Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major (Schubert)

Program note

by Canberra Symphony Orchestra Magazine

This work is to be dedicated to nobody save those who find pleasure in it.


FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major, D. 929

Andante con moto
Scherzo: Allegro moderato
Finale: Allegro moderato

Franz Schubert wrote his monumental Second Piano Trio in 1827, the year before his death at the age of 31. The final years of Schubert’s life were a period of intense productivity, spurred on, perhaps, by Beethoven’s death in March of 1827, which deeply affected the composer. Among the major works he composed in his last months were his two piano trios, his final three piano sonatas and the incredible song cycle Winterreise (winter journey).

In his own piano trios, Beethoven elevated the status of the genre from amateur chamber entertainment to complex, challenging concert music. This is the spirit in which Schubert wrote his Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major, which he showcased at the only public concert of his works presented during his lifetime, on the anniversary of Beethoven’s death in 1828.

The debt to Beethoven is evident in the dramatic opening of the first movement, alongside a lightness of foot that is all Schubert.

In the lyrical Andante we hear Schubert the master of lieder, or art song, and there are unmistakable echoes of Winterreise in the steady tread of the piano. This movement was inspired by a Swedish folk song, Se solen sjunker (the sun has set), but while the opening is melancholy, brighter moments soon emerge from the darkness.

The strings chase the piano in the playful yet unhurried Scherzo, before an easy-going opening belies the grandeur of the finale.

The vast final movement also sees a return of the song melody from the Andante in the strings, this time with an urgent piano accompaniment.

The scale of the Trio challenged the era’s conventional wisdom – the publisher Schott rejected it due to its length – and Schubert ultimately cut almost 100 bars from the final movement. In this performance, however, you’ll hear Schubert’s masterpiece in full as the composer originally intended.

The Trio was wildly successful when it was unveiled in 1828 and it was performed again at a memorial concert for Schubert two months after his death. When asked for a dedication by his publisher, Schubert simply wrote back: ‘This work is to be dedicated to nobody save those who find pleasure in it.’

© Angus McPherson, 2022

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