About this work
The Op. 9 trios are among the most important early chamber works by Beethoven. Each of the three works consists of four movements, like the then-recent Haydn symphonies. By this time Beethoven may well have been writing in the chamber/string genre as a means of testing his skills in the symphonic realm, which he was a bit hesitant to enter owing to Haydn's dominance of the field. Whatever his motives, he turned out three works whose chamber instrumentation perfectly suits their music.
This G major Trio opens with an introduction marked Adagio. The Allegro con brio section that follows seems at first rooted in the same world as that of the Adagio as a violin continues with the same music, albeit at a much livelier pace. The cello soon introduces the spirited main theme of the Allegro section. A second melody, more restrained, appears to complete the exposition. After the main materials are repeated, they are developed and there follow a recapitulation and coda. Overall, the mood of the opening movement is calm and features little conflict.
The second movement (Adagio, ma non tanto e cantabile) continues the general serenity of the work, though in the middle section the main theme intensifies somewhat. The mood settles back to its more peaceful character and the movement ends quietly. An important element here is the lullaby-like rhythm throughout most of the movement. It has a mesmerizing effect, as Beethoven's deft manipulation of the rhythm imparts an atmosphere of dreaminess.
The third movement is a Scherzo, marked Allegro. There are two rather delightful themes in the main part and an attractive trio. The structure of the movement is interesting: after the main themes are repeated, the trio appears and seems headed to a full repeat, but fades away before it is completed. It is played again, now in another key, but fails to fully repeat, coming to a halt. After this pause one might expect a return to the main section of the Scherzo, but the ever-unpredictable Beethoven presents the trio section for a fourth time and in yet another key. The main Scherzo material finally returns for a full repeat, but with some clever changes.
The finale is a lively and colorful Presto. The composer's previous Presto finales had been rondos, but this one breaks with the pattern, using a genuine sonata-allegro scheme. The movement begins with an idea that is played staccato on the violin. This unusual opening is followed immediately by another surprise: a theme of a decidedly different persona takes center stage to offer startling contrast. The staccato music then returns to complete the exposition. There is a repeat of the expository materials, after which comes a development section. Here the composer demonstrates his deft sense of writing for the three instruments, imparting brilliant color and wit to the busy atmosphere. The recapitulation divulges further subtleties in the changes that the composer introduces. This remarkable movement caps a most remarkable work, which might be assessed as nearly the landmark in chamber music as his Third Symphony was in the symphony genre.
The score to the work was first published in 1798, along with those of the other two Op. 9 Trios. All three were dedicated to Count Johann Georg von Browne, a Russian army Officer (of Irish extraction!) who was one of Beethoven's leading patrons. A typical performance of the G major Trio lasts between 25 and 30 minutes.
Curated by Suzanne van Duuren, Primephonic Curator