October 13 & 14, 2019

Schubert’s Beloved “Trout” Quintet

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Artists

Joseph Kalichstein, piano
Jaime Laredo, violin
Nokuthula Ngwenyama, viola
Sharon Robinson, cello
Owen Lee, double bass
 

Program

Beethoven

Dohnányi

Schubert

Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C Minor, No. 3, Op. 1

Serenade for String Trio, Op. 10

Quintet for Piano & Strings in A Major, D. 667, Trout


Artistic Directors Sharon Robinson and Jaime Laredo kick off their 10th Anniversary season with a program that features Schubert’s beloved Trout Quintet with esteemed artists and colleagues, pianist, Joseph Kalichstein, violist, Nokuthula Ngwenyama, and bassist Owen Lee.

*This program has been revised from what was originally announced. Mr. Watts is recovering from back and neck surgery and with great regret needed withdraw from these opening concerts. Linton Chamber Music is grateful to Joseph Kalichstein for graciously agreeing to perform this program. 

Program Notes

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C Minor, No. 3, Op. 1  

Listeners unfamiliar with the history of Beethoven’s career may be surprised to hear the skill displayed by his opus 1 compositions. Yet the set of trios labeled as opus one were by no means the composer’s first compositions. Rather, these were the work of a 24-year-old Beethoven who had been composing works for public consumption for well over a decade. Newly arrived in Vienna after his early education, Beethoven was signaling that he was ready to embark on a career as a professional composer.

Already, Beethoven’s compositions distinguished him from the masters who preceded him. While the piano trios of Mozart and Hayden were typically brief works in three movements, Beethoven expanded the form to include a scherzo in each of his opus 1 works. Many of the qualities commonly associated with Beethoven’s “Heroic” middle period are already on display in this trio. This is perhaps accentuated by the placement of the work in C Minor, the key that Beethoven would later employ for some of his most emotionally resonant works, including the Pathétique sonata and fifth symphony.  

The Allegro con brio opens with an ominous theme for all three instruments in unison. Remarkably, Beethoven introduces the second theme in the piano almost immediately; in just the tenth measure. The dramatic development revisits both themes, often accompanied by showers of sixteenth-notes from the piano. Beethoven’s stylistic evolution is further evidenced by brief solos in the cello, nodding to his eventual shift to treating all three instruments equally in his later trios.

The Andante cantabile con Variazioni is a set of five graceful variations on the piano’s opening theme appended with a brief coda. The full title of the Menuetto Quasi Allegro is important, for it suggests that–in its rapid tempo–this minuet form is edging toward becoming a scherzo; the trio section belongs largely to the cello. The Finale: Prestissimo rushes along with the opening theme passed from violin to piano to cello. Rather than moving into a major key for the close, Beethoven keeps the movement firmly in C minor and provides an effective surprise by closing the work–which had been so full of turmoil–very quietly.

 

Ernő Dohnányi  (1877 – 1960)

Serenade for String Trio in C Major, Op. 10 

Dohnányi was fortunate enough to find musical success early in life. His first published composition won praise from Brahms – a seal of approval no amount of money could buy. He was also recognized as a gifted pianist, and his decision to specialize in Beethoven earned him consistent box office percentages and helped launch a comfortable career. As his reputation grew, Dohnányi received invitations to join music societies and universities around Europe, but he preferred to stay close to home and help develop, along with fellow composers Bartók and Kodály, the musical voice of his native Hungary.

One of the first works in which Dohnányi felt he had achieved a personal, balanced musical language, putting off his late-Romantic influences, was his Serenade in C major for String Trio, composed in 1902 during a concert tour to London and Vienna and premiered in Vienna two years later. In five movements, the work is clearly in the nineteenth-century serenade tradition as developed by Brahms and Robert Fuchs, but the Serenade’s conciseness of form and spareness of means indicate a new sensibility at work. There are also hints of the genuine Hungarian folk music that would soon be explored and collected by Dohnányi his younger colleagues.

The Hungarian flavor is quickly apparent in the crisp opening Marcia, whose counter-melody has an exotic Magyar character. The themes established here are revisited throughout the remaining movements, infusing the entire serenade with a similar character. The following Romanza offers a long, shapely melody presented in clean textures and rising to a passionate climax. Dohnányi later arranged this ternary-form movement for string orchestra, but it is in the trio form that we can sense the remarkable textural economy of the middle section, a passionate dialogue between violin and cello accompanied merely by arpeggios on the viola.

