PIANO TRIO NO. 3 in C MINOR, OP. 101
Recording: Trio Opus 8 (Michael Hauber, piano; Eckhard Fischer, violin;
Mario de Secondi, cello) [Arte Nova 74321 39047 2]
Brahms’s final piano
trio is the capstone of the three chamber works composed at Lake Thun
in 1886 and published in 1887. With the F-major cello sonata, Op.
99 and the A-major violin sonata, Op. 100, it completes an effective
concert of chamber music, but it also combines the best aspects of
those two works. The cello sonata’s passionate expression is
melded to the modest proportions of the violin sonata, creating a
tightly argued structure that wastes no notes. Other late works,
such as the upcoming violin sonata, Op. 108, would also make a
shattering impact with minimal means. The first movement begins
with a great intensity that never wanes. Even the broadly lyrical
second theme has an element of disquiet. Brahms considered
repeating the exposition, but decided against it. An unusually
brief development section and an abbreviated recapitulation, along with
a powerful coda, help lend the movement an overwhelming effect in its
seven minutes. The middle movements are even more direct in their
expression. The delicate and skittish, but tragic second movement uses
muted strings throughout. The serene slow movement, a brilliant
example of how mixed meter should be used, includes long passages of
the two strings playing without the piano, a possible compositional
preparation for the Double Concerto for violin and cello, the next work
to be published. The melancholy middle section maintains the
sense of disquiet that pervades the entire trio. This is only
amplified in the scherzo-like finale, whose warm major-key ending
somehow fails to completely banish the tragic passion and drama that
are at the trio’s heart. Especially well-loved by Brahms’s
friends Clara Schumann and Elizabeth von Herzogenberg, the trio
exemplifies all the best elements of the composer’s late style.
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut
Lübeck--includes some handwritten cues, presumably to aid in page
Movement: Allegro energico (Sonata-Allegro
form). C MINOR, 3/4 time with two inserted 4/4 bars.
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme 1: Part
1. Three strong, passionate, heralding
chords in all three instruments, each followed by octaves in triplet
rhythm on the piano, joined by the cello on the last one.
0:07 [m. 5]--Part 2. The
triplets are taken by the strings in
octaves. The piano responds with syncopated off-beat
entries. The piano figures are sometimes chords, but the hands
are doubled at the octave. The piano gestures move from triplets
to groups of four against the string triplets. Then the groupings
become complex, superimposing groups of three onto the “straight”
rhythm and disrupting the meter as activity increases and intensifies
toward a sweeping piano arpeggio.
0:20 [m. 12]--Part 3. New
material based on a dramatic dotted
(long-short) rhythm in an almost martial character, beginning with an
upbeat. After two of these gestures, the rhythm is passed between
strings and piano. All three instruments then join in octaves
before a strong cadence in C minor closes Theme 1.
0:35 [m. 20]--Transition:
Strings play in octaves with material based
on Theme 1. The piano enters with the newly harmonized opening
chords and triplets of Theme 1.
0:45 [m. 26]--The piano left
hand plays wide-ranging triplets against
octaves in the right hand and in the plucked strings. The cello
then enters with a sinuous winding melody as the piano breaks into
arpeggios. The violin takes up the winding melody. String
octaves become syncopated in an inserted 4/4 bar [m. 35] leading to the
dramatic chords that prepare for Theme 2 in the related major key of
1:06 [m. 38]--Theme 2: Broad
melody played by the strings in octaves,
with piano arpeggio responses, also in octaves. After the two
initial phrases, the cello first breaks out of the octaves, then plays
in counterpoint with the violin as the piano moves to block chords and
the music works to a climax (E-flat major).
1:34 [m. 54]--The piano takes
up Theme 2 in a very dramatic, passionate
version with octaves passed between the hands. The strings play
1:40 [m. 58]--The strings take
up the passionate statement as the piano
plays sweeping arpeggios. The strings break into syncopation as
the music builds to a climax. This quickly recedes as the strings
also move to slower-moving ascending arpeggios, leading toward a more
2:07 [m. 73]--Closing material:
Gentle, slow-moving arpeggio figures
passed between piano and strings. The entry overlaps with the
preceding cadence. Close of exposition in E-flat major.
