Piano Trio No.1

Franz Schubert

Piano Trio No.1 in Bb major

D898, Op. posth99

About this work

The Piano Trio in B flat major that Schubert began in the middle of 1827 marks his return to that particular ensemble after an interval of almost exactly 15 years. The sole earlier work for piano trio, also in B flat major but in just a single movement (D. 28), is a student work -- that of the 15-year old pupil of Antonio Salieri; in marked contrast, the B flat major Piano Trio of 1827, Op. 99, shows Schubert nearing the very end of both career and life, fully aware of his powers' scope. It is the first of two magnificent works in the genre with which Schubert filled the void in piano trio composition that had existed since Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio of 1811.

The B flat major Piano Trio, Op.99 (D.898), is in the usual four movements, here marked Allegro moderato, Andante un poco mosso, Allegro (the scherzo), and Allegro vivace. The first movement is as happy and carefree a sonata-allegro as one might imagine; its bubbly opening theme is at first property of the strings but is soon turned over to the piano, which emulates the violin/cello octaves while the strings take over the bouncing accompaniment. A heartwarming second melody in the cello assumes an almost heroic posture when it recurs in the development.

The melody of the E flat major Andante un poco mosso is like a reflection of the famous Adagio cantabile of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata (probably, knowing Schubert, the resemblance is not accidental); the direction in which Schubert heads with this little gem of a melody, however, is entirely his own. The movement falls into an ABA form, with the central C minor/major portion offering some snappy rhythms and a decorated melody that are in sharp contrast to the simple opening and closing music.

The Scherzo returns us to the good-natured B flat major of the first movement; its trio section recaptures something of the previous Andante's melodic composure. Schubert calls the last movement a Rondo, but it is far less a rondo than it is a sonata-allegro form. The violin starts things off with an ebullient tune saturated with the long/short-short rhythms that Schubert loved so dearly. During the development section we are treated to the ingenious and intricately woven counterpoint that is unique to late Schubert.