works to him in total – all his most important works, including the Emperor piano concerto, the Hammerklavier sonata, the Missa Solemnis – and this.
This is Beethoven at the height of his powers, completely the master of large-scale sonata form. The opening theme is one of great spaciousness, luxuriance, flowing serenely along into the more staccato second subject, masterfully developed in lush writing for both piano and strings. The scherzo is energetic and bouncy, wrapped around a trio that combines mysterious fugato with a brilliant waltz. Then, the heart of the work, a hymn-like set of variations “singing, but keeping the movement going” that seem to evolve from within, inexorable, crossing all the usual time boundaries – this is one of Beethoven’s later hallmarks – until a swift change in mood leads into the dazzling, dancing, gypsy-inspired finale. Subjected to constant development, displaying his incredible mastery of harmony and texture as well as rhythm and melody (that cello soaring above the piano tremolandos), it all leads to a thrilling presto coda.
Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97 is part of our 2022 LEGACY 1 programme. To find out what’s coming up near you, visit our upcoming events.