2:20 [m. 80]--Brahms interrupts
the close of the exposition with loud
piano chords re-establishing C minor. The strings take up the
opening of Theme 1, stretching the triplet figures out to entire 3/4
bars as the piano plays more rapid passages in octaves. The home
key and the return of material create an illusion of an exposition
2:32 [m. 87]--Here Brahms
diverges from his opening material and begins
to develop it. Music resembling Theme 1, Part 2, but in slower
notes, quickly becomes quiet and ominous. The piano plays even
more quietly in harmonized rising triplets as the key shifts up a
half-step to C-sharp minor. The strings interject quietly in
isolated octaves. Quiet pause on a dissonant “diminished seventh”
2:52 [m. 98]--The main portion
of the Development section is in C-sharp
minor. The strings play a melancholy tune based on the triplets
of Theme 1, passing them between each other. The piano plays a
punctuating pattern with the left hand bass on the beat and right hand
chords off it.
2:59 [m. 102]--The piano takes
up the material with the strings playing
in syncopation, in a brief diversion to D major.
3:12 [m. 109]--More of the
melancholy material in C-sharp minor passed
between piano and strings in octaves. Sudden intensification and
3:21 [m. 114]--Theme 1, Part
3--the dynamic dotted rhythm--makes a
sudden entry with its initial gestures. Then a passage based on
this dotted rhythm incorporating scales passed between the
instruments. The music is moving back toward the home key.
3:36 [m. 123]--The initial
statements of the dynamic dotted rhythm now
incorporate triplets in their continuation. The variant with the
scales leads us back to the home key.
3:51 [m. 131]--Re-transition.
Ominous motion in the strings with
low triplets in the piano bass lead to the disguised entry of the
3:56 [m. 134]--Theme 1.
Part 2 suddenly enters surreptitiously,
but unmistakably. The opening dramatic chords are omitted,
perhaps because they were used at the beginning of the development
section in the home key. It continues essentially as at 0:07 [m.
4:09 [m. 141]--Transition.
Theme 1, Part 3 is also omitted here
in a typical example of the abbreviation of Theme 1 in a
Recapitulation. It is similar to the passage at 0:45 [m. 26], but
it is heavier, more compact, and remains in the key of C minor.
As in the exposition, a 4/4 bar [m. 147] with syncopated strings leads
to the dramatic chords in preparation for Theme 2.
4:25 [m. 150]--Theme 2, now in
the home major key (C major).
There is some variation and more movement after the two initial
phrases. Buildup to climax, as in the exposition.
4:53 [m. 166]--Dramatic,
passionate version of Theme 2 in the piano, as
at 1:34 [m. 54].
4:59 [m. 170]--Strings take up
passionate statement with sweeping piano
arpeggios, as at 1:40 [m. 58]. Climax and receding to
5:26 [m. 185]--Closing material
in C major (from 2:07 [m. 73]).
5:39 [m. 192]--Loud chords
similar to those at the beginning of the
Development section. This time, since the recapitulation closes
in C major, they do not shift key centers, but they do dramatically
bring back the minor version of the home key. They do not move to
material from the opening, as they had there.
5:51 [m. 200]--Sudden eruption
of Theme 1, Part 3 (the dynamic dotted
figures), essentially in its initial form, but intensified by piano
arpeggios and low bass octaves. It is at a different pitch level
suggesting a motion to A-flat major or F minor (related keys), but it
rights itself and moves to the strong C-minor cadence heard in the
exposition before the transition at 0:35 [m. 20].
6:05 [m. 208]--Extremely
passionate and long-delayed re-entry of Theme
1, Part 1, with heavy bass octaves and the strings leading. The
piano plays throbbing triplet chords. It is followed by further
elaboration of the dotted rhythm (Theme 1, Part 3).
6:17 [m. 216]--Re-statement of
Theme 1, Part 1 with the piano leading
and the strings taking the triplet chords. Further elaboration
and extension of the dotted rhythm leading to a broad cadence.
