Mozart Piano Trio no. 1 in B flat, K. 254

performed by the Vienna-Mozart Trio, or below by the Mozartean Players

(cover image by Ales Krivec)

It’s really a divertimento, I guess, scored for piano trio.

Now, if we go back a few years to our discussion of Beethoven’s op. 1 piano trios, you may remember that the form was strategically chosen, giving the composer the chance to step out a bit and put his own mark on a form without stepping on the toes of the greats, like Haydn, primarily.

Prior to Beethoven’s earliest efforts, the piano trio was (as was the violin sonata, none of Mozart’s we’ve yet discussed) essentially a piano piece reinforced by violin and cello for the upper and lower registers, respectively. Apparently, for performances of Mozart’s keyboard sonatas which already had inclusion of a violin or flute, it was not out of the question for a cello to join as well, because why not? While those works were certainly not a paragon of independent part writing, Keith Anderson at Naxos tells us that “Some have chosen to regard these as his first steps towards the composition of piano trios.”

I listed this as a piano trio, but it’s listed in just as many places, if not more, as a divertimento. This piece, with its three-movement fast-slow-fast structure, seems to be much closer to the modern-day chamber format than the many-movement pieces we’ve seen (and will continue to see) in his divertimenti and serenades. Also, this divertimento, even if considered so, doesn’t get a number in his list of divertimenti, which could obviously be confusing.

The work is in three movements, as follows, with a duration of around 19 minutes in the recording on Spotify, 24 in the one on YouTube, which I suppose observes all the repeats:

  1. Allegro assai
  2. Adagio
  3. Rondeau: Tempo di menuetto

The first movement begins in a light manner, with the piano as the backbone and the violin and cello playing supporting roles in various ways, for this movement, at least. It’s clearly not all unison parts, the violin, as we shall see, fares better than the cello in having something to say beyond what the keyboard does. We can thank Anderson and his notes at Naxos for mentioning the Lombardic rhythm, which he says features in second subject. Overall it’s a light movement, with not a ton of weight or tension, though there are some sweet, minor-mode passages in the development, and a bit of back-and-fort between the keyboard and strings before we get to the recapitulation. This is actually (at least in the above-referenced recording) the shortest movement of the entire work.

The violin takes over somewhat from the keyboard in the subsequent two movements, beginning by introducing the Adagio theme. The cello, though, doesn’t get nearly as exciting a treatment, and serves mostly to round out the sound of the trio. The piano picks up the violin’s theme, but the cello never gets its chance with it. This lullaby-like central movement is the longest of the three-movement work. The cello does eventually come (more) to the fore in a few passages, even if it’s very brief, and still alongside the piano. I’m not so sure this is great background music for entertainment like the divertimenti are, unless we’re ready to take a nap. Maybe I’m just very sleepy, but this is a beautiful, peaceful movement.

The finale continues to feature the violin, and is structured as a finale while giving us the feel of a minuet, both of which we may have had were this work in four movements. The first theme features the violin with piano accompaniment, the poor cello all but buried, and the next section shows off the violin some more. It sounds more here than anywhere else like the cello is the third wheel hanging around on a piano-and-violin date, but there are a few places where you may notice that the added richness from its low voice is welcomed and effective, giving an albeit very brief seriousness to a few moments. Good thing the themes here are cute and charming, because the movement begins to border on being repetitive, but needless to say, this composition is certainly not one of his more notable achievements. There are better things to come, so no judgment here.

We have much more Mozart on the way, so stay tuned for a bit more of his lighter ‘entertainment’ music, and thanks so much for reading.

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