Piano Trio No.2

Robert Schumann

Piano Trio No.2 in F major

Op. 80

About this work

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 weakens it in comparison to 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 figure prominently in his solo piano pieces; not surprisingly, the piano chamber works are driven by that instrument, with the strings either following the keyboard part or acting in opposition to it as a unified group.

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.

Marked "Sehr lebhaft" (Very lively), the first movement of the F major Piano Trio is in an ebullient 6/8 meter and cast in sonata form. The hesitant first theme is the almost entirely the property of the violin and cello, which play in parallel throughout. The unusual harmonic adventures that characterize the movement include an emphasis on D major, which becomes the dominant of G major, the harmony of the second theme group. What is unusual is that, in the key of F major, G major functions as the dominant of C major in the works of Schumann's predecessors, not as a key area of its own. The melodic role of the piano increases in the second group, which gives way to an expansive closing theme in the violin over a light accompaniment in the piano. An imitative, contrapuntal episode at the beginning of the development section provides contrast to the homophonic music played thus far, although much of the development is concerned with the lyrical closing theme, which also ends the movement.

Contrapuntal layering occurs at the beginning of the second movement, "Mit innigem Ausdruck" (With intimate expression). Dotted rhythms in the string melody contrast with the constant triplets in the piano part, the left hand of which provides yet another layer of melody. Although it begins in D flat major, the movement quickly shifts to A major for a rapid violin line. A central, "Lively" section introduces new, detached material before the highly modified return to the opening.

A scherzo with canonic tendencies, the third movement, "In mässiger Bewegung" (In a moderate movement), is in 3/8 meter and begins in B flat minor. In contrast to Schumann's first Piano Trio, Op. 63, the triple-meter movement is in third position. The brief canons appear between the violin and cello at the beginnings of the movement and the contrasting scherzo theme. In the sparse Trio, the imitative passages are between the piano and cello, just before a transformation of the main scherzo theme. A coda brings the movement to a quiet, hesitant close.

Marked "Nicht zu rasch" (Not too fast), the Finale returns to F major. The dense piano part dominates the movement as each appearance of the opening idea is further transformed.