Piano Trio No.1

Robert Schumann

Piano Trio No.1 in D minor

Op. 63

About this work

For Schumann, the year 1847 was relatively "dry" in terms of composition. He revised the final scene of his Scenes from Goethe's Faust, which he had written three years earlier. In April, he sketched the overture to his opera, Genoveva, which he set aside until the next year. During the rest of 1847, he composed a few songs, the brief choral work, Beim Abschied zu singen, and two Piano Trios, No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63, and No. 2 in F major, Op. 80.

Schumann composed three trios for violin, cello and piano: in D minor, Op. 63; in F major, Op. 80 (both from 1847); and in G minor, Op. 110 (1851). The first of these, in D minor, is generally regarded as the strongest work of the three. An experimental approach to harmony in the F major Trio is usually given as a weakness when the piece measured against its Classical-era models, while the G minor Trio shows some signs of the decay that accompanied the composer's encroaching mental illness. The intimate chamber music genres allowed Schumann to indulge his preference for intricate figurations and subtle harmonic inflections that are such a salient feature of his solo piano pieces. Not surprisingly, the piano chamber works are clearly piano driven, with the strings either following the keyboard part or acting in opposition to it as a unified block.

The sonata-form first movement of the Piano Trio in D minor is in 4/4 meter and marked, "Mit Energie und Leidenschaft" (With energy and passion). Throughout the expansive first theme, the pianist plays rapid arpeggios outlining the harmony. During the secondary theme, however, the piano traces the melody with the strings before the closing section, which consists of a return to the first theme, now on F major and rhythmically diminished. Schumann's most ingenious stroke in the movement is the new theme in the development section.

Constrained energy marks the second movement, "Lebhaft, doch nicht zu rasch" (Lively, but not too fast) a Scherzo and Trio in F major. Its 3/4 meter is always clear in the piano part, supporting the rising, dotted melody in the strings. The rising melody appears again in the Trio, although here it is much slower and more relaxed, and rounds off with a descent.

Marked "Langsam, mit inniger Empfindungen" (Slowly, with inner feeling), the third movement is a ternary structure (ABA) with a wandering harmonic structure. Beginning on C major, the violin melody moves toward a new harmony after eight measures. After passing through C minor, a new section begins, firmly in F major, and the piano becomes clearly subservient to the violin and cello, providing repeated chords and creating a 12/8 meter. In the return of the A section, Schumann follows the opening for only seven measures; in the eighth the melody changes and the harmony heads toward A major. The movement ends with a powerful French sixth chord (in D minor) moving to an A major triad, the dominant of D major, which is the key of the Finale. The shape of the first theme of the movement is very much like that of the violin theme opening the first movement.

The Finale, marked "Mit Feuer" (With fire), begins without a break after the slow movement. Schumann links the finale to the first movement through thematic reference. The first four violin notes of the first movement appear, rhythmically altered, in the piano melody of the second and third measures of the Finale.