Beethoven arrived in Vienna in late 1792, his ability to improvise at
the piano for almost any length of time on almost any theme
astonished his audiences. The compelling combination of astounding
virtuosity and sultry bad manners won him admirers in many circles as
a performer. His reputation as a composer took a little longer to
establish. By late 1793, Beethoven was living as a guest (not a
servant) in the house of Prince Lichnowsky where he regularly
performed with a group of musicians he evidently admired. It was
there that these Trios were first performed. Beethoven revised them
over the next eighteen months and published the final scores in the
summer of 1795 as his Opus 1.
these Piano Trios, Beethoven launched his composing career with works
that declare his very considerable ambitions. They do not just
continue where Mozart and Haydn left off, they take the piano trio
into quite new areas of length, complexity, grandeur, and
seriousness. There is a swaggering confidence about these early
works. This is the music of an extraordinary young man who is
discovering his own enormous talent.
is not surprising that some critics were less than enthusiastic. The
trios were criticised at the time as pretentious and too long for
their musical content. However the Viennese public as a whole gave
them a very positive welcome and Beethoven did well out of them
financially. Each Trio in Opus 1 builds on the one before it. The G
major Trio may not have the driving intensity of the third in C minor
but it is the longest of the three, begins with a passionate and
lengthy slow introduction and contains Beethoven’s first great slow
slow introduction is an extended variation on one of the later themes
of the movement played at a much slower tempo. The main part of the
movement is, in turn, jovial, brilliant and witty. At the start the
piano is firmly in charge, but in the lengthy development the violin
and cello play increasingly important roles and by the slow movement
they have achieved more or less equal status with the piano.
second movement is in E major. Nowhere else in the Opus 1 Trios does
Beethoven set a movement in a key so far removed from the home key.
Consequently the simple, noble opening appears to come from a
different world. This is not one of Beethoven’s darkest slow
movements but it is one of the most passionate. The passion is almost
all pure pleasure as the music gently moves to a sublime conclusion.
This intensity is, to some extent, relieved by the charming scherzo
this Trio was first performed at Prince Lichnowsky’s, the violinist
suggested to Beethoven that he change the time signature of the
finale from four beats in the bar to two beats. In the 1795 revision
Beethoven adopted this idea. As a consequence, this movement goes
with an even more fantastic zip. A rigorous sonata structure is used
as part of the joke. The result is a piece of exuberant brilliance as
a great young composer tosses his hat high in the air.