6:34 [m. 226]--Very broad and
warm (but still minor!) statement of
Theme 1, Part 1 in the strings (in octaves), with the piano playing
arching arpeggios held over from the elaboration of the dotted
rhythm. The theme is artificially slowed down with longer notes,
and Brahms rather unexpectedly quiets the music down as well. Two
soft fifths are followed by two abruptly loud chords to end the
6:59--END OF MOVEMENT [234 mm.]
Movement: Presto non assai (Ternary form resembling
a scherzo and trio). C MINOR, Cut time (2/2).
0:00 [m. 1]--Strings play with
mutes throughout the movement. The
opening idea, or “motto,” heard at the beginning, midpoint, and end of
the A section. Winding
figure in piano octaves stated three times, each one lower, in a
two-octave descent. It is quiet, secretive, and somewhat ominous
in character. The strings initially begin with the piano, but
they remain grounded to their original pitches in two off-beat echoes.
0:06 [m. 5]--Elaboration of the
rhythm (long-short-short-long) of the
opening gesture, beginning on an upbeat. It is entirely in piano
octaves, with discreet harmonies interjected by the strings.
Harmonic motion to the related keys of B-flat major and G minor.
0:19 [m. 14]--Second statement
of the opening idea or “motto,” now in G
0:23 [m. 18]--More elaboration
of the opening rhythm, incorporating
more upward leaps. Piano octaves and discreet string
harmonies. Reverse motion to E-flat, then to its relative, the
home key of C minor.
0:36 [m. 27]--Third statement
of the opening idea or “motto,” as at the
beginning, in C minor.
B Section--F minor (“Trio”)
0:42 [m. 31]--The piano finally
breaks from its octaves to play block
chords that establish the new key. These are syncopated,
beginning on the second half of a bar and tied over to the first half
of the next. After the first chord, a pattern develops with two
long chords followed by a short cadence. Against this, the
strings play a plucked arpeggio, four notes from the cello, then four
from the violin at a softer volume. There are four of these
patterns in two question/answer sequences, the second of which is more
0:59 [m. 44]--Developed from
the cadences of the last passage is a
series of alternating phrases for violin and cello based on a
long-short rhythm. In the first three of these, the cello simply
echoes the pitches of the violin. The fourth diverges, with the
cello playing a new answering line that moves to C minor and is
somewhat louder. There is a fifth sequence, but this time the
answer comes from both instruments playing in harmony and leading to a
cadence in C minor. Throughout this, the piano has a bass in the
rhythm of the pattern, with the right hand playing chords off the beats
and strong syncopated descending figures at the end of each phrase pair.
1:26 [m. 64]--Full reprise
(back in F minor) of the question/answer
sequences from 0:42 [m. 31] in. Two more phrases (one
question/answer sequence) are added for a total of six (three).
The first added phrase uses an expressive, dissonant chord (a
“diminished seventh”), while the second repeats the fourth phrase an
1:50 [m. 82]--Re-transition.
Two more of the patterns with chords
and plucked arpeggios, with the string notes reduced to three apiece in
triplet rhythm in the first pattern, and the number of long chords
expanded to four in the second. An abbreviated passage similar to
the alternating phrases from 0:59 [m. 44] follows, with the strings
playing in harmony, the piano playing chords alternating between hands,
and a long, expectant pause preparing the return of C minor. This
is the loudest passage in this quiet movement.
2:09 [m. 95]--Opening “motto”
idea in C minor.
2:13 [m. 98]--The elaboration
from 0:06 [m. 5] transfers the piano
octave line to the violin, with the cello playing new but similar
lines, first following the violin, then harmonizing with it. The
piano plays sweeping arpeggios that are far less “discreet” than the
earlier string harmonies. The passage effectively begins a
measure earlier as the piano arpeggios begin with the cadence of the
2:26 [m. 108]--Second statement
of the opening “motto” in G minor.
2:30 [m. 111]--The elaboration
from 0:23 [m. 18] again transfers the
piano octave line to the violin with new cello phrases following and
harmonizing with the violin, sometimes adding syncopation.
Sweeping piano arpeggios again begin with the cadence of the “motto.”
2:44 [m. 121]--Third statement
of the “motto” in C minor.
2:50 [m. 125]--A short coda
begins with syncopated chords similar to
those in the B section.
