Piano Trio No.2

Franz Schubert

Piano Trio No.2 in Eb major

D929, Op. 100

Recommended recording

Curated by Maryna Boiko, Primephonic Curator

About this work

The second of Franz Schubert's two full-length piano trios was begun during November 1827 and finished probably within the next few weeks. It was certainly completed by January of the following year, when Schubert held a private performance of the piece in celebration of the forthcoming marriage of his longtime friend Josef von Spaun; Spaun had encouraged the young composer at his fledgling compositional efforts while Schubert was still a preteen. The Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 100, was written almost immediately after the Piano Trio in B flat, Op. 99; Schubert himself felt the E flat work to be the better of the two -- not at all surprising, since he had "warmed up" on the other work before writing it.

The Trio is a very different work than its B flat major sister-piece. Opus 99 is an apparently carefree work whose soaring melodies have little if any of the firmness and grit that fill the E flat Piano Trio; indeed, the dramatic musical battle lines of the E flat major Trio, the frequent wholesale and sometimes very sudden abandonment of one mood for an absolutely contrasting one -- the great swells and then deflations of confidence -- would be utterly out of place in the emotionally stable Op. 99.

The diversity and placement of material throughout the opening Allegro might have baffled an eighteenth century composer. After an initial, very traditional idea, Schubert moves to the extremely distant key of B minor(!!) for an impish second subject, defined by an incessant ostinato rhythm. A third melody seems to appear in the key of the dominant B flat, but it is in fact an extension of a little pendant to the first theme. Still, it is this "third" subject that rounds off the exposition and occupies the players throughout the entire development. The Andante con moto owes its songful melody to Schubert's encounter with a Swedish folk singer shortly before, or into, the composition of the trio. There is raw passion in the movement's climax, a passion that seems unsure whether its final destination is transcendentalism or tragedy.

The Allegro moderato (Scherzo) unfolds canonically; even when the exact imitation evaporates, the spirit of friendly emulation remains intact. The trio section is physical and robust. The finale is expansive and complex; the move from the bright opening theme to the more dark-spirited second subject is made with so little transition that at first one might imagine the movement to be a rondo. After this second subject runs its course, however, we get no reprise of the opening music but rather something absolutely astonishing: a reprise of the melody from the second movement, doctored to suit the new tempo and context, that acts as an usher to the arriving development section.