Piano Trio No.4

Antonín Dvořák

Piano Trio No.4 in E minor

B166, Op. 90 • “Dumky”

About this work

The manic-depressive nature of this, Dvorák's most celebrated chamber score after the "American" Quartet, derives not from the psychology of a suffering artist, but from the folk music form on which the entire work is based. Dumky is the plural of dumka, a Ukrainian lament; dumka is a diminutive of duma, a Ukrainian epic or ballad. Dvorák, like some others before him, combined the various elements of the dumka or duma, ending up with a format that alternates slow, melancholy, melismatic sections with fast Slavic dances.

For this trio, Dvorák assembled six dumky, each in a different key; the result seems more like a suite of songs and dances than a traditional piano trio, avoiding as it does standard development or even true variation of themes. Except for the lively fifth dumka, each begins with slow material that recurs later in the movement, following the lively sections. The first begins in E minor with a cello lamentation, which is soon picked up by the violin; this breaks in later in the movement, after it has been displaced by a cheerful dance. The second movement again finds the cello taking the lead in a C sharp minor meditation, which gives way to an increasingly lively dance. For the third movement, the key shifts to A major for a lyrical interlude, which unexpectedly lurches into the minor for the faster material. A bridge in D minor crosses over to a scherzo in F and D major, after which the D minor bridge leads out of the movement again. The fifth movement dispenses with slow material; it's a strongly rhythmic Allegro in E flat major. The final movement begins Lento maestoso in C minor; this section alternates with one of the most vigorous dances in the trio, which ends the work on an exuberant note.