The strings play plaintive three-note phrases, the last notes of which
are lengthened and held across bar lines, with the last few patterns
adding short ornaments. This music is suddenly cut off.
3:04 [m. 134]--The long chords
of the B
section in the piano (in groups of three) are combined with figures
from the “motto,” separated by long held notes, in the strings.
3:15 [m. 141]--Final statement
of the “motto” played an octave lower
than before. A swelling syncopated chord (a last reminiscence of
the B section) is sharply cut
off by the final quiet, abrupt chord.
3:28--END OF MOVEMENT [145 mm.]
Movement: Andante grazioso (Ternary
form--ABA’). C MAJOR, A sections in 3/4+2/4 time (usually
arranged in groups of 7 beats)--B section in 9/8+6/8 time (usually
arranged in groups of 15).
0:00 [m. 1]--The strings play
two phrases in counterpoint with each
other, the piano remaining silent. These phrases establish the
mixed meter characteristic of the movement: in each, one 3/4 bar is
followed by two bars of 2/4, essentially creating a 7/4 meter.
The metric irregularities give the otherwise graceful arching melody
(taken by the violin) a somewhat unsettled feeling. The cello
provides continuous support in a freely flowing bass line consisting
mostly of arpeggios.
0:16 [m. 7]--The two string
phrases are repeated by the piano
alone. The cello’s line is transferred to the left hand, while
the violin melody is embellished by right-hand chords, some of which
0:31 [m. 13]--In a much longer
and rather astonishing passage of
strings playing alone, two contrasting phrases with new harmonies
(still one 3/4 and two 2/4 bars) invert the direction, the opening
violin gesture moving down instead of up. They are followed by a
varied reprise of the opening phrases. The first is also in seven
beats, but the second is doubled in length and the pattern altered with
two 3/4 bars followed by four 2/4 bars. This last expanded phrase
swells and recedes to a warm, beautiful, and drawn-out close.
1:12 [m. 28]--The piano repeats
the preceding string passage, this time
embellishing both lines with chords, many of them rolled. The
strings do make a discreet entrance with plucked chords for one bar at
the third phrase (the varied reprise). The final phrase is given
even more richness by the piano chords. There is a slight slowing
at the end.
B section--Quasi animato, A
1:50 [m. 43]--For the middle
section, the meter is altered to 9/8+6/8,
in phrases with one bar of each for a total of 15 beats (or five beats,
each divided into three parts like a triplet rhythm). The minor
key and the new meter lend the section a greater sense of
agitation. Two string phrases are each followed by a piano
answer. The cello continues to pulse through the piano’s
responses, which are in F major and E minor.
2:03 [m. 51]--Four phrases, all
beginning on upbeats, with shorter
string statements and piano responses. The string statements
reach upward in a questioning manner, while the piano answers are
longer, beginning with two repeated rising three-note groups. The
first phrase pair is in E minor, the second in G minor.
2:16 [m. 59]--At the movement’s
climax, Brahms changes to straight 9/8
for a four-bar transition moving back to A minor. The strings
begin another “question,” but the piano now responds with ringing chord
oscillations in E major. The strings enter with two more echoes
before the piano becomes quieter and completes the transition to A
2:25 [m. 63]--Reprise of the
two string phrases and piano responses
from 1:50 [m. 43]. The second piano response is altered to a
higher pitch level so that it stays in A minor rather than its original
2:37 [m. 71]--Another four-bar
transition in straight 9/8. This
time, the string question leads into long held notes for both
instruments. The piano’s ringing oscillations diminish faster and
are broken up with rests, ending with two isolated groups of three,
with the harmony thinned to one note in each hand. The transition
remains in A minor, so the entry of C major for the A’ section is direct.
2:48 [m.75]--Reprise of the two
phrases from the opening of the
movement, but this time they are split between the instruments, the 3/4
bars taken by the piano and the 2/4 bars by the strings.
3:03 [m. 81]--Repeat of the
first two phrases, with the roles
reversed. The strings play the 3/4 bars, the piano the 2/4 bars
(the strings following immediately upon their completion of the
previous phrase). The rising arpeggios are more “filled out” with
extra notes by the strings. The piano responses add rolled chords.
