COMPOSITIONS compositions

Trio in G minor, Op. 8 incypit

Genre: Chamber music

Key: G minor

Opus/WN: Op. 8

Creation date: 1829

Acc. to Paderewski: XVI

Acc. to Turło: 206

Instruments: piano trio

Composition dedicated to:

Antoni Radziwiłł


Everything suggests that Chopin wrote the last notes onto the score of the Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 8 during the spring of 1829. The Trio is a composition of considerable weight, and in some respects it is similar to the Piano Sonata in C minor. It, too, is a cycle with a sonata structure, but scored for different forces: piano accompanied by violin and cello. This is a design of a dramatic character. It is a musical drama in four acts, but a drama con lieto fine: with an ending that is generally cheerful, but not devoid of a certain melancholy. Such a character is imparted to this work by its principal key: G minor, the same key that impressed its melancholy sound on one of the famous last three symphonies of Mozart.

For Chopin, the Trio in G minor turned into a task, a challenge and an adventure all in one. During his studies with Elsner, he must have had some contact with chamber music. He had already written a couple of works for piano with orchestral accompaniment: the ‘Là ci darem’ Variations, Rondo à la krakowiak and Fantasy on Polish Airs. Circumstances of a private nature induced him to compose a Polonaise in which the piano struck up a dialogue with a cello. Chopin wrote it in Antonin, for Antoni Radziwiłł and his daughters. The Trio would be dedicated to Radziwiłł, but it was meant as a ‘homework’ piece – part of the curriculum of his studies with Elsner. It is also the only work from the composer’s early years that is representative of chamber music. In his late years, Chopin would take up an equally weighty task in this kind of music. The result would be a masterwork: the Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, and one may see the G minor Trio as presaging that late fulfilment.

Chopin composed the Trio on and off, and with some difficulty. He began writing it in 1828. In the autumn of that year, on returning from Berlin, he informed Tytus Woyciechowski: ‘The Trio is not yet entirely finished’. But for some unknown reason, he set it aside and turned to writing the Rondo à la krakowiak. Only after completing the Rondo, and so in the spring of 1829, did he return to the score of the Trio. The premiere took place more than a year later, in August 1830, in the drawing-room of the Chopins’ home, in the presence of Żywny and Elsner.

One may concur with Tadeusz Zieliński that the Trio ‘undoubtedly belongs among the masterpieces of the chamber music of its times, although the composer had not yet achieved the utmost freedom in employing instruments that he had not previously used’. The fact that this represents Chopin’s chamber music debut would appear to explain another property of this work, perhaps more important than its lack of ‘the utmost freedom’ in employing hitherto unused instruments. To a significant extent, the Trio brings an encounter with echoes of music previously heard. In his virtuosic and concert works, Chopin adopted and modified, in his own individual way, models taken from music created by pianists of the brillant current: Hummel and Moscheles, Ries and Kalkbrenner. In his chamber music debut, one hears echoes of music heard on a higher level: above all in Beethoven and Schubert, although Hummel also occasionally comes through.

The first movement, Allegro con fuoco, is dominated primarily by the spirit of Beethoven. This is palpable from the very first bars, which present the opening theme. The very structure of the theme is typically Beethovenian, comprising two juxtaposing motives: a solemn motif, or ‘gesture of opening’, and a ‘response’ to that gesture, which resounds in an empty space, so to speak. A Schubertian aura is evoked by the music of the bars which – with the singing of the violin and cello – complement that initial theme and develop it. One might say that with regard to its character (piano espressivo) it equates to the allegro’s ‘second’, lyrical theme.

As the exposition of the sonata allegro unfolds, a group of three themes appears, yet it would be difficult to assign to any one of them the function of a second theme. The first theme of this group is distinguished more by liveliness than by lyricism. The second was probably ‘heard’ in Bach. It brings an echo of motivic material characteristic of the violin sonatas and cello suites. The third theme of this group does have a lyrical character, but it is not sufficiently distinct to impose itself, to inscribe itself in the listener’s mind. It becomes lost in the stream of uninterrupted narrative.

