Piano Trio No.6

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Trio No.6 in Eb major

Op. 70/2

About this work

Composed in the same year, the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the Trios, Op. 70, represent a return to the traditional intimacy of chamber music that Beethoven had put aside in favor of composition on a grand, symphonic scale. In contrast to works of the previous five years, the Trios, Op. 70, are more lyrical and seemingly freer harmonically. Beethoven dedicated the Trios, Op. 70, to Countess Marie Erdödy, in whose home the composer had recently taken lodgings and who hosted their first performance in December 1808.

The trios are highly intricate and imbued with subtle implications that have large-scale realizations, sometimes in another movement. The motivic manipulation and harmonic exploration that are hallmarks of Beethoven's mature style are evident throughout these works. Of the Trio in E flat, Donald Francis Tovey noted that Beethoven had achieved an "integration of Mozart's and Haydn's resources, with results that transcend all possibility of resemblance to the style of their origins...." While Tovey's assessment is arguably a slight exaggeration, the first movement of the Trio in E flat gives an idea of what he meant. Beginning with a slow introduction, a practice generally associated with Haydn, the 4/4 time signature shifts to 6/8 for the sonata form proper. An abrupt modulation ushers in the second theme group, the first part of which is on the dominant minor. The development section passes quickly through numerous harmonies while developing fragments of the first theme, after which the recapitulation sneaks in almost imperceptibly and in the "wrong" key. Beethoven sets the second theme group in the tonic minor but reaffirms the tonic major through an extended closing group and, strikingly, the return of the slow introduction. Although the Trio in E flat is a four-movement work, there is no slow movement. An Allegretto set of variations, in C major, appears in its place. The movement features two themes, one in the tonic and the second in C minor, both of which are varied. An extended scherzo fills the third spot in the work. Beethoven's format departs from tradition in that some of the repeats are not literal. Furthermore, the movement is arranged so that the trio section appears twice. The overall lyricism of the movement sets it apart from most of Beethoven's previous scherzos. Virtuosic in conception, the finale resembles the first movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C major, "Waldstein," Op. 53, in that the second theme is in the major mediant (in the case of the Trio, G major) instead of the dominant. When the second theme group appears in the recapitulation it is set in C major, not the tonic. Beethoven thereby creates "tonal balance" by writing the second theme first a third above, then below, the tonic. Such harmonic relationships are abundant in Beethoven's late works.