3:18 [m. 87]--Only one mixed
statement of the longer passage from 0:31
[m. 13] and 1:12 [m. 28]. The strings take the two contrasting
phrases in a direct reprise of their earlier statement. The piano
takes the lead in the varied reprise (including the expanded closing
phrase), the strings again entering with discreet plucked chords.
These are, however, now extended through the expanded closing phrase.
3:57 [m.102]--Brief coda in
straight 9/8 based on the B
section, specifically the passage
at 2:03 [m. 51]. Two phrases in the manner of that passage, with
string “questions” and piano answers (abbreviated to one bar through
the absence of 6/8 bars and the original upbeats). Then the
strings play the first two chords of the rising gesture from the
opening of the movement. The piano responds with two descending
chords. Two more phrases of string questions and piano responses,
and one more rising chord gesture from the strings. The piano’s
last two chords are unexpectedly and abruptly loud and short.
4:24--END OF MOVEMENT [109 mm.]
Movement: Allegro molto (Sonata-Allegro
form). C MINOR (Coda in C MAJOR), 6/8 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme 1.
Very agitated, obsessive, and almost angry
tune presented by the violin. The piano accompaniment is very
low, the left hand thumping out low bass octaves in the main rhythm
after it is presented by the violin. The theme begins with a
0:10 [m. 9]--Piano chords shoot
up the keyboard to an arrival point
before the cello makes its first entrance. It does so with the
violin in a passage of highly syncopated string chords going against
the main rhythm. The rocket-like piano chords and the syncopated
string chords make one more alternation at a higher level.
0:18 [m. 17]--Continuation of
Theme 1 beginning with the piano playing
the main rhythm. The strings join together with more syncopated
figures while the piano plays more rocket-like chords leading to a
0:24 [m. 22]--All three
instruments join in a climactic passage in
which the strings generally follow the piano at a close distance in the
main rhythm. Then the music diminishes, with the strings dropping
out before the thinned out piano, now consisting of thumping low bass
and isolated chords, descends.
0:39 [m. 34]--Transition.
The previous descent is interrupted by
a pause. The transition passage itself consists of sustained
string harmonies against very light, quick upward piano
arpeggios. The passage first suggests B-flat major, then moves to
prepare for that key’s relative minor key of G for the second theme.
0:58 [m. 50]--Theme 2.
Brahms marks it “Meno Allegro.” Like
Theme 1, it begins on a half-bar upbeat. Opening with quiet and
ominously winding piano scales in octaves, repeated an octave higher,
it suddenly gains intensity as the strings enter, cello first, with
syncopation going against the rhythm and suggesting 3/4 instead of 6/8
(a “hemiola”). At the top, all three instruments ring out in a
loud passage alternating long and very short chords (G minor).
1: 10 [m. 58]--Theme 2 begins
again, with the strings present from the
outset. This time, the top climax with the long and short chords
is set higher, extended a bar, and more strongly confirms the key of G
1:25 [m. 66]--Closing passage
based on Theme 2. Following
immediately on the preceding climax, the piano begins a passage of
perpetual motion in octaves. The strings play fragments of Theme
2, including the long-very short rhythm. The intensity and
passion is sustained in all instruments. The piano’s broken
chords gradually descend. The music recedes and swells until the
cello is alone with the piano in another implied 3/4 hemiola (m.
75). The cello, then the violin, quietly round off the exposition
in G minor.
1:51 [m. 80]--Brief and hushed
transition to the development section.
1:59 [m. 85]--First
section. Tempo I. Two sequences, each
consisting of two elements. First, a version of Theme 1 in the
piano with rolled chords in the left hand and detached octaves
following in the right. Then, long-held string notes over rapid
piano arpeggios moving to a new key. The first sequence is in G
minor, continuing from the exposition, and the second is in E minor
(which is related to G major).
2:14 [m. 99]--Second
section. The sequence continues, as the next
passage is in C-sharp minor (moving down as in the previous pattern
from G to E). This passage is more extended, with the Theme 1
fragments passed between the strings as the piano continues its rapid
arpeggios. A cadence in C-sharp minor is avoided. All
remains light and at a quiet level.