In keeping with the rules, the middle section of the Allegro is a development. Here, Chopin appears to play at wandering through different keys, above all in the piano part. The violin and cello, in dialogue, exchange scraps of one of the themes presented earlier, and they do so insistently and as if in a trance.

The impression of playing in a trance, to the exclusion of everything else, is aroused to an even greater degree by the coda of the Trio’s first movement. Here, too, one seems to hear distant echoes of the music of Bach – echoes of an incessant motoric pulse, reminiscent of the ‘Brandenburg’ Concertos.

The Allegro is followed by a Scherzo, appearing in second place, and not as the third movement of a sonata cycle as was the norm in Classical music. In this, Chopin follows the lead of Beethoven, who was the first to alter the old order to the succession of movements in this way. Henceforth – and so in the Trio and all subsequent works in a sonata form – the scherzo would precede the slow movement rather than coming after it.

The Scherzo of the G minor Trio cannot be said to display any particularly strong emanation of Chopin’s genius. Rather pale and indistinct, despite the crisp articulation, it is the weakest part of the cycle.

A spark of life is brought by each fleeting appearance of a dance phrase borrowed from an oberek. In the middle section of the Scherzo – in the trio in C major – one also hears dance motives of native provenance. There is undoubtedly a charm to this music, perhaps even a little humour. One also notes considerable compositional proficiency. But how distant still is the almost aggressive distinctness of those scherzos in which a phrase once heard is remembered forever.

The next movement (the third), Adagio sostenuto, is apt to surprise and delight, as it is imbued with a poetry that bears little resemblance to that romantic reverie which will soon distinguish the typically Chopinian adagio (or larghetto). The Beethovenian provenance of this Adagio was pointed out by Maria Piotrowska, who even indicated the work that echoes in this Adagio of Chopin’s G minor Trio, namely Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor, the first from his opus 10. The characteristic turn appears in the Chopin not as a deliberate quotation, but as a subconscious reminiscence. Recurring a couple of times, it lends Chopin’s Adagio a Beethovenian aura. The Adagio is not lacking in beautiful or remarkable moments, such as the section termed dolente and the rather mysterious recitative of the close.

Into the fourth and last movement, the Finale, Chopin pours music that is characteristic of a typical Classical rondo. The refrain is presented first by the pianist. A moment later, its theme is given to the cello. Later still, it is recalled by the violin. Each return of the refrain – a distinctive and catchy krakowiak – is greeted with the satisfaction of fulfilled anticipation. In the meantime, we have been served a number of episodes, the most characteristic of which resembles a Ukrainian Cossack dance.

Thus we have before us a work that is in every respect worthy of attention, a splendid example of Polish chamber music. And at the same time one of the most outstanding works of its genre in European music. The only problem is that the Trio was written in a style that is rather un-Chopin. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say: a style that is different to what we tend to associate with Chopin.

Robert Schumann’s innate enthusiasm moved him to ask: ‘Is it not as noble as one could possibly imagine? Dreamier than any poet has ever sung?’ Even Rellstab, an atrabilious critic of Chopin’s music, received this work with an unusually positive opinion. Marceli Antoni Szulc ended his judgment with the phrase: ‘A work that is distinguished in every respect’.

Author: Mieczysław Tomaszewski
[Cykl audycji "Fryderyka Chopina Dzieła Wszystkie"]
Polish Radio, program II


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Trio in G minor, Op. 8 Op. 8
Allegro con fuoco
Trio in G minor, Op. 8 Op. 8
Scherzo/ Con moto ma non troppo
Trio in G minor, Op. 8 Op. 8
Adagio sostenuto
Trio in G minor, Op. 8 Op. 8
Finale. Allegretto
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