Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Nationality: German
Baptized: December 17, 1770, Bonn Died: March 26, 1827, Vienna (age 56)

String Trio in c minor, Op. 9, No. 3

(for violin, viola and cello)
8:17 I. Allegro con spirito
6:52 II. Adagio con espressione
3:04 III. Scherzo. Allegro molto e vivace
5:46 IV. Finale. Presto
Duration: 25 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1797-1798 (age 26-28)
Published: 1798 (age 27-28)
4 recordings, 16 videos
autoopen autoplay
8:29
Anne-Sophie Mutter, Bruno Giuranna, Mstislav Rostropovich
I. Allegro con spirito
6:36
Anne-Sophie Mutter, Bruno Giuranna, Mstislav Rostropovich
II. Adagio con espressione
3:10
Anne-Sophie Mutter, Bruno Giuranna, Mstislav Rostropovich
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto e vivace
5:38
Anne-Sophie Mutter, Bruno Giuranna, Mstislav Rostropovich
IV. Finale. Presto
7:57
Gefion Trio
I. Allegro con spirito
6:50
Gefion Trio
II. Adagio con espressione
3:02
Gefion Trio
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto e vivace
5:43
Gefion Trio
IV. Finale. Presto
8:00
Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Lynn Harrell
I. Allegro con spirito
6:50
Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Lynn Harrell
II. Adagio con espressione
3:18
Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Lynn Harrell
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto e vivace
5:49
Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Lynn Harrell
IV. Finale. Presto
8:22
Zurich String Trio
I. Allegro con spirito
6:47
Zurich String Trio
II. Adagio con espressione
3:11
Zurich String Trio
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto e vivace
6:43
Zurich String Trio
IV. Finale. Presto
From Kai Christiansen

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827

String Trio in c minor, Op. 9, No. 3, 1797

With a great artist, it is fascinating to explore the earliest works, searching for the first traces of individuality and hints of what would follow. In 1798, Beethoven began working on his first string quartets, which he completed in 1800, the same year he composed his first symphony. From his "early period", these are, nonetheless, well known within the standard repertory. Even earlier than the quartets, one discovers another, lesser known string chamber work of striking originality: the String Trio Op. 9, No. 3 in C minor of 1797. Beethoven wrote all five of his string trios for violin, viola and cello before 1798. The first two were divertimenti, lighter works in several movements. The three trios of Op. 9 assume the four-movement model of the traditional quartet, an indication that they were, for Beethoven, more serious endeavors. The third trio stands out: it features the key of C minor that would inspire some of his greatest compositions, and it displays a masterful handling of chamber music texture, even before his first string quartet. What is more, it fully reveals the unmistakable personality of Beethoven.

At the heart of Beethoven's trio is a two-fold drama of simple elements. The first element is a vivid contrast of minor and major keys. The dark key of C minor permeates three of the movements with fast tempi and cutting rhythmic accents for a dominant effect of bold strength and severity. The harmonic plan of Classical idiom exploits contrasts of key, introducing, in this case, the relative key of C major. The same three movements initiate a rapid dramatic migration from minor to major, dark to light, winding up an unresolved tension between clear opposing forces. The ensuing musical drama engages in constant battle between minor and major keys with the ruling key of C minor taking the majority of the spoils. Changes are mercurial, with modal shifts constantly destabilizing the progression towards light on the micro as well as the macro level. The simple, crucial difference is the third note of the scale that flickers up for major, down for minor, subtly oscillating at times from measure to measure. Beethoven ends the trio with an unexpected surprise, overturning all the serious bluster with an easy-going arpeggio, a simple C major chord. The swirling theme, the wavering modality and the unexpected ending of the finale all find a close parallel in the later String Quartet Op. 18, No. 4, also in C minor.

The second key element of musical drama is the simple contrast between up and down, the shape of the musical line. Three of the movements employ a remarkable set of musical themes more gesture than melody. Each theme traces one of the following fundamental shapes: falling down, climbing up, hovering on a single note or a completing an arch: up and down (or down and up). Like seeing the same image in two different ways, what at first seems like melody becomes generalized shape. Beethoven consistently uses motives that are brief and basic, though occasionally and cleverly ornamented. Simple shapes evolve into interesting dialog through two mechanisms. First, Beethoven amplifies the gestures by extending their distance and duration through larger leaps and longer times. Second, he alternates or juxtaposes different shapes: the three instruments constantly defy and oppose one other by moving in opposite directions, frequently at the same time in contrary motion. Exploiting the clear and superbly contrapuntal texture of the string trio, Beethoven engages through the play of essential motion. That this creates satisfying music can be explained by seeing the same image from the other perspective: the simple shapes align on a grid of specific rhythmic and harmonic points, tracing a contour of rich musical meaning.

The essential drama of mode and musical line occupies three of the four movements. Immediately striking, they are vigorous, authoritative, clever, and characteristic of Beethoven who was a genius at making a sermon out of a few simple declarations. The second movement Adagio is something else: less immediate, more subtle, perhaps the deeper prize within this amazing trio. It leads the music into the radiant key of C major, poised and graceful with unaccented rhythms and a slower pace, singing with a quiet lyricism in the violin that eventually embraces both viola and cello in a sequence of intertwining duets. The themes are simple, even unremarkable. But they are transformed through decoration, elaboration and a fluid interchange of voices across a wide range of musical and emotional terrain sustaining a single, poignant narrative. Within this very early work one finds yet another aspect of Beethoven's individuality, a hint of what would follow: his uncanny ability to transform simplicity into nobility, the common into the universal.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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