2:23 [m. 107]--Third section or
re-transition. Hushed chords and
bass octaves swell quickly in volume as they lead back to C, major at
first, whose arrival is marked with ringing chords, more piano
arpeggios, and more passing of Theme 1’s opening motive between the
strings. A huge swell in all the instruments confirms the change
to minor, and two more chords set up the unexpectedly soon, but
2:41 [m. 124]--Theme 1, as at
the opening. The obsessive string
statements of the opening motive in the development merge seamlessly
into Theme 1 itself. Brahms marks that it should be played louder
than at the opening (mezzo forte
rather than piano) and adds
plucked cello notes to the texture.
2:50 [m. 132]--Rocket-like
piano chords and syncopated string chords,
as at 0:10 [m. 9].
2:58 [m. 140]--Continuation of
Theme 1 leading to brief pause, as at
0:18 [m. 17].
3:04 [m. 144]--Transition.
The entire climactic passage from 0:24
[m. 22] is omitted, and the transition begins directly here. The
omission allows Brahms to more smoothly allow the transition to begin
at a higher level (a fourth higher), since there will be no motion to a
new key. The transition itself is completely analogous to 0:39
[m. 34] with sustained string harmonies and light piano
arpeggios. There is an analogous suggestion of E-flat minor, the
home key’s related major key, where B-flat had been suggested before.
3:22 [m. 160]--Theme 2, again
marked “Meno Allegro.” Now stated
in the home key of C minor. First statement, as at 0:58 [m.
50]. Quietly winding octaves, buildup in intensity, syncopation,
and loud, ringing passage with long and very short chords.
3:35 [m. 168]--Second statement
of Theme 2, with higher, extended top
climax, as at 1:10 [m. 58].
3:50 [m. 176]--Closing passage
in C minor. Again, follows climax
immediately. Perpetual motion in the piano, fragments of Theme 2
in the strings, receding and swelling. It is shorter than at 1:25
[m. 66] of the exposition. Four measures are cut, and the
“hemiola” bar suggesting 3/4 comes earlier (at m. 181) and includes
both string instruments. The violin and cello are reversed in
their closing gestures, with the former coming first. This
incorporates material from the four excised measures.
4:08 [m. 186]--Hushed
transition to the coda, analogous to the
transition at 1:51 [m. 80].
4:17 [m. 191]--The entire coda
is in C major rather than C minor.
Beginning on an upbeat, as had the entire movement, Theme 1 is
glowingly transformed in a major-key version, at the slower speed of
Theme 2. The violin, in its lower register, takes the lead, the
piano playing slow chords, low bass octaves, and then swelling
oscillations. The cello plays plucked notes.
4:30 [m. 199]--The cello leads
a major-key transformation of Theme
2. The violin echoes. The piano plays familiar rising
octaves in a brief extending passage.
4:44 [m. 206]--Restatement of
the Theme 1 transformation, now including
the rising piano arpeggios in the accompaniment, with the cello taking
a more active role, playing bowed in harmony with the violin.
4:55 [m. 213]--A long,
drawn-out passage of acceleration, with the
strings playing flowing longer notes and the pianos playing their
now-familiar light rising arpeggios (reminiscent of the ones from the
development section). Near the end of the acceleration, the
violin, then the cello, play the opening motive of Theme 1.
5:14 [m. 229]--Having reached
the original tempo through the
acceleration, the piano plays skittering versions of the opening motive
with rolled chords in the left hand. The strings join, increasing
the intensity, with the cello now playing a leading role.
5:21 [m. 237]--The violin now
takes the lead with the cello, the piano
echoing them. At the climax, which is the climax of the entire
movement, all the instruments play a forceful descending syncopated
passage. A very brief pause leads to a lower sequence of this
5:31 [m. 247]--Joyous closing
peroration, all based on Theme 1.
The strings play the Theme 1 material while the piano plays rolled left
hand chords and syncopated right hand chords. The piano joins the
strings in one more implied 3/4 hemiola (m. 252) before the final
5:57--END OF MOVEMENT [256 mm.]
END OF TRIO
BRAHMS LISTENING GUIDES HOME