Beethoven Piano Trio no. 2 in G, op. 1, no 2.

performed again by Szeryng/Fournier/Kempff, or as below

Again, same opus number, same year, same performance dates as yesterday. What’s new is a quiet, serene, classical personality, the “quiet middle child” as expressed in this fantastic article that was an excellent resource for my listening. It turns out that I decided, without having first looked, to use the same YouTube video performance of this piece as the writer did.
Remember from yesterday the strategic decision of the piano trio, Beethoven not trying to trump the greats at a sonata, string quartet, or symphony for an opus one, but putting his own stamp on a form that, up until then, had not been considered as seriously. Today, though, our trio is in someways bigger, in others smaller.
The piece opens with a single chord, the way no. 1 did, but it’s much quieter in the beginning, much slower to get going, which is new. We have a quiet, unassured and somewhat lengthy introduction before the piece really sets off in the Allegro vivace first subject. It feels almost march-like, with a milder, more lyrical second subject. Going back to the very beginning from here, if you’re patient enough (or looking at the score, as the above article suggests), you might find that that delightful, triumphant first subject was kind of hiding in the fog of the introduction all along. There is a lot more material in this sonata layout than there was in the first piano trio. It’s bigger in scale, and more developed; we also have a coda in this opening movement, as with the first trio, the longest movement of the piece. But you know what’s nice? That you don’t have to know when and where and why the key changes are when and where and what they are, or about the subjects and how the piece is broken down or structured. It feels more substantial just by listening, and it’s enjoyable without all the analysis. The analysis helps to appreciate or give us some glimpse into the technical, strategic decisions made by the composer, but it’s not like I pick up on most of this stuff just by taking a listen or two.
The second movement is broad and spacious. It sounds distantly like some kind of hymn or peaceful, solemn, respectful and simply beautiful song. It sounds at times like each of the instruments are calling to each other. They feel very much like characters in a play, perhaps more the violin
and cello, with piano acting as their accompaniment. This is something I’m almost a bit surprised hasn’t become a standout movement that gets played independently of the rest of the piece. I don’t suppose it’s ‘upbeat’ enough for weddings or anything, but it is really beautiful. The one thing I will say is that I feel like this is the kind of beauty Beethoven could write all day long, but he wasn’t compelled to. His music is marked, not by a straightforward simplicity and bland beauty, but by depth and contrast and musical jokes or undercurrents of struggle and drama. There are parts even in this movement where I hear a bit of pain, toward the end of the movement, as it reaches a climax of real heartfelt emotion, but in general the piece is slow, expressive and quiet. I think what it is is the violin line, that sounds like “oh beautiful for spacious skies…” with an extra syllable in there. Am I crazy? In any case, this has to be one of the most serene Beethoven passages…
And then there’s our scherzo. It feels like we’re still kind of in the slumber brought on by the second movement because, while definitely in triple meter, this scherzo is even less lively than the scherzo of the first trio. It’s soft and polite. This is more like something you might hear at a wedding. It’s incredibly proper. There are no musical jokes, no shocking harmonic splashes or surprises here. It feels very un-scherzo. Then we have the trio. It, too, is quiet, but in a contrasting minor key, and even that simple change is a bit of a surprise. It’s a welcome contrast to the scenery we’ve been enjoying so far, but there’s still no fire, no shock, no blasts of anything to be found, save some little tail end of this movement that seems to want to be a coda of some kind.
The real excitement has all been saved until the final movement, it seems. It’s like three small children who, having been sleeping for the previous two movements, finally awaken to play. There’s much more of what people would maybe identify as the ‘typical’ Beethoven, playful melodies, lots of harmonic changes, with melodies and themes jumping around, disappearing and popping out from around corners. There’s nothing menacing or dark in this movement, just really thoroughly enjoyable, good ol’ fashioned playful merriment. It makes me think perhaps the unusually subdued previous movements were just to build up to this fantastically enjoyable final movement. It’s the kind of giddy, contagious excitement that’s such a pleasure to listen to and perfectly rounds off this piano trio on a high note, one that brings some appropriate contrast to the inner movements.
The way these four movements work together remind one of how wonderfully four movements can work together, not just to say separate things, or even the same thing, but how they, in their respective roles, paint an overall picture. The overall picture of this trio, a work by a mid-twenties Beethoven, is one of restraint, simplicity, perhaps even a degree of experimentation for him, since it seems his trademarks and ideas and favorite tricks don’t show up as much in this piece. In contrast with the first trio, which I said felt distinctly Beethoven, this one has its moments of Mozart and hints of Haydn, especially the final movement. Maybe this was an easy shoe-in, a safe play for what was to come next. See you then!


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