Live from Elm Court

Episode III Program Note

By Carl Halvorson

“When are we to make a little Musique at your house again?  I have composed a new trio!”  Thus Mozart first mentioned his Piano Trio in E major, which he counted so highly that he performed it at the court of Dresden in 1789 when seeking an appointment there. The Allegro features the piano and strings trading two main themes, the piano at times almost feeling like a concerto (as John N Burke noted, “piano solos agreeably encased in string tone”), with interesting harmonic twists and surprises. The pastoral second movement is a graceful dance that features a main theme with dotted rhythms. The final movement’s simple melody is treated with complex modulations and chromaticism, and this exquisite example of Mozart’s mature style ends with bursts of virtuosity from all voices.

As A Hyatt King wrote in his survey of Mozart’s chamber music, “For the E major Trio, no praise can be too high. Its texture is transparent, and the prevailing mood seems to be one of vernal happiness. But the radiance is shot through with a sadness which is intensified by almost Schubertian modulations to remote keys.”

As Mozart wrote about his Violin Sonata in B-flat major, “We now have the famous Strinasacchi from Mantua here—a very good violinist. She has much taste and feeling in her playing. I am just now writing a sonata which we will play together in the theatre on Thursday at her benefit concert.” The famous story is that he never found time to write out the piano part, even though he had fully worked it out in his mind. He instead performed with empty sheet music on the piano, yet was caught out by an observant Emperor Joseph II.  Indeed, the violin and piano parts appear in different colors of ink in the final manuscript, and the piano notes sometimes overrun the preset bar lines. It is written for virtuosos of both instruments, the violin part being equal to the  piano and not merely an accessory to it.

The three movements are Largo – Allegro (high drama and well-matched dialogue between the instruments); Andante (a lovely aria that turns sad while tinged with dissonance, before recovering); and Allegretto (joyous and full of adventure, ending with beautiful finales from both voices).