The heart of the Serenade is the vigorous and closely worked Scherzo, which has aspects of a full sonata form peppered with irregular rhythms, rapid figuration and deft fugal treatment of themes which are woven together in the final section. The fourth movement is a set of five variations on a chorale-like theme – itself a variant the March’s main theme – which present the works most lyrical passages. The Rondo Finale takes off at a rapid tempo and continues relentlessly ahead until the sonorous Magyar melody from the first movement makes an unexpected reappearance in its original form, satisfyingly binding the work together.

 

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

Quintet for Piano & Strings in A Major, D. 667, Trout

In the summer of 1819 a twenty-two-year-old Franz Schubert headed west from Vienna for the “inconceivably lovely” town of Steyr, some 90 miles away. Here Schubert met Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy amateur cellist and fan of Schubert’s songs. His home functioned as a center of musical activity in town, and Paumgartner commissioned the composer to write a quintet to include variations on one of his favorite Schubert songs, the popular Die Forelle, The Trout. Schubert set to work immediately but only completed the score later that autumn, after returning to Vienna.

The Trout quintet, with its interesting instrumentation, displays Schubert’s youthful genius throughout – from its ebullient opening themes to its infectious variations of the celebrated fourth movement. The triplet motif that accompanies the Trout variations can be found in four of the work’s five movements, including the opening measures, where the rippling upward gesture gives lift to the slower moving string melody. To that motif Schubert then adds a rapid rocking accompaniment that further propels the movement forward, though the triplet motif remains nearly omni-present throughout the opening Allegro vivace.

The Andante is cast in two symmetrical units. The movement opens with a gentle theme ushered in immediately by the piano, alternating phrases with the violin and set over a casual viola accompaniment. This soon gives way to a poignant theme in the piano that relegates both the violin and piano to the background. Increased rhythmic activity brings the first section to a close before abruptly returning to the opening ideas. Schubert’s inclusion of a brisk Scherzo betrays the influence of Beethoven. The primary theme, comprised of a series of three upward lunges again incorporating the triplet gesture, is pure Schubert, yet the spirit of Beethoven is never far away, as evidenced by the movement’s sudden dynamics and off beat stresses.

The Andantino theme and variations are the crown jewel of the quintet as Schubert freshly reinvents his original setting of Die Forelle. Schubert keeps the melody more or less intact throughout each of the variations, coloring it with melodic decoration or placing it within a changing framework. Each instrument explores the theme in turn as the accompaniment becomes increasingly active. As the movement draws to a close, Schubert increases the tempo to Allegretto for a spirited version of the theme that nevertheless brings the movement full circle, closing as quietly as it began.

The light-hearted Allegro giusto is, like the second movement, built of two large sections. The first has an unmistakable folksy quality about it, in no small part a consequence of the sustained drone heard at its start. This material gives way to a contrasting section featuring a warm, expansive theme shared by the strings, underscored by the triplet figure which becomes increasingly present. The movement offers a kaleidoscope of characters—charming, moving and energetic—providing a brilliant conclusion to one of the gems of the chamber music repertoire.

Die Forelle

-Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart

In einem Bächlein helle,
Da schoss in froher Eil’
Die launische Forelle
Vorueber wie ein Pfeil.
Ich stand an dem Gestade
Und sah in süsser Ruh’
Des muntern Fishleins Bade
Im klaren Bächlein zu.

Ein Fischer mit der Rute
Wohl an dem Ufer stand,
Und sah’s mit kaltem Blute
Wie sich das Fischlein wand.
So lang dem Wasser helle
So dacht’ ich, nicht gebricht,
So fängt er die Forelle
Mit seiner Angel nicht.

Doch endlich ward dem Diebe
Die Zeit zu lang.
Er macht das Bächlein tückisch trübe,
Und eh’ ich es gedacht
So zuckte seine Rute
Das Fischlein zappelt dran,
Und ich mit regem Blute
Sah die Betrog’ne an.

 

In a clear little brook,
There darted, about in happy haste,
The moody trout
Dashing everywhere like an arrow.
I stood on the bank
And watched, in sweet peace,
The fish’s bath
In the clear little brook.

A fisherman with his gear
Came to stand on the bank
And watched with cold blood
As the little fish weaved here and there.
But as long as the water remains clear,
I thought, no worry,
He’ll never catch the trout
With his hook.

But finally, for the thief,
Time seemed to pass too slowly.
He made the little brook murky,
And before I thought it could be,
So his line twitched.
There thrashed the fish,
And I, with raging blood,
Gazed on the betrayed one.