Piano Trio No.4

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Piano Trio No.4 in E major


About this work

By the middle of 1788, Mozart's fortunes were in decline. Although he had obtained the appointment of chamber composer at the Viennese court, the salary was paltry and his attempt to revive Don Giovanni in Vienna in May had been an expensive failure. Upon the death of his six-month old daughter in June, he and Constanze were compelled to move to a cheaper apartment outside the center of town; there he began to write letters to his friends and Masonic brethren asking for money. During this dreariest of months in his life, Mozart penned the K. 542 piano trio, and in a letter to his friend Michael Puchberg, suggested it as a sort of excuse to have a party. It would seem to be a product of Mozart at his finest, having been written simultaneously with, and finished just four days before, the Symphony No. 39, the incredible E flat, K. 543.

The opening movement of the trio is very simple and open; the piano and strings trade themes and motives in turn rather than combining their threads into a single structure. There is more chromatic variation -- accidentals and key changes -- here than in the earlier piano trios. Except for a brief development section, the middle movement (Andante grazioso) contains only a single thematic element; it remains essentially intact throughout the movement. The finale (Allegro), however, is structurally, harmonically, and chromatically complex; it gives the impression of a symphonic movement transcribed for three parts. There are also passages of successive modulations -- a device Mozart employed almost maniacally in the final movement of the E flat symphony upon which he was working at the same time.